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November 3, 2004
A crisis, they say, is the best way to test the efficiency of a system. At the Wankhede Stadium, there was a crisis on the first morning when unseasonal showers showed up on the first morning of the final Test. And the crisis-management system at one of the premier Test venues in India was, sadly, shockingly inadequate.
The drizzle had started early in the morning, and continued incessantly, yet the practice pitches remained uncovered till 9.15am, by which time they had soaked up enough water to form a couple of small puddles. The authorities eventually woke up to that fact, but then showed no urgency in salvaging a situation which was fast deteriorating. Seven of the eight practice strips were finally covered, but the one nearest the boundary remained uncovered throughout. Fortunately, the drizzle abated soon enough, causing no further damage.
The main square and the bowlers' run-ups were protected - but, apparently, not to the extent they should have been. The start of play was further delayed, it was learnt later, because the entire length of the run-up had not been covered at one end. And, of course, there was the unedifying sight of groundsmen bringing out small white towels to absorb water from the covers - a task performed, again, with little urgency. All this meant that a match which should have started around 12 noon finally got underway a couple of hours later. And when play was interrupted by another shower after just four overs, it took a full five minutes after the players left for the covers to come on. If that's the state of affairs in one of the most important Test grounds, you can only wonder at the facilities at lesser places.
Rahul Dravid finally won India their first toss of the series, but this was one spin that neither captain would've liked to have won. The light was murky and conditions were overcast, suggesting that inserting the opposition was the better move, but batting in the fourth innings on this pitch was expected to be increasingly difficult. Dravid finally decided to put his faith in his out-of-form batsmen, but that was the only option for India after they selected the team they did.
The idea of playing three spinners always seemed a lop-sided one at the best of times - one of the front-line spinners always tends to get underbowled in such situations - but in these conditions, it made even lesser sense. Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer must be licking their chops in anticipation of Sachin Tendulkar bowling to them with the new ball. The Indian think-tank was obviously convinced that there was no point feeding medium-pace to the Aussies, but if conditions remain similar over the next couple of days - and rain has been forecast for tomorrow as well - then India will surely rue the absence of another seam option. Once the team composition had been decided, though, Dravid had no option but to bat in dodgy conditions.
There were only 11 overs bowled in the day, but even in that short time it was easy to see that runscoring wouldn't be easy on this pitch. Neither Glenn McGrath nor Jason Gillespie got the exaggerated seam movement that they consistently managed at Nagpur, but the bounce here was already inconsistent, with a few deliveries from either end climbing steeply. Tendulkar got one such delivery from only his fourth ball, from McGrath. He handled it expertly: the bottom hand went off, the top-hand grip loosened considerably, and, with the bat remaining close to the body, he allowed the ball to come on to him, before dropping it to the off side for a single, which turned out to as many as he scored in the remaining 27 balls he faced. This must have been the emptiest Wankhede Stadium he has ever batted in, but a few minutes of the old Sachin magic on the second day and, bad weather or not, the crowds will be streaming in.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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