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June 5, 2013
"It's good to be in England." MS Dhoni did not just utter it once, he uttered it twice. But, oh dear, Dhoni is in Wales, a land proud of its distinct national identity. For all Dhoni's charming smile, the good folk of Cardiff will be shuddering, there will be revolution in the valleys and in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerych-wyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the village with the longest name in Britain, they will be lost for words. There again, with a name like that, that is not altogether surprising.
Welsh passions have occasionally boiled over. Robert Croft, a former England spinner, much loved in the Land of Song, was such a proud Welshmen that he always insisted he was playing not for England but for the British Lions. Croft once got into a dressing room altercation with Mark Ramprakash when Ramprakash questioned his allegiance.
But India's captain need not worry himself unduly about his slip. Britain is routinely confused over whether it regards itself as Great Britain, the United Kingdom, or three of the UK's constituent parts: England, Scotland and Wales. That is even before you consider the European Union.
If Croft leads a party of protesting Welsh nationalists outside the ground they will be lost in the general melee because, by the time the match begins, Cardiff will not be in Wales, it will be part of Little India. India v South Africa, the opening match of the Champions Trophy is sold out, and flags of saffron, white and green will fill Bute Park. The bottomless passion for cricket among India and Pakistan fans will help to bring this tournament alive.
The ECB (that is actually the England and Wales Cricket Board, not that everybody remembers the silent W) expects 10 of the 15 matches to be full to capacity - 11 if India top the group and return to Cardiff for the semi-final, perhaps to meet England. If there is one thing Cardiff could rely on, it is if England reached the semi they would know they were in Wales.
But that is not all. Even those who know they are in Wales might be confused once they reach the stadium. For years, the locals have implacably referred to the ground as Sophia Gardens, in defiance of its renaming as the Swalec Stadium when the old ground was largely demolished in the search for international cricket. And we have to admit, ESPNcricinfo has often not known what to think.
Thanks to naming rights issues, for the Champions Trophy, and Champions Trophy alone, the ground has been rebranded as Cardiff Wales stadium, with poor old Sophia Gardens nowhere to be seen, except in the hearts of tens of thousands of county supporters.
It is astonishing what confusion can descend upon a cricket ground once the politicians and business executives get involved. They would be better advised to turn their attentions to why so many shops are boarded up in St Mary's Street.
|"The way the game has progressed, most sides in the first 10 overs will be happy to get 40 runs and keep as many wickets intact as possible." MS Dhoni on how ODI cricket has changed|
Dhoni, of course, proves that all this renaming malarkey is largely a waste of time unless somebody posts it on Facebook.
One matter Dhoni was definite about was that India will respond to the new rules - two new balls and more fielders in the circle - by fielding five specialist bowlers. "With the new rules it will be very difficult to play four bowlers and rely on the part-timers so definitely five bowlers will feature," he said. "It depends who you consider an allrounder and who you consider a bowler.
The team, at a best guess, will have Rohit Sharma and Shikar Dhawan as openers and Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin batting at No 7 and No 8. The weather is set fair in Cardiff, at least for this week, so India should be able to field two spinners without suffering as a consequence.
This is the first tournament India have played outside their own country under the new regulations -- two new balls and an extra fielder in the circle. In India, the regulations keep the balls harder in the middle overs and make strokeplay more possible, but in England, more conducive to seam bowling in any event, the bowlers will have a distinct early advantage.
The emergence of Umesh Yadav, in particular, makes India well equipped to take advantage with the new ball when batting but there are questions over whether they can achieve early stability with the bat if the conditions are testing. Even so, they should begin overwhelming favourites against a South Africa one-day side which lacks the strut of its Test counterpart.
"The game, you can say, has changed a bit with the introduction of the new Laws," Dhoni said. "It means if you keep wickets in hand you can really exploit the conditions and make a lot of runs. Most of the teams will see a bit of a change in their approach and try to keep wickets intact in the first 10 when the new ball may do a bit.
"The fast bowlers have a really important role. If you see the way the game has progressed, and see the statistics, most of the sides in the first 10 overs will be happy to get 40 or 45 runs and keep as many wickets intact as possible. That loss of 20 runs in the first 10 you can make up later if you have wickets in hand. If a side gets going more often than not they will end up scoring more than 300. We need to adapt quickly."
Yadav, who collected five top-order wickets in as many overs against Australia, has been allowed a privilege not granted to other members of the Indian party. He married Tanya Wadhwa, a fashion designer, in Nagpur on May 29 and has been allowed to bring his wife on honeymoon. There will be a few envious looks from team-mates in the hotel reception.
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