From a watery mess to dry heat
Daniel Vettori attempts to beat the Rajkot heat on the eve of the tour match © AFP
To arrive in the heart of Gujarat on the birthday of the most recognisable Indian (no, not Sachin Tendulkar silly - his birthday is on April 24) and find little or no fanfare was disarming. There was no sign of the flag-fluttering gatherings, no men in little white caps sipping tea and chin-wagging, no loudspeakers blaring out recordings of speeches from a different era. You might even wonder if it really was October 2, the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Gujarati who led India's freedom struggle.
If Steve Waugh's Australians were here, they might have been more aware of the occasion. Waugh's sense of history and the dramatic is now well documented. Team bonding exercises have gone well beyond the ordinary. Add to this John Buchanan's habit of slipping notes from philosophers under doors and this could have been the perfect opportunity for some soul searching.
But for Stephen Fleming - rated the best international captain after Waugh - and his men, this was merely a chance to get some solid cricket practice in ahead of the Ahmedabad Test. The first tour match at Visakhapatnam dissolved in a watery mess where no one but Akash Chopra got a decent knock. Fleming then led the chorus for dryness, heat and a chance to stretch the limbs.
Indians are known for their hospitality and provided New Zealand with the most arid, sapping conditions at Rajkot. As if to laugh at suggestions of heat, the outfield of the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground wore a green hue. The grass, say locals, has sprung up and prospered thanks to a smattering of unseasonal rainfall.
A brief shower, albeit heavy, on the eve of the match, set off alarm bells. There was talk of a delayed start, hours of play lost and various other things, none of which materialised. All the rain did was settle the dust, vapourise the wisps of straggly cloud and leave Fleming and his men baking under the sun. For once, the hacks seated in the press box were worse off than those out in the middle. The corrugated iron-sheet roofing did exactly the opposite of what was needed, keeping the heat in and the breeze out.
And when the players step off the field of play and reach for a chilled lager, they have another thing coming for them. In the most dry city in India, on the most dry day of the year, it might be easier to get hold of a replacement for Shane Bond than a glass of beer.
The most ironic moment of the day, however, came soon after tea when a frustrated official skulked around behind the press box with a cold bottle of Pepsi in each hand. He looked high and low, bellowed, cajoled and pleaded, but for the life of him could not get hold of an opener. You could almost hear an agonised cry echoing from the dressing room below where John Wright's been looking for pretty much the same item for nigh on two years now, with little joy.