Players struggle to adjust to one-off Twenty20
is ironic that, from a cricketing point of view at least, the game that will draw the biggest crowd of the season is the least anticipated. Although, on second thought, it is perhaps unfair to ask a Twenty20 game to match up to what was a thrilling Test series, and that too, a Twenty20 game played in a football stadium, on a pitch expected to stay low, with short square boundaries.
Still, 50,000 are expected to sell out the Moses Mabhida Stadium and they will have plenty to watch: Makhaya Ntini playing his last international match, Johan Botha continuing his audition as potentially South Africa's next ODI captain, some flashy Indian youngsters trying to hit balls into the streets, and some song and dance from Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Anil Kapoor.
For the players, though, it will be difficult to adjust. They first have to get over the hangover from the Test series, which should take some time, and then prepare for the ODI series, which will be the real deal going into the World Cup. "Of course it is a difficult one, because more often than not whenever there is a Twenty20 game, you play just one-off game," MS Dhoni said. "It's very difficult to get into that groove, and then come out of that groove and play ODIs. Of course we will give it our best shot. We have got players who are part of the ODI squad, but along with that there are T20 specialists also. That will help."
Forget the change of ball and change of kits, there is a change of stadium too. Both the teams seek to draw on their experience of playing cricket in New Zealand, where some of the grounds double up as rugby stadiums. At times in New Zealand, even as the post-match presentation is going on, the groundstaff start starts removing the drop-in pitch to get the ground ready for a rugby game to be played the same week.
"You may say the experience we have of paying in New Zealand will come into effect," Dhoni said. "Of course the sides will be pretty small compared to the long front boundaries. We haven't seen the ground yet, but after the practice session that we are having right now, we are planning to go to the stadium. Before starting cricket, play a bit of football there. And then a fielding session. And exactly see what it looks like. It looks really different from the outside, but very similar to a football stadium."
Johan Botha, who will be captaining South Africa in Graeme Smith's absence, concurred. "I haven't been to the ground yet. We will be going after this to do a bit of fielding there, just see what the different dimensions of the ground are. But both teams have to bat and bowl on it. Hopefully, we can play well on the ground with the specific distances. It's almost like a New Zealand ground."
The game feels like a transit airport in a long journey right now. You don't know much about it, you don't expect much out of it, you don't have a proper sense of time and space either. It will pass in a blur, but both teams will look to find better bargains at duty-free shops.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo