News by Sarb Johal 24/08/04
The bus going to the ground was half-full of quiet Indian fans – a sharp contrast to the full-on party crowd who made their way to VRA Ground in Amstelveen just two days earlier for the duel with Pakistan. The memory of defeat lingered in their minds and their spirits were dampened. Just like the pitch.
Although the ground has excellent drainage facilities, the pitch could not cope with the incessant rain of the past week. I arrived to be greeted with the news of a delay to the start of play. The morning rolled on, and play still didn’t look likely, so I decided to take a stroll. Most of the people in the two-thirds full ground had decided to do exactly the same. I bumped into a group of Indian teenagers who had travelled over to Amsterdam from London to see their heroes.
“Yuvraj was seen in the red-light area last night”, Sumit confided breathlessly. “Do you know any other gossip?”
“You seem to know more than I do …” I replied.
I was definitely out of the loop. There had been other sightings of Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid out at the SportsCafe in Leidseplein the previous evening too. I wondered what they had been doing during their time in Amsterdam – a city not short of various options for night-time entertainment.
“It’s not like the old days”, said Sumit Patel, another Indian team follower from South London.
“In the World Cup in 1983, I was at a reception for the players at the Indian High Commission the night before a game against the West Indies. Sandeep Patel was bored, so we went to a pub in Wandsworth instead. When I took him back to his hotel at 1am, the West Indies captain Clive Lloyd was still drinking in the hotel bar!”
I walked across to the stand with the most Indian fans. The New Bharat Army were resplendent in their blue uniforms and banging the living daylights out of their drums. However, one man didn’t look too happy and was keen to share his woes.
“It’s a foregone conclusion against Australia today … but I don’t know why we didn’t bat first against Pakistan.”
Jitu had travelled from Philadelphia, USA for the tournament with his whole family. He wasn’t the only one who thought the outcome in this game was fated – most of the fans who I talked to seemed to agree, albeit reluctantly.
“It’s a psychological disadvantage when Sachin does not play”, Jitu continued. “This puts too much pressure on Dravid who seems to carry the team. The Pakistanis understand, and this motivated them”.
The Indians were on the field and practicing and the stands were starting to fill up again in anticipation of play beginning. There was a definite smattering of gold and green, but the dominant colour in the crowd was the sky-blue of India. I returned to my seat in the stands and watched the Australian openers walk out to the middle in bright sunshine. Neither the sunshine nor the game lasted very long.
The match was abandoned after a torrential rainstorm just before the scheduled end of the Australian innings. Australia re-confirmed themselves as canny cricketers on a slow pitch, putting together an above-par score typified by Hayden’s combative but never comfortable 29 from 62 balls. Only Ponting (26 off 28 balls) and Clarke (42 from 38 balls) looked truly comfortable on a sticky, turning wicket.
The spectators were denied the opportunity to see how India would handle the run chase after they had already imploded so spectacularly against Pakistan in a similar scenario. On the plus side, this was a sharper Indian fielding side, most notably in the prowling forms of Yuvraj and Kaif – although off-target throwing undermined their punchy pick-ups. Sehwag also distinguished himself with a home-run saving, baseball style catch off Clarke. As against Pakistan, Balaji was the pick of the Indian bowlers although Nehra was unfortunate not to get the benefit of an LBW shout after he launched an evil late-swinging yorker as the first ball of the day.
As the rain drilled down, the spectators dashed for the hospitality tents where they admitted their cricketing day was doomed, and this was probably the end of the road in the Videocon Cup for India. Rumours from the previous day’s training session were also doing the rounds – the body language of the Indians didn’t look good.
With a week to cool their heels in Amsterdam before they re-group in England for the Natwest Challenge prior to the ICC Champions Trophy, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen to Indian morale in the meantime. As far as the fans are concerned, much depends upon Sachin – and this looks like it might be the reality for the Indian team too.