TELFORD VICE, Mumbai
“NO picture, no cricket,” Ravu Saini said with a dismissive wave of his hand as he threaded his taxi through the eyes of the needles in Mumbai’s mad morning traffic on Thursday.
Saini had been told SA will begin a two-day game against a Board President’s XI here on Friday, a match that will not be broadcast on television.
The cabbie and his passengers did not share much language but they got his drift – if a match is out of the sight of the millions who watch cricket solely on television it is also out of mind.
If the folks on the back seat spoke as much Hindi as Saini spoke English they might have understood him to say: “Not on TV? Pah! Doesn’t exist.”
SA are probably happy with that. They’ve spent a couple of days lurking under the radar in Goa getting their minds off the cricket but no doubt contemplating what had gone so right in the Twenty20 and one-day series, both of which they won convincingly.
Now, with the test series less than a week away, it’s time for the visitors to look up from their navels. This they did on Thursday in a morning training session at the venue for Friday’s match, the grand and gracious Brabourne stadium.
The sun rose on Thursday on a Mumbai that looked as if some giant had poured an enormous lassi over its head. Turns out it was only haze, and once that burnt off a sweaty sultriness seeped into the day.
But the Saffers kept at it, and somewhere past 1pm Dane Vilas was the odd man in – the only one left batting in the nets.
His training done, Vilas strolled back to a pavilion adorned with sweeping nautical lines whose deep verandahs creak with dark wood, wicker chairs, bridge tables, and memories.
The Brabourne is the home of the Cricket Club of India, no less, and “rooms” with a view of the cricket are still provided. It was in these well-appointed chambers that West Indies’ Frank Worrell, a leader whose like cricket has and will not see again, would recline in his dressing gown and snooze until a tap on the toe told him it was time to pad up.
Keith Miller called the place “the most complete ground in the world”. Brian Lara described it as “perfect to host a good cricket match”. Not just any cricket match, mind.
But if the Brabourne stirred Stiaan van Zyl on Wednesday, it did not show. Instead, he played the press with as dead a bat as a dead bat itself might wield.
“The boys are confident after playing well in the one-day internationals and Twenty20s but test cricket is a different ball game,” he said.
If Van Zyl’s aim was to suffocate the Indians’ anger – and thereby deny them reasons to play properly for a change – he succeeded like a wet sleeping bag flung onto a dying camp fire.
Perhaps Friday’s game is no place for passion. Perhaps it is all about ticking boxes ahead of the start of the test series in Mohali on Thursday. Perhaps Saini is right and it really is all about nothing.
Or perhaps not: JP Duminy will not play because his hand injury. For South Africans, that’s not a pretty picture.