TELFORD VICE, Mohali
IF you knew nothing else in India on Monday, you knew this: it was Shah Rukh Khan’s 50th birthday. And whatever you said about that, you did not say, “Who?”
He’s bigger than Sachin Tendulkar – 15.9-million Twitter followers versus Tendulkar’s mere 8.28-million is a stat that does not lie – and when the camera finds him while he is watching the team he owns, Kolkata Knight Riders, the roar is louder than that awarded any event on the field. He is to Bollywood what AB de Villiers is to batting.
And, just as surely as the greatest icon of moviedom is officially middle aged, the pitch being prepared for Thursday’s first test between Indian and SA in Mohali gleamed green on Monday.
What might SA’s players have said as they passed it on their way to the nets?
“For now I feel the need to cry with happiness.”
Actually, that was what Shah Rukh tweeted all those followers in appreciation for their birthday wishes.
But the argument holds. Despite the visitors packing their squad with three specialist spinners and two part-timers, they know their potent pace attack – Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are ranked in the top 10 and Morne Morkel is No. 11 – is a better bet to beat India if conditions allow.
So, how green was Faf du Plessis’ valley on Monday? Not at all.
“I don’t know, but (the pitch) looks quite dry,” he said. “Four days from the start of the match it looks drier than it normally looks.”
From the SA perspective, that’s a worry … Surely?
“It can only be a concern if you don’t expect it,” Du Plessis said. “We are expecting the worst. We are expecting the ball to spin on day one. If you expect it, you can plan for it.
“Playing India at home is a lot more aggressive than it used to be, when the pitches would probably spin on days three, four and five. Now they’re starting to do that on day one.”
Which is a new take on a topic of loftier discourse in this ever-thinking country: that India could implode as a society because of growing intolerance.
This disturbing tendency seems to have infected the home side’s dressingroom, what with the groundsman at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, Sudhir Naik, having laid a complaint alleging Indian team director Ravi Shastri verbally abused him after SA won the deciding fifth one-day international there on a belter of a pitch.
“I don’t think they would be complaining about the wickets if they were winning,” Du Plessis said of the Indians, who also lost the Twenty20 series.
“I think it’s a reason to perhaps shift their attention from losing. Perhaps they are trying to put pressure on the groundsmen to give them the wickets they want, because they know the slower the wickets are the more they are in the game.
“The way the (Mohali) wicket’s looking at the moment, perhaps it’s worked.”
Perhaps it has. The Mohali groundsman, Daljit Singh, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the muddy art of pitch preparation, chairs India’s pitches and grounds committee. If he wants to keep that position, wouldn’t he give Shastri what he wants?
“As of now the Indian team hasn’t made any request related to the pitch,” the Times of India on Monday quoted Punjab Cricket Association secretary general MP Pandove as saying.
That was then. The Indians, who took time out to attend Harbhajan Singh’s wedding reception in Delhi on Sunday, arrive in Mohali on Tuesday. Hark, the sound of mowers …