In Dharamsala, no mountain to climb
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The match is still close to two days away, but work proceeds apace at the ground. Cables, their purpose as yet inscrutable, are being unspooled along the boundary hoardings. The pagoda-dome of the pavilion, vaulting and without tractable holds, is still the object of some attention, as tiny figures are visible on its slopes.
Security officials, quite unused to fans and journalists of the insistent variety, are too polite to restrain the curious from venturing into the outfield. In fact, several of the men in uniform take positions in the stands and intermittently whip out cameras, ranging in sophistication from ones that come with mobile phones to tiny, sleek devices that seem to have the capacity to zoom indefinitely, to capture the stadium and its backdrop, the mighty, snow-capped mountains of the Dhauladhar range.
A few journalists, the ones from outside the city readily distinguishable from their fiercely sun burnt faces, make it right to the pitch area, where it takes the netted fencing guarding the tarped-over-wicket to stop them from divining what the track holds for the game.
Taking it easy
The protagonists are nowhere to be seen for most of the day. England have opted out of practice altogether. The side, already given over to rotation and the replacements, is almost certain to try out a new combination for the dead rubber. Members of the Indian squad amble over to the outfield well after the scheduled hour and when MS Dhoni appears with hands firmly in his pockets, a buzz rises among the journalists. Did someone spot the flash of white before the hands were thrust in? Is his thumb bandaged? Suddenly, there is speculation that the captain might sit out the match. Someone spots Dinesh Karthik from within the swarm of blue. Turns out it is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Finally, one of the support staff confirms that the skipper is fine and will indeed play the game.
Story idea dispelled, the journalists join other hangers on, keeping to the shifting patch of sunlight for warmth. The players meanwhile have roughly grouped themselves into two units and are kicking a football around. There are make shift goal posts, but getting the ball between them somehow seems neither the object of the game nor possible with the skillset on display. Dhoni and Kohli are the exceptions, showing some nifty passing. Ravichandran Ashwin, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh are content to touch the ball around now and then. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane recede from the action, which soon comes to resemble a kick-about at school. Coach Duncan Fletcher moves around, poker-faced as ever.