Warm-up for cold India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co gear up for Test series with two-day game at Benoni
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The town of Benoni is not more than an hour away by road from Johannesburg. Like everywhere else in South Africa this tour, the clouds have remained dark and ominous with intermittent showers. But unlike the SuperSport Park and the Wanderers, Willowmoore Park is not a state-of-the-art facility and is rather a quaint setting in the former gold mining town.
The unprecedented rainfall over the last week has left the ground in a bad state. While the ground-staff at Willowmoore Park still sound confident of the Indian team's two-day practice match, starting Friday, going ahead as per schedule, they will have their fingers crossed about the prospect of more rain flooding the ground.
Rain in fact has been a constant feature of the Indian team's tour so far. While the first two ODIs weren't curtailed to a great extent, the third match was eventually called-off on Wednesday at Centurion. The visitors, though, will be extra keen about their warm-up fixture against the South African Invitation XI not being washed away.
The likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli might already have some batting-time under their belt in these conditions, even if the South African pacers didn't afford them much of it during the ODI series. But for those flown in specifically for the Tests, the likes of opener Murali Vijay and one-drop Cheteshwar Pujara, it is important that they get match-practice and are not exposed to Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander undercooked.
The Benoni match will also be a crucial one for Zaheer Khan, who returns to the Indian squad after 12 months. The veteran left-arm seamer has landed here with impressive performances in the Ranji Trophy, not to forget considerable bowling mileage. But the leaner and fitter Zaheer, on his fourth tour to South Africa, will still want to make the necessary adjustments in terms of bowling in these climes before the first Test next week.