With Test cricket mothballed and consigned to the closet for a few months, it's time for multi-coloured limited-over cricket.
The first stop before the five-match ODI series against South Africa, before the World Cup, and before IPL-4 is this most surreal of Twenty20 Internationals, to be played at Moses Mabhida Stadium, the arresting venue that staged the semifinal between Spain and Germany in the football World Cup.
The game, which will be followed by what's loosely being described as a Bollywood extravaganza, has a larger significance: it's Africa's largest gathering for cricket — 50,000 tickets have been sold, so it's officially houseful — and it will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first Indian settler arriving in South Africa.
Consider that it's also Makhaya Ntini's last international game, the end of a remarkable career of a remarkable man, and it's difficult not to feel the weight of good-feeling. The air is that of an exhibition match, not an international one.
Adding its unique emotional wrinkle to all this is the IPL auction, which was followed closely by the cricketers, via SMS, via Twitter, via all those modern things that seem to make the world go around.
Frankly, it's a bit much. “It's a difficult one,” said M.S. Dhoni, speaking on the afternoon before the match. “Whenever we play Twenty20 Internationals, we just seem to play one game.
“It's difficult to get into the groove, come out, and shift into the groove of one-day (50-over) cricket. Though it's a serious game, and we are taking it very seriously, it may be seen as a warm-up for the five ODIs. But then, the conditions will be very different at a football ground, so it's better to treat it as a one-off T20.”
The “conditions at a football ground” will be different, but no more different to playing in the rugby stadiums in New Zealand. The wicket, unlike those in New Zealand, isn't a drop-in — it was laid in June immediately after the semifinal — but the dimensions of the ground, the short square boundaries, are similar to what's found in New Zealand.
Adding to the demands of the eccentric shape of the playing area will be the transition from the red ball to the white ball. “The nature of the red ball is very different to the white ball, and the demands of the format are different as well,” said Dhoni. “We're looking to have a relaxed session, enjoy the game, give our best, and then get into the groove of the ODIs.”
Because of the nature of the match — and its import — Dhoni was asked if Sachin Tendulkar would play. The great man played India's first T20, in Johannesburg in 2006, and has since opted not to play the format at the international level. Dhoni wasn't sure, saying he hadn't asked Tendulkar about it. Tendulkar, however, confirmed that he wouldn't play the match.
For Johan Botha, who will lead South Africa in the match, Saturday's practice session was “exciting”. “I was delighted to hear that,” said Botha, when asked about the generous price he fetched at the auction.
“I was massively surprised of course. These are life-changing moments. I just have to stay as humble as I can. But there's a lot of cricket before IPL-4. We are keen to get into the one-day campaign, and I'm just going to enjoy leading this young team tomorrow (Sunday).”
The teams (from):
South Africa: Johan Botha (capt.), Hashim Amla, A.B. de Villiers (wk), J.P. Duminy, Colin Ingram, David Miller, Makhaya Ntini, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Morne van Wyk, Rusty Theron and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt. & wk), M. Vijay, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, R. Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar.
Umpires: Brian Jerling and Marais Erasmus. Third umpire: Johanes Cloete. Match referee: Chris Broad
Match starts at 6 p.m. (IST).