LONDON // If Twenty20 cricket's boom, which was originally fuelled by India winning the inaugural world title, is about to be followed by the bust, then the signs were not immediately apparent yesterday. Lord's is a surreal place on non-match days. Hours after the London contingent of the Blue Billion - India's legion of fans - had vacated cricket's headquarters broken hearted, the now silent stands were being swept, while on the field, three groundsmen quietly tended the square.
Two lanes of the ground's indoor school were occupied, one by a female member of the MCC Young Cricketers programme, the other by an Indian boy wearing a replica shirt of the Mumbai Indians. The stocky youth, batting left-handed and wielding a Sachin Tendulkar autograph MRF bat, was bashing balls fed from a bowling machine around with abandon. Like a young Yuvraj Singh, perhaps. Or, more accurately, a young Tendulkar. The Little Maestro himself was the one feeding the machine for his son, Arjun, to hit. He has a house in the near vicinity, and has been an impassioned observer of their plight at the World Twenty20.
Tendulkar has no qualms about his son having a shirt of his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, even if it does not have his name on the back. Twenty20 is still the in-thing in India. They were the last side to agree to play in the 2007 World Twenty20, and even had to be coaxed to join in by the ICC. Now this version of the game, with the financial influence wielded by the IPL, is virtually their sole possession.
The small matter of an early exit from the second running of the world showpiece is unlikely to alter that, according to the Team India captain, Mahendra Dhoni. "Frankly speaking, I don't think it will have any impact at all," he said, after his side's crucial three-run defeat to the host nation, England. "It is not about a couple of series or the World Cup, or any other tournaments. We lost in the 50-over version in 2007, but it never had an impact on the team.
"If you do well over a period of time, you do tend to relax a bit," he added. "Games like this, when you go out of tournaments, really encourage you to do well and perform in future. We have the opportunity to bounce back. "In cricket, once you get bogged down and are desperate to win, you are not really at your best. This is a good learning experience. It is a good shock for the team." Dhoni, the golden boy turned embattled captain, now has a new slant on the maxim that "sport doesn't build character, it reveals it". His stewardship - which is under even more intense scrutiny in the wake of this early exit - was delivered a severe jolt when he was implicated in a row over the fitness of Virender Sehwag, the influential opening batsman.
The accusations that it was Dhoni who leaked the information about Sehwag's fitness problems to the press - which he refuted - sullied his previously sound relationship with India's voracious press corps. But he chose to focus his attention on the cricket, when he said: "The dressing room atmosphere was great, even though we lost quite a few games when it comes to the format." Dhoni's side will have no more than pride to play for when they meet the in-form South Africans at Trent Bridge today.
The Proteas are to rest all-rounder Jacques Kallis as a precaution. Kallis has a problem with a strain in his upper back, and his captain Graeme Smith explained there is no reason to risk him in a match South Africa do not need to win. email@example.com