India-South Africa ODI series under the shadow of COVID-19

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Indian and South African teams have put up a brave face to play the three-match One Day International series at a time when sports events globally are being cancelled, deferred or played behind closed doors to evade the threat of Coronavirus.

Both hosts India and the Proteas warmed up in style at the picturesque Himachal Cricket Association stadium with the back drop of Himalayan Dhaulagiri ranges in Dharamshala today (Wednesday), where the series opener is slated for March 12 (Wednesday).

Players and the organisers are though taking stringent measures to deal with the Coronavirus threat. As the teams travelled from New Delhi to Dharamshala, some of the players supported face masks.

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Indians seamer Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has hinted that they might limit the usage of saliva to shine the white ball as a precautionary measure in the wake of the deadly Novel Coronavirus outbreak.

South Africa coach Mark Boucher had said that the Proteas could avoid the customary handshakes during their stay in India in the wake of the outbreak.

Besides, the players have also been advised to maintain safe distance from the spectators.

The organisers too have made ample arrangements – ranging from thermal detectors and masks to hand sanitisers – to ensure everyone’s safety.

On the game front, an intriguing battle is on the cards despite the hosts getting some drubbing in New Zealand. The last time two teams have played in India during September-October last year, the hosts had whitewashed the Proteas in Tests and the three-match T20 International series had ended 1-1.

The Proteas will be on a high, coming fresh from a series win over Australia.

Hosts India will yet again be without Rohit Sharma. But return of seasoned pros Shikhar Dhawan, Bhubaneswar and Hardik Pandya is going to lend much-needed muscle to the Kohli and Co.

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Skipper Virat Kohli will be eager to end his dry run.

Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus outbreak and inclement weather here have affected the ticket sales for the opening ODI of the three-match series between India and South Africa.

Only 16,000 tickets out of 22,000 were sold till Tuesday for the series opener at the picturesque Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium. The numbers, though, are expected to rise as the orgainsers are still awaiting sales figures from online partners paytm.

“We have sold around 16,000 tickets over the counter but we still haven’t got sales figures from Paytm. Normally, the demand for tickets of international matches here are huge but the coronavirus outbreak has taken a toll this time,” a top HPCA official told said.

“Foreign fans, which amount to around 1,000 are not travelling this time because of various travel advisories. We used to cater to a lot of spectators from adjoining Punjab, Harayana and Delhi which is not notable this time because of the current situation.”

Not a single journalist from South Africa is touring with the national team for the series.

The HPCA, on its part, have put in place huge hoardings both inside and outside the ground, educating people on precautionary measures against coronavirus.

“We have placed hoardings throughout the stadium informing spectators about preventive measures from coronavirus,” the official said.

Adverse weather conditions have also affected the ticket sales with rains and thundershowers predicted for Thursday, the day of the match, and Friday because of fresh western disturbance over north Pakistan and adjoining Jammu and Kashmir.

“Rain is also a factor but weather is not in our hands. But in case of rains, we have equipments to prepare the ground in two hours,” the HPCA official said.

It has been raining since Tuesday night. A heavy spell of thundershowers also lashed the hill town just after the team’s practice sessions on Wednesday, forcing the ognaisers to cover the entire playing area.

Rains have played havoc here in the past as well with the last international game between India and South Africa — a T20 — washed out without a ball being bowled in September last year.

Locals, fans and the organisers have offered prayers at the Indrunag Temple in the hills overlooking the stadium, in an attempt to appease the rain god.

Squads :

South Africa: Quinton de Kock (C), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Janneman Malan, JJ Smuts, George Linde, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kyle Verreynne, Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Anrich Nortje, Keshav Maharaj

India: Virat Kohli (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Lokesh Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav

The match scheduled to start at 1:30 pm will be broadcast LIVE & Exclusive on Star Sports network channels with a simulcast on DD Sports. The feed will also be streamed on Hotstar.

The other two matches will be played at Lucknow (March 15, Sunday) and Kolkata (March 18, Wednesday).

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