Cricket alone has been a huge reason for the people of India to have lost trust in those who play and administer it. However, they have little choice but to go back to the game to see if sanity can be restored.

While the paying public may have much time on hand to argue this logic, there's no such choice for the bunch of eleven young men who'll walk out at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff on Thursday morning for the opening match of the ICC Champions Trophy.

MS Dhoni and company have half a mind on what's been happening back home. There has been a great deal of PR exercise to ensure the media doesn't pounce on anything new. To top it all, there are the pressures of having to concentrate on the game despite the alleged wrongdoings, and trying to win a trophy.

The Men in Blue will have a lot on their minds when they take on South Africa on Thursday. This will be India's first limited-overs international outside the subcontinent in the last 15 months, though the twin victories in the warm-up matches against Sri Lanka in Birmingham and Australia in Cardiff would have given them a fair idea of the conditions.

The pleasure of soaking in the sunlight on a bright and clear day in beautiful Cardiff can be unmatched. And if outdoor activity is your thing, the Sophia Gardens is the place to be with its well-manicured outfield, gentle breeze and sudden gusts of wind. The dimensions of the boundary line here (see box) gets players to think a bit out of the box and a batting-friendly pitch suggests a run-glut can be on the cards here.

New rules add to challenge

Adding some mystery are the new ICC rules in the 50-over format, like two new balls that can be taken, no more than four fielders outside the 30-yard circle when a spinner is in attack, two bouncers per over and powerplays to be completed before 40th over. Dhoni had said before the team flew to England that landing here almost a week early and playing two warm-up matches would help his side get accustomed to these rules, especially when playing overseas.

The rules were implemented in January this year and this is the first time India will be playing under these rules outside the country.
The Indian XI can be figured out from the performances in the two warm-up matches. The only two uncertainties are whether a lacklustre Murli Vijay continues to open the innings or Dhoni opts for Rohit Sharma and how the captain fits the in-form Dinesh Karthik in the middle-order.

Steyn unlikely to play

As for South Africa, the big blow yet is Dale Steyn might not take the field because of a side strain. That should mean Rory Kleinveldt continuing from where he left off during South Africa's tour of Netherlands last month. With Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith also not around, AB de Villiers' eleven will have new faces and young legs.

Ditto for India, who have none of the familiar faces like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Tendulkar in their One-day scheme of things. That should say a thing or two about how the two teams have moved on. The past record of South Africa never beating India in the Champions Trophy holds little relevance now.

As both skippers admitted, the new ball will be most important, and the new rules allow it to be taken twice. That should make the contest twice as competitive and Steyn's absence if certain makes both the attacks look modest.


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