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As a rule I hate sponsor events around cricket series. Trying to capitalise on the two things dearest to the country I am in in the last week of the year - Christmas and cricket - I am positively miffed. So with trepidation I headed to the "Test Series Christmas" celebration on Southbank in Melbourne only because the official press conferences were supposed to happen there.
I was in for a surprise. Yes there was sponsor presence, but it wasn't the main event. The main event was cricket and a few carols. Select cricketers from both sides first signed autographs for all the fans that turned up - given the presence of people of Indian origin here, it was a big number. The real deal followed when a group of kids got to play soft-ball cricket with the cricketers. Host Peter Lazer was a ripper too, touching upon touchy issues, like comedians should. He is not one, though.
Michael Hussey came out first, and deliberately missed on the first swing to be out bowled, and then threw his head back in mock disappointment. Lazer sledged him saying if he batted like that, this could be the last time Australia was seeing him bat. Hussey deliberately missed the next one too, to be hit high on the thigh. "He has given him," Lazer went, "Huss, we don't have DRS so you can't appeal against it."
The next man in was Ricky Ponting, who got into mock sledging with the kids. He too obliged by getting bowled. Rahul Dravid brought more realism to it when he lobbed a simple return catch to a kid. You could sense he must be doing a lot of that with his son too. Before walking back, Dravid high-fived every kid present, which took the little ones by surprise.
David Warner cheered the crowd by hitting one into them. Peter Siddle was hit for the biggest of sixes, leading to the hitter's mother pointing to everybody he was her son. James Pattinson had to face a beamer, after which Lazer went, "Don't rub them, count them." Zaheer Khan and Michael Clarke were good sports, even though they were jibed too. Notably, Zaheer was ribbed about his fitness here. Zaheer smiled in response and proceeded to bowl gentle lobs that were hit away. It even seemed there was too much niceness around.
Minutes later when Hussey was asked in the press conference what he thought of his epitaphs in the paper, he turned serious, squinted a little at the questioner, and said he didn't care much about criticism from outside the team. The fun and games were over, but the break was worthwhile.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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