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Not surprisingly, a question I was often asked, especially in the smaller towns like Hambantota, Galle and Kandy, was "are you from Pakistan?" My face may have been the most obvious giveaway and my accent meant that I couldn't pass off for a local. I had to explain that I had come from India, covering a series between two teams as a neutral. The advantage with being a neutral is that you're more or less free of leg-pulls from the local journalists.
It comes with its challenges too, especially when it comes to the spoken language. I was caught in one such awkward situation when Tillakaratne Dilshan gave a press conference during the one-day series in Colombo. The Pakistan journalists gave it a miss, leaving me as the odd one out among the Sri Lankan journalists. Perhaps Dilshan didn't notice. The questions were in Sinhalese and so were the answers. In such situations, it's a bit difficult to figure out if the particular question you wanted to ask has already been asked. I had absolutely no clue what was being talked about. I waited for a break and posed a question on his current batting form. Dilshan was caught a bit off guard by the sudden change of language. He duly answered the question. But I realised that I had sidetracked Dilshan from the hot-topic of the day - his captaincy, why he gave it up and his comments on Mahela Jayawardene possibly staying captain till the 2015 World Cup. I got the quotes translated and, not surprisingly, I didn't bother mentioning my question in the copy because it seemed irrelevant.
The press conferences were fairly hassle free, sometimes conducted with just a handful of journalists. Mohammad Hafeez was perplexed by the absence of Pakistan journalists in one such presser. When Misbah-ul-Haq walked in for the final presser of the tour in Pallekele, he appeared amused that there were no Pakistan journalists there either. He must have expected the brickbats and testing questions that usually torment captains after a series loss. He couldn't have had it easier.
The way a player conducts himself in press conferences is sometimes indicative of his personality. Hafeez would always appear with his shirt tucked, hair combed, as if ready for a 9am shift at the office. He would courteously apologise to all if he was late. And yes, he was forgiven. He was obliging with every photo request. A local cameraman in Hambantota had accidentally closed his eyes in one such photo, and nervously requested another. Hafeez chuckled, and said, "Come on, open your eyes!"
When Saeed Ajmal walked in for one presser in Galle, he was his usual jovial self, humming a tune before he sat down. When a few of us placed our recorders at the desk, seeing that we didn't pass off as Sri Lankans, he demanded, rather than requested, that we speak in Urdu. When Angelo Mathews sat down for one in Pallekele, he told a few of us, "nothing controversial please". That was pretty much the tone of the series. Save for the umpiring in Galle, controversy stayed away. World peace.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Kanishkaa Balachandran
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