India v Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Jamshedpur April 9, 2005

Police hospitality

Rarely, through the bizarrely grueling itinerary this tour has charted, has cricket and all its pre-match rituals - the scouring of the ground, pre-match press conferences, press box arrangements, coming to the stadium in the morning - been as unpleasant an experience as it has in Jamshedpur.

This is not intended as a slight on the city; it is an admirable construct and a curious blend of drab industry with pleasant foliage. In any case, the schedule is such that if sightseeing stretches beyond your hotel room wall, consider it a luxury. The residents of the city and the fans too are blameless.

Although there is little that is inspiring about the Keenan Stadium - certainly not the hastily constructed rickety extra bamboo stands - it holds intrigue. Maybe it is the plumes of smoke drifting out of the steel mills blending into abundant greenery. Or perhaps it is because of its capacity; it holds only 20,000 and feels even more compact.

And until Indian wickets began tumbling, the crowd at least had been an energetic one. Then, their energies were expended towards the exit, not a graceless departure, but a regrettable one nonetheless. They had been fitfully non-partisan and sporting, heartily acknowledging the arrival of Inzamam, politely clapping Pakistani boundaries and generously clapping Salman Butt's century. The missile thrown onto the field in the 11th over was, thankfully, a solitary and minor aberration.

So why will Jamshedpur be less than fondly remembered? Partially at least because, until yesterday afternoon, it looked barely capable of handling one journalist let alone the traveling circus that accompanies an India-Pakistan match. The press gallery, situated worryingly just above the sight-screen just to please Sachin Tendulkar, was full of those chairs with arm-rests more commonly associated with exam halls. No tables for laptops let alone plug points for them in sight. The media communication centre, bereft of phone lines and PCs was used for the pre-match press conference. The Pakistan Radio commentary team didn't have a box until they rented a tent on top of the pavilion the night before the game.Was the Keenan stadium really fit to hold an international match of this magnitude? Obviously the PCB's venue inspection team had thought so in February.

But the Jharkhand State Cricket Association, to their credit, at least managed to get the press gallery into a minimum working order. They remained limited - we weren't sure whether there was a scorer or not for Pakistan's innings - but local staff were at least willing. And at least they provided snacks and a much-needed lassi in the morning session.

No, the real basis of the distaste that Jamshedpur will unfortunately leave originates from the overbearing officiousness of almost all the security personnel. Actually officiousness is possibly too polite a word. At every level, every instance, in the ground, outside it, at team hotels, various police and private security forces have been obnoxious, antagonistic, disinterested and rude. If you asked them for directions they snorted gruffly, if you asked to be let through somewhere, they would be virulently obscurantist, even after passes had been shown.

The day before the game journalists weren't allowed onto the field during practice. The local association said it was under police orders not to. The police said they knew nothing about it but wouldn't let journalists go on. Yet on the field, during practice, were families, happily strolling around, hunting autographs and taking pictures with players. Some of these fans left the ground later in police cars.

Despite having arranged an interview with a team member in the afternoon, upon turning up at the hotel, I was brusquely evicted by a senior police official, trippy on power. My crime was to have forgotten to arrange the interview through him, now obviously an ad-hoc hotel media manager. "My job is not a pleasant one so don't expect me to be pleasant," he explained. No argument, no pass, nothing - out. So the stone-throwing incident on the team bus had concurrently rattled and raised stakes, but was there the need to be as abrupt, as obstinate and just so rude? Could not a little courtesy have been extended?

Outside Keenan Stadium this morning, policemen were little more than uniforms on pot-bellied sticks, unwilling to help with directions but more than willing to become obstacles to entry. I asked one for directions to the media entrance as no maps or directions were forthcoming. He huffed that he didn't know but that I should immediately turn around and go. Where? No answer.

It's not so much that they were like this. Police and security personnel, after all, are rarely polite in this part of the world but what has been shocking is how deeply it permeated. It wasn't just one incident of surliness, it was sustained at every level and at every opportunity.

Coming as it did on the back of a trouble and hassle-free tour, on the back of Cochin and Visakhapatnam - small venues which many thought wouldn't be fit to host a tour as momentous as this but which had coped so well - it was surprising, unfortunate, unnecessary and ill-timed.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance cricket writer based in Karachi. He is following the Pakistan team through their tour of India.