England in India, 2005-06

The green, green grass of Guwahati

Anand Vasu in Guwahati

April 8, 2006

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Even in pouring rain, interest for Sunday's game is high © Getty Images
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When you touch down at the Lokepriyo Gopinath Bordoloi airport, a modest building fronts an airport in hilly Guwahati in India's north-east. Grey Indian airforce aircraft easily outnumber their brighter commercial counterparts. The runway seems to apologise for encroaching on the carpet of green that is interrupted only by the odd outcrop of rock and the Brahmaputra, not quite in spate, but flowing with pride and confidence, occasionally swelling at the banks like a woman carrying a few extra pounds who nevertheless knows she is a thing of beauty. England, wilting in the heat, desperately need a change of fortunes, and whether they will get that is doubtful. At least they will get a change of scenery.

The fierce heat and oppressive humidity at Kochi that smothered England like a wet blanket have given way to Mancunian noon-time temperatures in the early twenties, overcast skies and a generous if erratic sprinkling of rain and even hail at Guwahati. The drive from the airport, which is more than 20 kilometres out of the city, to the hotel should please England. The wide open spaces of rolling green are not quite the Yorkshire moors, but will soothe the eyes of weary travellers spending far too much time in airport lounges.

That said, there is much to complain about if you like - the roads are small and when you try to cross the road you're just as likely to be mowed down by a cycle rickshaw as a bus; the communication facilities are far from adequate; the quality of hotels make you long for your bed back home - but you'd be missing the point if you let all that get to you.

You'd be missing the non-stop references to the rhinoceros, that majestic and tragically endangered beast that has come to represent the region thanks to the Kaziranga National Park. Here everything from road-side restaurants to cement is rhino-branded. You'd be losing out on the story of the struggle of the North East where secessionists have been locked in a long, bloody battle with the authorities. You would not recognise the smile that cricket puts on faces in far-flung outposts like this.

Assam may not have produced a cricketer of note, but judging by the enthusiastic turnout of fans on the day before the game, even in pouring rain, interest for the game is high. The ICC has nakedly embraced taking the game to new regions, urging everyone from Eskimos to Chinamen to pick up bat and ball when there are places in a cricket-mad country like India that barely get a big game, and don't get the encouragement they need to develop the infrastructure required to develop the game.

The cricket ground itself is a pretty picture. You'd think the man with the rose in his lapel, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the biggest patron of sport in this country - this is the third game on the trot that will be played in a stadium named after him. The stands are quite low, and would struggle to hold even 25000 people, the outfield is lush green, the pavilion understated and the surrounds leafy. Cast your eye to the horizon in any direction and you will see the hills, and the nearest one has a temple and television tower jostling for attention.

Sadly, though, the hills don't make for pretty viewing at the moment. The rain and bad weather have all been coming from there. The afternoon's downpour, accompanied by thunder, lightning and finally hail, made the Assam Cricket Association despair. They're working hard to get this game going, and despite the falling rain had not given up hope, though it is increasingly appearing likely that Guwahati might have to wait another two years or so for the privilege of hosting international cricket.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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