October 9, 2012

Battling school-time traffic, and a birthday by the sea

Our correspondent experiences the moods of victory and defeat, courtesy the captains' press conferences

October 1
"School time." The tuk-tuk driver explains away the heavy early-afternoon traffic. Vans and mini-buses transporting children have choked the road leading to the Colts Cricket Club in Colombo, where Gary Kirsten, South Africa's coach, is going to hold a press conference ahead of his side's game against his former side, India. The Indian media still look upon Kirsten as one of their own, in a way. He makes them wait. Even the South Africa team bus has to wade through the same school-time traffic. Kirsten is asked about his opinion on MS Dhoni leaving Virender Sehwag out against Australia. "I am not going to comment on that," Kirsten says, even before the question is over.

Dirk Nannes, from Australia, one of the BBC's experts for the tournament, arrives carrying a Royal Challengers Bangalore bag to bowl to the South Africa batsmen in the nets. Cricket is truly globalised.

October 2
Pakistan are through to the semi-finals. India have been knocked out. You can't make out anything from Dhoni's blank face at the press conference. The catch in his voice gives his hurt away, though. Call him defensive, call him whatever, but he is a proud and successful man as well, and tonight he is sorely disappointed. The calls for removing him as captain have already begun back home. Funnily they were not remotely as strident when India were thrashed in eight consecutive overseas Tests in 2011-12.

Hungry. It is after midnight. Stop at the luxurious Cinnamon Grand, one of the team hotels, for a bite. I ask for a vegetable sandwich. It takes an age to arrive, and I get two slices of bread with a quarter of a sliced tomato between them. It is the lot of us poor vegetarians.

October 3
Have slept for two hours. Can't be late to record the Time Out show with Ian Chappell, Harsha Bhogle and our UK editor, David Hopps. Chappelli is not around. "You are the producer, you are young, though not necessarily fitter. Go find him," Hopps orders and sledges at the same time. Thankfully Chappelli is not hard to find. And, of course, an absolute riot as he rubbishes modern methods of training, such as playing football.

It is boiling hot and humid today in Colombo. Fortunately, an air-conditioned taxi is available. It is a Tata Nano, the famous low-cost Indian small car. Does not take long to get cooled. It's a breeze to the Premadasa, at a slightly pricier rate than the tuk-tuks. Who needs them? Today, at least.

October 4
Farooq and his friend are sitting glumly, heads on hands, elbows on knees, on the grass near the pavement close to the Cinnamon Grand. Farooq has come all the way from Toronto to watch Pakistan play. "We could not even make 140," he says of Pakistan's defeat to Sri Lanka in the semi-final. We discuss the frailty of Pakistan's batting and India's bowling. "You had Praveen Kumar lead your bowling in England [in 2011]. How on earth did you expect to win?" Farooq admonishes me. He respects Virat Kohli immensely but says it is difficult to like the man. "I want to, but I am unable to," he says, and repeats Kohli's choicest Hindi abuse words. We spot Mitchell Starc walk past. Farooq and his friend momentarily forget their disappointment to have snaps clicked with the fast bowler.

October 5
Wait at the Cinnamon Grand again, well past midnight, for the teams to arrive after the second semi-final. Miss West Indies. Australia arrive close to 1am. A group of half-drunk Australian fans is waiting, Australia flags and bottles of beer in hand. They cheer every player loudly. Most of them walk past with nods of acknowledgment, some with disappointed faces. Brad Hogg, 41 years young, walks up and high-fives each of the fans. They go inside the hotel, speak to him, have photographs taken. Their night is made. Hogg is still grinning broadly. The man is full of life.

Mahela Jayawardene walks casually to the entrance of the hotel. Nobody scurries up to him. Nobody clamours for autographs or pictures. Nobody thrusts a mike in his face. There are just quiet glances. Sri Lanka, unlike the rest of the subcontinent, knows how to respect and admire their heroes and not smother them at the same time.

October 6
Final round of pre-match press conferences, before the finals. Jodie Fields, the Australia women's captain, has this endearing half-hopeful, half-worried expression most of the time. Charlotte Edwards, the England captain, is statesman-like in her demeanour. Jayawardene is inevitably asked about the three successive world-event finals Sri Lanka have lost. Darren Sammy talks about getting a motivational message from Clive Lloyd, the only West Indies captain to win a World Cup.

Birthday today. Perfect evening to sit in the open-air restaurant of the Galle Face Hotel. Sea Spray, it is called. Aptly named, for it begins right where the waves of the Indian Ocean end. Dark rum and ocean spray. Some combination. There is even an old stone staircase that takes you a few steps down to the waves.

October 7
Even after winning the World Twenty20, Fields has the same half-hopeful, half-worried expression at the press conference. Edwards looks spent.

Rush to the balcony on the third level of the media building in time for the national anthems. A packed Premadasa stands absolutely still and "Sri Lanka Matha". Memorable moment.

A stunned-looking Jayawardene, articulate always, has no words to explain why Sri Lanka keep losing finals of world events. "It hurts a lot, it really does," he says in a low voice. Got to feel for the man. "One more thing, guys," he says at the end of the press conference, and you are reminded of the way Sourav Ganguly announced his international retirement in Nagpur in 2008. Thankfully, Jayawardene only announces he is quitting the T20 captaincy.

Sammy looks spent as well, from West Indies' celebrations. Clutches the trophy proudly. Points to the West Indies crest on his shirt.

A decent crowd waits for both teams to arrive at the Cinnamon Grand. They arrive almost simultaneously. Lots of cheering for both. The Sri Lankans walk past quietly. Phillip Spooner, the West Indies media manager, is jumping in the team bus, trophy in hand. He continues in this manner to the hotel. The players are largely subdued. Sunil Narine has a glow on his face. After the wild celebrations at the ground, Chris Gayle has found his expressionless face again. Journalist after television journalist accosts him. He answers everything patiently. Sammy comes along, and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Gayle. "They must already be drunk," Sammy says of fans back home. Gayle breaks into a wide smile. "Come join our party," Sammy tells a journalist. West Indies, this party has been long overdue.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo