India v England, 5th ODI, Guwahati April 9, 2006

Chopping hoardings, lifting spirits



Even the sleek metal bird may not be enough to dry up the soggy outfield at Guwahati © Getty Images

When all else fails, bring on the heavy artillery. It did not quite come to sending out the troops, but the keenness of the Assam Cricket Association to get some sort of play under way was only too evident when they had a helicopter brought in to dry the wet areas in the outfield. At a cost of 90,000 rupees an hour (US$2000 approx), it was not a cheap drying option one that brought light relief to everyone at the ground. The sleek metal bird swooped low, made a pass round the outfield and then hovered low, only a few feet above the pitch.

Bereft of the markings you would see on an airforce or navy chopper, this private copter had the fans roaring in delight. Even if does not do enough to actually get play under way, it will go far in lifting the spirits of the huge crowd that had come to the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati despite chances of play appearing bleak all morning.

Not everyone will be chuffed by the work the pilot did, though, as the low swoops along the boundary destroyed the advertising hoardings lining the ropes. It was ironic, some would say poetic justice even, that in this day and age, where every passing week is punctuated by an announcement from the Board of Control for Cricket in India about the latest scheme to rake in an extra million dollars or two, that attempts to get a game of cricket going resulted in advertising hoardings being destroyed.

And it was a scene of carnage on the boundary. As photographers and groundstaff clutched onto their caps and shirts for dear life umbrellas were turned inside out and the hoardings blasted away by the powerful air current the rotor blades of the chopper generated.

Soon after the helicopter began working, out bounded Mahendra Singh Dhoni, with Irfan Pathan in tow. In no time the two got on board the helicopter and got right in on the act, waving to fans all along. Dhoni's penchant for speed, and all things transportational is well documented now. Apart from the gut-busting 600 cc motorbike he rides when home, he has taken every opportunity to take the Man of the Match for a ride on the sponsor's motorbike. There was some small concern that he might ask to have a go at the controls of the helicopter, but fortunately, even being the swashbuckler that he is, Dhoni refrained.

In about 45 minutes the helicopter had done all it could, and after setting Dhoni and Pathan down, flew off amid cheers. Sadly, though, the copter had not really done enough to dry out the playing area. On the surface it had made a huge difference, but this ground has taken a proper soaking, and the soil composition in these parts - a high percentage of clay - made it conducive to absorbing and retaining moisture. Under the surface it's still quite wet, and only the sun beating down hard will make play possible. The latest the umpires can wait till is 1.45pm, and even then, only a 20-overs-per-side thrash will be possible.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo