March 30, 2009

Same Eden, different ground

A history lesson from Auckland, the Naked Bus, and Munaf goes native

March 14
Jesse Ryder puts on an irresistible all-round show to help New Zealand to a face-saving win at Eden Park.

An interesting ground, Eden Park is. Shaped like a 20-paise coin. Could lose its name to sponsors who help in its renovation for the rugby World Cup in 2011. Named after the same family as Eden Gardens in Kolkata is - that of Lord Auckland, Governor General of India in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Auckland the city was founded by Lord Auckland's favourite, Captain William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand, who named it after his patron. Lord Auckland's sister Emily, who carried the family name, Eden, developed Eden Gardens in Calcutta, and Eden Park and Mt Eden in Auckland honour the same family.

There is also an Auckland Street in Calcutta. But now Sahid Khudiram Bose Road is to Auckland Street what Kolkata is to Calcutta.

March 15
Travel from Auckland to Hamilton, two-and-a-half-hours' drive, for NZ$13, by the Naked Bus service, as opposed to paying $28 for the more conventionally named Intercity service. The Naked Bus is thus named for its delightful promise of "stripping the cost of long-distance bus travel". Tickets can be bought for as cheap as $1 if booked in advance.

March 16
Hamilton, unlike Christchurch, is not a walker's city. Too many cars zooming around. If one can avoid the cars - and one has enough experience, coming from India - the walk from Waikato Stadium, where the motel is, to Seddon Park can be pleasant. But it's not, because of the evil V8 Supercars race that arrives on April 19. Work is already on - Waikato Stadium to Seddon Park is the top of the circuit and the only ticketed watching area. A co-walker, who lives in the vicinity, is already dreading the day. He will not be allowed to come out of his house - or go in, in case he is already outside.

March 17
A day before the first Test, Sony want the start be pushed by one hour. Want to maximise their TV viewership time in India.

Run into Munaf Patel walking back from Seddon Park to the team hotel. Thinks a noon start is not good for fast bowlers - all the moisture will be gone by then. But also doesn't mind sleeping late. "That early-morning sleep is the sweetest." Turn left, while Munaf goes straight. Hear a familiar voice go, "See you, bro". Roll on the floor realising it's Munaf. "Yahan walon ke jaise baat kiya karo [You should talk like they do here]," he says. Munaf's right. "Bro" must be the third-most used word around after "mate" and "g'day".

Test cricket in New Zealand is all it has promised to be. The sun is out, the ground is not crowded. Portable chairs are out on the grass banks. Wish to trade the rickety press box for the grass bank, and the laptop and dictaphone for a thermos of tea, and cucumber sandwiches

March 18
The Test starts at its original scheduled time, thankfully. Munaf wakes up early all right, and takes three wickets in New Zealand's 279 all out.

Test cricket in New Zealand is all it has promised to be. The sun is out, the ground is not crowded. Portable chairs are out on the grass banks. A man initiates his son to cricket. "They have three slips and a gully," he says, explaining the field. Oh, Test cricket.

Wish to trade the rickety press box for the grass bank, and the laptop and dictaphone for a thermos of tea, and cucumber sandwiches.

March 20
Newspapers the world over have different styles when it comes to a person's name repeated in a piece. The ones in England and India say "Bush" when George Bush is used for the second time in an article, while the American ones usually say "Mr Bush". Not because he was their president, but because that is their style. The New Zealand papers lean towards the American style, but there are exceptions. In their sport reports, the second name is used without any salutation. And in the Waikato Times, a man accused of fraud is denied the right of being called "Mr" in a news report.

March 21
India have taken a big lead in the Hamilton Test, and on the fourth day New Zealand struggle to avoid an innings defeat. Ross Taylor is the fourth man out, whereupon in comes Jesse Ryder. "Drinks", says the giant screen. Some kind of joke?

Ryder hasn't had a bad Test match, though, following up his near-perfect maiden century with quite a few diving saves at gully. Towards the end of the Indian innings he has to stand at fine leg, where kids line up to get their minibats autographed. He has them throw the bats inside the field, and signs as many as he can. The kids wish the Indian tailenders bat on for as long as possible.

March 22
The morning after. The Indians are shopping, the New Zealanders are training. Stephen Hill is New Zealand's media manager, Andy Moles is their coach. Andy is ready for a press conference when Steve comes and takes off the sunglasses that Andy has wrapped around his forehead.

"They pay me a lot of money for wearing them," protests Andy.

"They pay us a lot of money for wearing that," says Steve, pointing at the National Bank logo on the cap that till recently sat between the sunglasses and the forehead.

Wonder if National Bank is okay with matches being played at AMI Stadium, Westpac Stadium, and Allied Nationwide Finance Basin Reserve. After all, they are all either banks or finance companies.

March 23
Back in Auckland. It could be any other city in any other country - it's so cosmopolitan and commercial. Offices, big buildings, and hotels as opposed to idiosyncratic motels. But the Sky Tower stands out. Life revolves around it. Watch from atop the whole city, the roads, the lights, the traffic, the sea. Almost like from a watchtower. Go to the seaside at night and watch the brilliantly lit Sky Tower from there.

March 24
Meet Bev Congdon. He famously almost led New Zealand to what would have been their first Test victory against England, chasing 479, at Trent Bridge. Bev scored 176, but New Zealand lost their last five wickets for 38 runs, and fell short by another 38. Amid the tension, Bev read a CS Forester novel in the change room.

"I always believed in cricket that whatever will be will be," he says. "It doesn't matter how excited or how nervous or how tense you become. What was happening was pretty commonplace to me. It was bloody important, but it wasn't my role to stir up the others in such a way as might make them nervous. I don't know that you get nervous when you look across at somebody else reading a book. Wasn't that great a book anyway."

March 25
All New Zealand hotels and motels seem to have a weird rule. Check-in not before 2pm, and check-out not after 10am. Travel plans don't always work out that way, especially when you're following an Indian team that comes to a Test venue 18 hours before the toss. Land in Napier at 8am. An accommodating lady at the motel reception advances the check-in to noon.

Spend the four hours sleeping and walking by the sea. These are the last few weeks, or days maybe, of the summer, and the sun is being cherished. The days of the fishing rod, the book and the hat.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo