Postcards from the Basin
Surprise as Virender Sehwag comes out for the toss for the Napier Test, as opposed to MS Dhoni, who has a mysterious injury. The New Zealand journalists enquire with their Indian counterparts about the when and how of the injury, and how bad it is. Smile to self in the knowledge that no information will be sent through. That's how Indian cricket works. How, otherwise, will there be widespread speculation and tension?
No need for tour allowance today. Watching VVS Laxman in full flow makes it worth having travelled all the way to New Zealand. There have been many forms of impressive batsmanship on the tour, but Laxman is something else. Even though his innings doesn't help India save the follow-on, in isolation Laxman's batting is the most beautiful piece of the tour.
Gautam Gambhir plays a modern epic to take India on their way to saving the Test. The innings goes on to last 643 minutes, for only 137 runs. Gambhir is concentrating so grimly, he loses track of his score. Later, in Wellington, he asks, "How many minutes did I spend on the same score?" Inform him he was 83 at tea and 84 at drinks, an hour after.
Call Airport Shuttle to book a pick-up. Their incredibly cool number, 0800 7488853, or 0800 SHUTTLE on the phone keypad, doesn't work. The pre-recorded announcement directs to another number. The waiting tone is Moby's "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" Get disconnected for some reason. Call again and listen to Coldplay's "Trouble". Wonder why such sad songs. Perhaps because people call to book a shuttle only when they are leaving.
Napier airport. Airports are weird. Everybody is going somewhere. Can't escape the realisation that soon one will be gone, to India. There's a sense of loss. The end is near. Not long ago, on a bus ride from Christchurch to Lincoln, where the Indian team trained, there was no end in sight.
Crowd Goes Wild. A sports magazine show on Sky TV. The hosts: the outspoken Mark Richardson, and Andrew Mulligan, formerly of Cow TV, an infamous student TV show based in the student city of Dunedin. One of the Cow TV segments, "The Walk of Shame", is particularly infamous - the crew stay up late, or wake up early in the morning, to capture on camera students walking home after a night of drunken revelry.
Back to Crowd Goes Wild. Mulligan recently complained to Richardson - via text message - about the number of plugs on his Dilmah Tea Party talk show on Sky during tea intervals. Featured on the show are Dilmah tea bags, cups with Dilmah written on them, and other assorted branded paraphernalia. Richardson makes an apology on air. And says he wants to make up for it. Out comes a Dilmah bag from under the table. "Here is a Dilmah tea kit for you," Richardson says, "… here is a special tea set from Dilmah, here is a diary that Dilmah has sent for you…" And so on and so forth.
Waiting for a cheque here too. Dilmah has been mentioned about eight times so far.
The Basin Reserve. A historic and picturesque cricket ground that's a part of life in Wellington. A one-way road goes around the Basin, which is immensely crowded with cars. But there is a narrow road inside the stadium, used by walkers, circumferencing the actual playing ground. And the Basin is never off limits to the public, unlike cricket grounds in India.
There's plenty of life in the Basin on a typical non-play day. There are schoolchildren eating their tiffin on one of the grass banks; there's a taxi driver relaxing, having parked his car by the road; there are people rollerskating through the ground; there's a man walking through, playing Dylan. The Basin is much more than a cricket ground.
The 1969 New Zealand team that beat Garry Sobers' West Indies is reuniting during this Test. But one of them has not retired yet - the said team's captain, Graham Dowling. He just stopped playing. Just like that. Didn't like too much attention. "I played my last Test match in the West Indies in 1972," Dowling remembers. "I broke down. My back was no good, and I couldn't even run, and at that stage I was 35 years old. I thought I had had a pretty good innings, and I had to start working for my living and looking after my family. So I just walked away and didn't bother about what some people do - make a big fuss and bother about retiring and all that sort of thing. Have had a wonderful time. Cricket has been great for me. Seen the cricketing world, and very lucky to do so, and I was happy as Larry."
Chris "Tom" Martin whacks Harbhajan Singh straight down the ground for four, sending the weekend crowd into the biggest cheer of the season. These are his first runs since November. Jokes abound that Chris Martin, the Coldplay lead singer, scores more often. But if Coldplay were to come to New Zealand, their lead singer will suffer from an identity crisis - his cricket namesake is so popular.
There is history everywhere at the Basin. Even on the footpath. Plaques as big as manhole covers commemorating historic events. One of them is the first Test played at the Basin, when Stewie Dempster and Jackie Mills added 276 for the first wicket against England, a record for New Zealand for any wicket then. Dempster's century was the first by any New Zealand batsman. And the gate collection, 1125 pounds, was a record for any game in New Zealand.
The picket fence has smaller plaques, with random names, on some of the wooden planks. That's a way of buying a part of the Basin. For NZ$100 one can get one's name, family's name, or a loved one's name, immortalised here at the Basin.
See in the museum the tiger skin that the Maharajah of Vizianagram presented John Reid with, on New Zealand's 1955-56 tour of India. Ask Reid about it. "He told me it was the 294th tiger he had shot from the back of an elephant," he says. Remember how Sachin Tendulkar pledged his support for tiger conservation earlier during the tour. How times have changed.
Last day of the tour. The final Test has gone the duration, and India have won the series via a draw. Tours all end suddenly. All of a sudden there is a vacuum. It's not sad, just strange. Wonder how it is with cricketers.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo