January 13, 2011

The win, the wind, the mountain

More South African delights in part two: Cape Town accents, meeting Big Dog and Big Rhino, mangoes for breakfast and more

December 27
Durban roads. Go up and down like rollercoasters. The farther from the seaside, the steeper the climbs. So steep towards Overport that sometimes the far side is not visible. A bit similar to the Test series currently on.

Zaheer Khan returns to the Indian team and takes only five deliveries to say hello to old friend Graeme Smith. Edged and taken. India make a stunning comeback into the series, bowling South Africa out for 131.

December 28
Always nice to meet a journalist who has 116 Test wickets from 28 Tests, at an average of 24. A journalist who fathered the highest wicket-taker of his country, and is brother to arguably the best batsman from there. Peter Pollock was a trained journalist when he played cricket. "We had to work. We lived real lives."

Wanted to do what Richie Benaud used to: write on Tests he played in. Apartheid cut that dream short, but he managed to do so during World XI games. Is concerned about how much importance is given to what cricketers say. "In the final analysis, the media will have a lot to answer for. Because the media makes heroes, and then gives heroes platforms beyond what they deserve. And then it becomes 'So and so said this', 'So and so said that', but he is just another human being with an opinion." Is also worried about modern athletes who come straight out of school into big-time sport, and never really see real life.

VVS Laxman scores 96 on a pitch where the next-best scores are 39 and his own 38. Fifty-two of the 96 come with the tail. Part of his explanation for such good batting with the lower order: "I share a good rapport with each and every one of them." Laxman and his ways. Can make anything look simple.

December 29
Seaside in Durban. Jetty-like things to take people deepish into the sea, about 500 metres. Get right to the edge of one. Like being on a ship. In the water, the surf's up. Must feel good to get into the waves. Live with them. Conquer them.

A bit like hours earlier for India's Test team. One of India's greatest Test wins. In conditions similar to 14 years ago, when they scored 100 and 66. Lived with waves. Conquered them.

December 30
Rain. Watch from balcony. Can actually see the heat come off the tar road as vapour. Stand there barefoot. Feels warm, like an oven cooling down.

Mangoes for breakfast. In December. Joys of touring life.

Eighties Hindi music on car radio. "I am a Disco Dancer". The composer of the song, Bappi Lahiri, a genius before his time (long explanation, but the theory can't be faulted), belongs spiritually to the northern province of Gauteng, which translates to Land of Gold.

December 31
Cape Town. Windy. Never seen any place windier. Not even Wellington. Open the window in eighth-floor hotel room, from where Table Mountain is visible. Nothing in the room stays still. It's like an earthquake.

Go to Cape Town's waterfront. Fireworks to welcome 2011. Huge crowd to watch it. Random man walks by, saying, "I see nothing." Truer words never spoken.

January 1
Realise why India had their first training camp on tour in Cape Town. Such beauty needs getting acclimatised to. Can't just turn up and handle it.

Top of Table Mountain. Huge. Big enough to feel like you're walking on a plain. Big enough to make one lose way back. Wonder what happens to people who are left behind at night. Thankfully not as windy as Wellington today.

Lie on a rock and admire the bluest possible sky. Clouds all left behind. And no, it's not sea underneath, it's clouds. Spot Newlands from high. Will be looking at the mountain from Newlands for the next five days.

January 2
Train to Newlands from town. Pass stations such as Observatory, Mowbray, Salt City, Rosebank and Rondebosch along the way. Best way to beat Cape Town traffic. Trains here not as frequent as the local ones in Mumbai but not as crowded either. Graffiti inside and outside each coach. Not sure who or what Emek is, but it is the most popular word among those who enter trains with spray paint.

Overcast day. Can't see Table Mountain at all. Hashim Amla, under a "sugar rush", scores a counterattacking fifty. Is asked about a verbal exchange with Sreesanth during the innings. Says, "There was no exchange. I never said a word." Can't sledge such people much.

January 3
Hello Cheapskates. Massive advertisement outside hotel. Simple system: shame bad debtors by posting messages about them. Their mission is to give people "the right to express and stand up for themselves against those who owe them money, for whatever reason". Must be effective indeed, for no one will want to be featured here. Service seems popular among schools, who list defaults in fee payments, from as little as 50 rands to as high as 10,000. Good to know, in a way. High time somebody defrauded schools. Dylan, Floyd, Lennon would approve.

January 4
Cape Town is the most cosmopolitan of South African cities. Can find Malay, black, white, Indian, cape-coloured people in same street. Throw in tourists too. Also, Capetonians are proud owners of one of the world's unsung singsong accents. Completely different from those of Trinidadians or L Sivaramakrishnan. More refined, subtler, in that it becomes obvious only after you've been three or four days in Cape Town.

And infinitely more enjoyable than Dale Steyn bowling great swinging balls of fire one after the other. If you're padded up, that is. Everyone else thoroughly enjoys the best day of cricket in recent memory: Steyn and Sachin Tendulkar at their best over 11 overs of great skill from the bowler and pressure-absorption by the batsman. Both come out with reputations enhanced. Jim Laker might want to revisit his idea of paradise.

January 5
Shooting outside Newlands even as the Test is on. Luke Fairweather, a prominent local cricket official, is killed.

Inside, Jacques Kallis, writhing in pain from an earlier blow to the ribcage, collapsing twice on a hot day, scores a century to shoot down India's hopes of a series win in South Africa. The physio describes the pain to Mark Boucher as "somebody cutting their own rib". India's pain is deeper, longer-lasting.

January 6
Brian McMillan. Misses his friend "Muscles" Raju, who in turn used to call him Rhino. Then along came Sachin Tendulkar, and McMillan became Big Rhino and Tendulkar Little Rhino. Remembers sledging Tendulkar to no avail. "You chirp him, he smiles and then looks away. That's all he does. What are you going to do? What can I do if I sledge you and you smile and look away?" Is amazed when told another friend, Salil Ankola, has been to television soaps and back. "I have got to meet him."

On the field, Gautam Gambhir reacts somewhat similarly to sledging from all comers, spending four-and-a-half hours for 64 runs as India save the match and draw the series. Fair result, many will say.

January 7
Cape Town airport. South African team are on the same economy airline, which goes by the name of Mango. Morne Morkel stopped at security check. Carrying scissors in his toilet bag. Lady at security counter doesn't allow them through. Morkel threatens to chop her hair off with them. The scissors stay back in Cape Town.

January 8
Durban. Feels like coming home. Know the roads, the weather patterns, the three quintessential Durban sounds: sea, rain and wind rustling through the trees. All three are heard almost every day, but it's when all are absent that it gets difficult to be in Durban. In silence, with the sun out, the city gets hot, very hot.

January 9
Makhaya Ntini says goodbye. As Jeff Finlin wrote, it's been a freight train comin'. Always been around the bend. All 47,000 at the stadium stand as one. Remember a washed-out game in Chennai in 2005. Apart from the famous Chepauk dog, Manju, only Ntini ventured out onto the field that day. And did a bhangra for the crowd. Retirement a big loss to spectators around the world.

January 10
Run into Imran Tahir. Cricket traveller, if ever there was one. Born in Pakistan, married to a South African, plays both here and in England. Recently completed his qualification as South African resident. Immediately picked in the ODI squad, and was fit into the World Cup probables. Loves living here, "but in Lahore, you can roam around whole night, eat whenever, halwa-poori, roti-shoti, at any time of the night." Spoken like a true Punjabi. Actually cities do go to sleep early here.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo