August 1, 2011

Beefy in the lift, a masseuse in the press box

When in England, watch a football game, shiver in the summer and get a massage in the press box

July 17
Soon after landing in London, I notice the English papers are full of the news of Irish golfer Darren Clarke's victory at the Open. A portly Ulsterman, a perennial underachiever, he has held the Claret Jug on his 20th attempt. It is a compelling story. A story of a man of 42 (a fellow traveller saw his picture and said, "He looks older") still burning with the desire to win. A man who smokes on the greens, who brings a glass of Guinness to the press conference after having sipped "a few" glasses of wine in his room.

July 18
This is my fourth summer in the UK in as many years. I have to admit I am more comfortable manoeuvring the chaos back in Mumbai. I find the deafening silence on the streets in London on a dark, rainy day eerie. The sun plays hide-and-seek most days. This is the English summer.

It's also the land of overflowing pints, cider, fish 'n chips, and football. A land where you'll be greeted with "Hello darling" and "What can I do for you, luv?" And the land of Big Brother. Cameras are everywhere: in the tube, in stations, in double-decker buses, in elevators, pubs and offices. You are always under the scanner.

July 20
Kiran More, former India keeper, stands outside the Middlesex Cricket Shop in Lord's. More, an MCC member, has made this trip to see Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman together one final time at the venue. But right now, something disturbs him. He wonders why there is no movement in India to cultivate and maintain the country's cricketing heritage. "None of our domestic state cricket sides have a proper museum. Former greats like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar should have had dedicated museums. It just shows how blind we are as cricketing people."

July 22
My first streaker: galloping proudly on after the end of the day's play at Lord's. At half past eight in the evening, when the stewards are cleaning up, this figure jumps into the ground from the Mound Stand. A couple of bouncer-like figures guard the pitch but our man makes a smooth run, waving, jumping, and squealing his way back to his point of entry. At least he manages to put smiles on the faces of deadline-weary journalists.

July 26
I walk to the National Theatre in lively South Bank to see the World Press Photo exhibit by British photographers. One of my picks is the photo of Yawar Saeed and Shafqat Rana, members of the Pakistan team management in 2010, reading the News of the World edition that exposed the spot-fixing scandal involving three Pakistan players during that year's Lord's Test. The front-page headline was "CAUGHT". A year later the tabloid has shut shop after being caught in a mess of its own, involving phone-hacking.

July 27
In Brian Clough country. A maverick of a football coach, Cloughie took two minor provincial teams, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, to championship glory. A statue of him standing on the sidelines is placed in the middle of the city centre.

I find the deafening silence on the streets in London on a dark, rainy day eerie. The sun plays hide-and-seek most days. This is the English summer

In the evening I stand in queue to watch my first football match in England. It is a pre-season friendly between Forest and PSV Eindhoven. I am amazed by the orderliness shown by the fans waiting in line. About 10,000 file in dressed in Forest red, and most sit in the main stand opposite the Brian Clough Stand. The first half of the match isn't spectacular but the second is dynamic, as the Dutch display a fantastic phase of touch football that results in them winning 4-1. I am a little disappointed as I expected more intensity and atmosphere, but then again it was a friendly.

July 28
With the DRS on holiday, a match official quips, "We are now under the IRS - Indian Review System."

July 29
Ian Botham walks into the elevator I'm in. When it stops at the next level Munaf Patel and his wife get in. Munaf, normally ready with a word, is tight-lipped, and has a shy smile - the boy who stands in front of his idol and can't muster up the courage to speak. When the lift arrives at ground level, Munaf says to Botham: "After you." Chivalrous, Beefy asks Mrs Patel to exit first, and then gives marching orders to the Indian seamer: "Come on." You don't tell a knight what to do.

July 30
Saturday in Notthingham. Lively, noisy and colourful. Parties are in full swing, and music is blaring from every pub and club in the city centre. How do women wear short dresses on biting cold evenings like this when the rest of us are shivering and walking with our hands in our pockets?

July 31
Is writing a day's report a back-breaking exercise? Many may disagree, considering we hacks sit in a comfortable media centre where we are looked after by a hospitable staff, who ply us with delicious cake, and mugs of coffee and tea, in addition to a good lunch. And now there's a new feature: the ECB has employed a masseuse, who moves around the Trent Bridge press box, pressing and kneading, sometimes using elbows, to relieve the stress of us already spoilt journalists.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo