August 30, 2011

The elusive Mr Modi, and the man with carbon fibre legs

Hunting Lalit, swarming Lloyd, quizzing Hendo, and more, in the third edition of our England tour diary

August 17
Lalit Modi is the subject of press-box discussion by the visiting Indian media, who have been trying hard to track him down, harder than even Indian investigative agencies.

I knock on the door of an old three-storey brick house in the swanky SW1 pocket in London, allegedly Modi's address since he was driven out of the BCCI (and India) for alleged financial misdemeanours in the running of the IPL. Modi's son answers the door. He is courteous, saying his father is out, and gives me a landline number on paper bearing the LKM insignia. Modi doesn't answer calls made to the number.

August 19
Sitting in the overflow press box - an enclosure for mediapersons who can't be fitted into the main box - at The Oval. The best thing about it is that it's open-air, so you can feel the buzz and intensity of the crowd.

In front of me is a radio commentator, weaving into the narrative the sights and the sounds and the ebbs and the flows of the final Test. It doesn't look easy.

Who has been the best cricket commentator on radio? Michael Henderson, the respected cricket columnist, reckons it is the late John Arlott, of the BBC's Test Match Special fame. "He had a good knowledge of the game and also about other things." A policeman, poet, wine connoisseur and cricket romantic - Arlott was all of them.

August 20
Madness comes in different forms. In England the crowds drink, dress eccentrically, dance and sing while enjoying the game. Some overdo it. A pair of wealth managers want their names mentioned in ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary. A "mad or what?" expression does not deter them. "How about for 50 quid," they ask laughingly, their faces flushed after a few pints in the afternoon sun. I sigh with relief when they stand up to leave. One of them slips me a folded piece of paper. "Our names are in there." Inside is a £20 note folded in four that I hand back.

August 22
After the whitewash is completed, the entire England squad, along with the large support staff, walks onto the field. The players lounge with beers in hands. In his column in the Sun, headlined "Secrets of our success", Graeme Swann writes later: "An hour or two after the fourth Test finished on Monday we wandered on to the outfield, supped a couple of beers and had a final reflective chat about the Test summer. Andy Flower was quite emotional as he spoke of the pride he felt in the team. It is great that a coach can be so happy that he chokes up like that."

August 25
History stares down at you from the walls of every cricket ground in England. In the the Kent Long Room is the famous painting by Albert Chevallier Tayler of a 1906 cricket match between Kent and Lancashire at the St Lawrence Ground, a game Kent won handsomely on their way to securing their maiden County Championship of the modern era. It is a vivid painting, one that has been celebrated many times including in this classic essay by Gideon Haigh. It shows Charlie Blythe, the former Kent and England left-arm spinner, bowling to Johnny Tyldesley. In 2009, Andrew Strauss and his men visited Flanders Fields in Belgium to commemorate servicemen who lost their lives in World War I, and laid a stone cricket ball at Blythe's grave.

August 26
The Indian media swarm around Clive Lloyd looking for an immediate diagnosis for the 4-0 defeat. Lloyd comes up with various reasons, and lists safeguards India should have put in place well in advance. The biggest lesson from the defeat, Lloyd says, is that Indian youngsters have to play more overseas cricket - as part of A teams, county cricket - to understand the nuances of the longer format. Living on a Twenty20 diet, Lloyd says, can only harm Indian cricket in the long term. Among his prescriptions, one line stands out: "Twenty20 is exhibition. Test cricket is examination."

August 27
Oscar Pistorius, the South African athlete who runs on prosthetic blades, is dominating the sports headlines here. A double amputee, Pistorius is in the 400 metres at the World Athletics Championships in South Korea, but some of his rivals are not happy about the advantage his blades have over human legs. Michael Johnson, the Olympic record-holder for the 400 metres, believes Pistorius probably has an advantage, because, as he says, during the last stretch of a race the ankles tend to relax due to fatigue, when you'd prefer them to stay taut. Pistorius, Johnson thinks, has no such problem. Pistorius is a good human-interest story. He eventually doesn't make it to the final, but is surely going to be a topic for raging debates in future.

August 28
The indefatigable Paul Nixon, 40, plays his final match in England tomorrow, after 22 first-class seasons. He looks supremely fit. So why go? "Top sportsmen should always quit on a high."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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