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India may not have turned up for the series in Australia, but Indians are everywhere
February 1, 2012
Mike Veletta. Western Australian of Italian origin. Played the most forgotten cameo in a World Cup final, 45 off 31 in 1987. Is now a director at CBRE, a real-estate firm. In his office hangs a framed valuation with a hand-written inscription, "We knew you would be right… DK Lillee." It's a valuation of Lillee's mother-in-law's property in the hills in Western Australia. She was ill and wanted to sell it. Lillee had other agents chasing him, but went straight to Veletta. One of Veletta's colleagues valued it at A$650,000; it sold for $640,000. Veletta studied for the job part-time while he played, even when on tours to England and the West Indies in 1989 and 1991. Often had the piss taken by team-mates for it. Imagine a player doing something similar today.
Aleem Dar turns up in the India nets. Along with Kumar Dharmasena, the other umpire. Dar picks up a bat. Walks into one of the cages. No protective equipment. Not even a box. Doesn't need them. Tonks everything that comes his way, including Dharmasena's offbreaks. MS Dhoni takes time out to bowl donkey drops to the umpire. Dar tonks some more. Sound strategy. Don't hit the umpire a day before the Test.
Reminded of dinner two nights ago. Spotted Ed Cowan and Dharmasena in the same restaurant. Different tables of course. Cowan didn't say hello, let alone send over a drink or offer to pay the bill.
Forget the go-karting; India better prepared when it comes to umpires.
The WACA, a pilgrimage. Land of some of the wackiest characters, most cracked pitches, and craziest plays in the game. Hope for a pitch that comes with a warning about graphic violence. Instead, get good, tight seam bowling good enough to run through the Indian batting again.
Bill Lawry brings it to WACA a little more than he brings it to any other ground. "They are bowling hand grenades at the moment here at the WACA," he says at one point.
David Warner then lays into the Indian bowling for the fourth-fastest Test century of all time. Sledges Indian batsmen about their averages. They say they'll see him when he comes to India. Warner wins sledging contest too. Says wickets there are so flat he'll probably average ten points more.
Enjoy free bus rides in Perth. Public transport not as efficient as in Melbourne and Sydney, though. Got to take taxis now and then.
Bruce Smith. Played footy before footy was humongous in Western Australia. Won a Western Australia title with a Perth side. Invested the money in a beachside house when nobody bought beach houses in Perth. House worth more than a million dollars now. Drives taxi otherwise. This is the life.
Terrible day for VVS Laxman fans. Scores an 11-minute duck. Almost irreconcilable with the man who made a career out of playing his best cricket in such circumstances. The music kind of dies.
Steve. Englishman. Film-maker. Also works with Channel 9. Has travelled the world. A good friend of Indian singer-songwriter Lucky Ali, who fittingly has sung quite a few songs about wanderers. Was in Bangalore once, and ran out of money. Rang Ali and was taken care of.
Have a chat with Steve near a coffee machine at the WACA. Last year, by the same coffee machine, he said hello to Michael Holding, who was covering the Ashes for Sky. Steve doesn't follow cricket that much, but assumed Holding must be a commentator. Asked Holding, "Did you play?" Holding nodded. "Were you any good?" Lucky to have lived to tell the tale.
Virat Kohli not so lucky. Left stranded on 75 as India lose three wickets in an over after lunch. Another innings defeat.
Got to see the good doctor when in Perth. Hop on a train to Fremantle. Half an hour later, find self at the shore. What a relief from the boiling heat of Perth. Restaurants on decks. Seagulls too. Warning reads: "Don't feed seagulls. They'll SOY." Presume it means "shit on you". Watch seagulls attack tables for leftovers as soon as people as much as get up. Vultures don't hold a candle to the sight.
On the way back to Perth, people start to rush into the train two or three stops before City. By the time the train reaches City, the last stop, the train is full but no one gets off. They all want to go back into the suburbs but wouldn't have got seats to sit in had they boarded from the crowded Perth station. Used to think it happened only in hugely overpopulated Mumbai.
Graeme Wood. Took many blows from the great West Indies fast bowlers of the '80s. Was too crazy a runner for a dour batsman. Hence also known as Kamikaze Kid. Says, "I honestly thought I was very quick. When I ran with a quick runner - if you ask Kim Hughes, he will say he enjoyed running with me. I think when I called, instead of saying no, they would try to get through. The legend has been overplayed. Grows and grows."
|Take taxis back every night. Talkative and friendly drivers all of them. Indians, Australians, Sudanese, Iraqis, Greeks, all of them love passengers who listen. Show interest in their stories and they don't charge fare. Finally journalistic instincts pay tangibly|
Adelaide airport. Don Bradman's photo first thing visible. Then a big display of the South Australian Sports Hall Of Fame. Bradman there again. So are Vic Richardson and Ian Chappell. Greg Chappell conspicuous in his absence. Clearly too many Indians in this country.
Tour reaches a point where a strange lethargy has set in. No contest on the field. Jet-lag of two hours from Perth to Adelaide. And why is it so hot in a developed country?
Also elusive are the Australian Open and Mr Roger Waters. Big conspiracy against those following the cricket. The tennis is in Melbourne, the cricket in Adelaide. And Waters will be playing in Perth once the cricket has moved on to Adelaide. Will miss him in Melbourne by a day, in Brisbane by 20, and then in Sydney by a week. The Indian Wall easier to breach at the moment.
Adelaide a bit of a ghost town on weekdays. Walk the streets listening to Paul Kelly's "Adelaide", his song about his hometown, on loop. "I own this town / I spilled my wine / At the bottom of the statue of Colonel Light / And the streets are so wide / Everybody is inside / Sitting in the same chairs they were sitting in the last year / Talking about the crows / The crows…"
Small town, with all activity centred around Hindley Street and surrounding areas. Can't avoid running into cricketers on the street. Dharmasena it is this evening. "Kumar, do something to make this contest interesting. You know you can." Laughs it off, but sounds a little uncomfortable. Gets serious upon further insistence during conversation. Good policy. Don't ever trust a journalist even when he seems to be joking.
Friday and Saturday nights crazy. Hindley Street an unending party. Not to be missed are big screens with the Australian Open on everywhere. Watch Lleyton Hewitt survive a barrage of 23 aces and 58 winners from near-two-metre Canadian Milos Raonic in the third round. Later says it felt like facing Brett Lee or Shaun Tait in the nets. What India would give to face Lee and Tait, as opposed to Hilfenhaus and Siddle.
Adelaide Oval friendly. Walk into the Bradman Museum. MCG and SCG much more officious. Watch Bradman deliver his old road-safety message. Advert as long as an over.
Bat with a stump against the replica water tank. But the stump is chained to the cage, so people don't walk away with it. Wonder if Bradman would have become Bradman if his parents had chained his stump to the door.
Heineken advert on TV. Music catches ear. Straight from a Tarantino film. Draws you in until you realise towards the end that it is a soundtrack from a 1965 Bollywood horror-thriller Gumnaam. Neatly done. Even neater is, due credit is given to the original source of music. Something for Bollywood to learn from?
Hard to play cricket in Australia. Harder to cover it. Corporates and Channel 9 - bigger payers than the written media - take up all positions behind the bowler's arm. Press dismissed to fourth floor and extra cover at the MCG and square leg at the WACA. Even the hospitable South Australia Cricket Association can't get you a better spot than extra cover on the fourth floor. Small triumph to enter the Oval with a voice recorder, even as spectators film happily with their iPhones.
Watch Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke score centuries from extra cover. Captain and former captain. Future and intermediate future. Lots of brotherly love flowing, through hugs and handshakes at every little milestone.
Living in a motel on a highway outside the city. Public transport shuts early here. Take taxis back every night. Talkative and friendly drivers all of them. Indians, Australians, Sudanese, Iraqis, Greeks - all love passengers who listen. Show interest in their stories and they don't charge the fare. Finally journalistic instincts pay tangibly.
Brilliant coverage of the tennis by Channel 7, except that only Aussie players get a flag next to their name. In a non-national sporting event. No more Aussies left in singles' main draw. Won't miss the flags.
More nationalism on display. New citizens get sworn in in the middle of the Oval on Australia Day. An Indian-origin family one of them. Hounded by TV channels for interviews. They bask in glory willingly.
No glory for India, who despite Kolhi's hundred can't avoid the follow-on. During the debate on whether the follow-on should be enforced, Ian Chappell reopens old wounds and ribs Lawry about the time he didn't enforce one. Chappell was vice-captain then. Lawry next man on air. Is asked to defend himself. Waits for the next ball, calls it, and then says, "I have made many mistakes as a cricketer… one of them was to ask Chappell a question." Good, well-meaning banter.
Australia Day treat is the first Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Grand Slam semi-final since Roland Garros 2005. Federer huge favourite in sports bar. People chant as if inside Rod Laver Arena. One old man - an uncle Tony lookalike but with a Lawry nose - doesn't approve. "The match is in Melbourne, you fu**** idiots," he turns around and shouts. Spots us as the only ones not chanting. "Under pressure, Federer is a wimp - plays like a woman," he says. Shades of Mats Wilander there.
Lovely Lebanese restaurants on Hindley Street. Tables outside with hookahs. Cards being played. Inside, soothing trance music. "Mate" gives way to "brother". Could well be a bazaar in a desert.
India in a desert too. Rahul Dravid escapes being bowled, but with his back foot stuck on leg, he is not as close to a delivery as his mind tells him he is. Edges. Ridiculously, umpires check for a no-ball for the 367th time India have lost a wicket in this series. Dravid waits. Crowd boos. What last memories of the great man in this country. How cruel sport is.
India rolled over before lunch. Another whitewash. Hang around at the Oval until evening. Lucky to watch Australia celebrate. They lie on the turf, they keep going in and out of change room, they go to the old scoreboard. Some of them have families there. About four hours after the finish, Siddle - unfortunate to not be Man of the Series - comes out. Still in his whites. Goes up to his mark. No ball in hand but starts running in as if to bowl. Bowls a phantom delivery, turns around, appeals to a phantom umpire and celebrates taking a phantom wicket. Arms aloft. What pure unbridled joy. Eight years ago it was Dravid who stayed back at the Oval for the moment to sink in.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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