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Think you can get away from them down under? Not a chance
February 16, 2012
Back to Sydney. Back to pleasant weather. Spells of rain interspersed with cool breeze. Sydneysiders don't quite like it. They want the sun. Thankfully Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal not playing Australian Open final under sun. Gruelling, gnawing even, five-setter. Don't really want to watch a match comprised primarily of 30-shot rallies, but watch, not for tennis but for fear of missing dramatic end. Means struggle to justify end. Finally final finishes at 1.37am. India train early in the morning, half an hour outside city.
Heat reaches Sydney too. Back in Sydney trains. Off to Stadium Australia in Homebush, originally built for the Olympics, now presumably challenging the MCG and the SCG for final of World Cup 2015. Capacity close to 90,000. Decent-sized playing field. Helping it get ready for its international debut is famous Adelaide curator Les Burdett. Also prepared the pitch for the 1987 World Cup final. Was invited by the Indian board, who had presumed India and Pakistan would play the final and a neutral curator would be required.
Tells story of when West Indies came to play in Adelaide in 2000-01. Brian Lara asked him, as players do curators, how the pitch was. Burdett said there were about 180 runs in it for him. Lara laughed. Then scored 182. "After the game he was waiting for me with a case of beer."
Almost miss Irfan Pathan waiting for a train at Olympic Park train station. Tell him it is difficult to recognise him in civils. Says that's the beauty of being in Australia. Can live like a normal person. Do normal things. Sit in train. Walk in city. Can't do that in India. No chance. Is also fighting jetlag and wants to stay away from bed. Ask him why alone. Points to companion. The iPod.
Another taste of India. Sydney runs free and dedicated trains to Olympic Park for those going to watch the first Twenty20 international. There's about 60,000 of them, a record for cricket played in New South Wales. On train, people sitting everywhere. On handrests, on steps, on floor. India keep losing. Play two specialist spinners along with an army of part-timer spinners, knowing very well it is going to rain. Matthew Wade serves notice to Brad Haddin with 72 on debut. Last train back to city at 1.40am.
Melbourne. Feels familiar. Trams. Walks. Know streets well now. Glorious evening by the Yarra. Sun stays till 8.30pm. On Bourke Street, lady tries selling copy of the Bhagwad Gita.
"Why would you try to sell me that?"
"Why not?" she says. "Oh, where are you from?"
"To me, you look central American."
Realise it's time to trim beard.
How do they play these Twenty20s? Loud music, not between overs, between deliveries. Crazy fireworks. Torches go off as players walk out.
Like the use of "Come On, Aussie Come On". Remember Ian Chappell talk about how the hairs on the back of his neck stood up when he heard a jam-packed SCG sing along to it back in 1978, the first time World Series Cricket managed to make an appearance at a traditional cricket venue, and also the first big crowd for the WSC. That's when they knew Australia had accepted the "rebels". "Lillee's pounding down like a machine/ Pascoe's making divots in the green/ Marshy's taking wickets/ Hooksey's clearing pickets…"
Back at the MCG, India have their first win of the tour, a Twenty20. Some of their best fielding of recent times. During the match a man runs onto the field of play, thankfully with clothes on. That's a fine of A$7300, thank you very much. Security guard of Indian origin complains fireworks not as big as in Sydney, when Australia won.
Paul Kelly continues to provide soundtrack for the tour. "Leaps And Bounds" in Melbourne. "I'm high on the hill/ Looking over the bridge/ To the MCG/ And way up on high/ The clock on the silo/ Says 11 degrees." Silo visible from MCG footbridge. Mystery behind clock saying 11 degrees: it used to tell temperature and time alternatively. Doesn't work now. It's not 11 degrees either.
Try to book hotel in Perth. No vacancies within a radius of 13km of the WACA ground. Feel triangular series has made a good comeback. Not tonight, though, as India insipidly lose rain-affected series opener to Australia at the G. Got to respect conditions and play fewer spinners.
Watch from overflow press area, which is actually coaches' box for footy games. Rod Marsh, Andy Bichel and John Inverarity sit and watch from next box. During rain break, big screen becomes nostalgic and shows old highlights. Lillee bowling Viv Richards with the last ball of the Boxing Day at the G in 1981 one of them. Apparently the full house kept chanting "Lillee, Lillee" for half an hour after the game finished. Next day Lillee became the most successful Test bowler of all time. Watch Marsh watch those pictures. Can't hear what the three are saying, but he looks wistful. They do keep sending over food.
In Perth, realise hotels are sold out not because of cricket fans but the many mining conferences and recruitment interviews. Everything more expensive in Wild West than rest of Australia. Jetlagged and homeless until finding, out of sheer luck, a hotel that has just had a cancellation.
Legend of Manneken Pis. Two-year-old Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. When the real duke died, others wanted to conquer. Loyal soldiers still went to war. Took the two-year-old to the battlefield too, hanging in a basket from a tree. With the war almost lost, the Duke suddenly got up and urinated on enemy troops, inspiring the beleaguered soldiers to fight on and win. Learn of it at a Belgian pub in Perth.
Realise that India are playing Sri Lanka once again. Takes the piss out of the triangular. Masters of attrition when they come up against each other. Bring worst out of each other.
Ian Chappell, Ravi Shastri and Wasim Akram in press box as India and Sri Lanka play an expectedly low-quality match. Shastri has us in splits with his stories of facing West Indies quicks. Remembers in proper detail how people would try to get injured, manufacture injuries, fall ill, just to avoid them. Hilarious stories all, but names can't be published here for obvious reasons.
Chappell remembers asking Tiger Pataudi where he worked.
"I am a prince, Ian," said Tiger.
"No, but what do you do you do for a living?" Chappell asked, not realising what being a prince meant.
"I told you, I am a prince, Ian."
"But 9 to 5, where do you go, what do you do?"
"I am a f***ing prince."
Chappell asked no more.
Walk through beautiful Queen's Gardens to get to WACA ground. Swans - big black ones - in the pond inside. Quiet, idyllic place other than that. Ian Healy says when he used to walk back through there after a day's play, it made him contemplate retirement. That kind of place.
Angelo Mathews nearly pulls off a miracle with 18 required off the last over. Story of his life so far. Obvious talent. Earmarked for great things, including captaincy. Missed maiden century a few times before finally bringing it up in controversial circumstances. Missed World Cup final. Hopefully won't end up as nearly man.
Adelaide. Time for a beard trim. Find self in Joseph's hair salon on Bank Street. Last year Michael Holding and David Lloyd came in for a shave. Joseph didn't recognise them. "I didn't know who they were." In all humility, in his smooth voice, Holding told Joseph, "I played 60 Tests for West Indies."
Tarndanya Womma. That's Adelaide Oval in one of the aboriginal languages. Tarndanya is a combination of "tarndna" and "kanya", which mean red kangaroo and rock respectively. "Womma" means plain, and hence Oval. MS Dhoni finds own language to help India win a close match, their first win over Australia in the triangular. Bats slow, teases, teases, delays final assault before launching Clint McKay for a huge straight six with 13 required off final over.
Adelaide casino. A city in itself. Super-excited at converting $10 into $155. Watch a man convert 20 into 940 on the same table. No reaction from him. Tell him now might be a good time to leave. Says, "This is nothing." The kind of place Dhoni the ODI batsman should inhabit. Looking at the method in his batting, though, maybe not.
Lose $55 and quietly walk away with remaining 100.
Dhoni at it again. Runs out Gambhir during simple chase, watches other wickets fall, but lofts Lasith Malinga's final delivery over extra cover to secure a tie, the first between India and Sri Lanka. True to form, the two teams keep pulling each other down. Match full of crazy run-outs, missed run-outs, spilled sitters, missed opportunities with bat. These teams must love each other.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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