August 23, 2012

Watching cricket, tennis-style

Also: magpie-spotting, barramundi-eating, and interviewing players clad in towels

August 13
Electric plugs in Australia are different from those in England and India. They are smaller, thinner, triangular. A world standard is needed for such things. A suitable converter takes some finding. A Nepal Under-19 player, Krishna Karki, comes over to the press area and wants to borrow mine. "Can I charge my camera, sir?" he asks. Plugs in Nepal are like those in India. "Of course, but don't call me sir," I reply. "Okay sir," he responds.

Two days later, Karki has Australia's Jimmy Peirson caught at mid-off, giving a surprisingly large contingent of Nepal fans at the Tony Ireland Stadium early reason to celebrate. Dressed in purple jerseys, waving Nepal's unusually shaped flag, and cheering everything, from wicket to dot-ball, they outnumber the Aussies easily.

Watch Gurinder Sandhu fling a ball in anger straight at a Nepal batsman, who hurries out of the way. Wonder if Sandhu would have reacted similarly had it been England or South Africa.

Despite all the attention on fast bowlers, Australia offspinner Ashton Turner is top of the wickets list with seven in two matches.

August 14
Kirwan State High School, en route to Tony Ireland Stadium, has a sign outside congratulating Mathew Cameron, a Paralympian. He has popliteal web syndrome and has had 25 operations since he was born. He's only 26, and is part of Australia's wheelchair-relay team in London. Inspirational.

Harry Conway's hat-trick against Nepal makes the back page of the Townsville Bulletin. A photograph of a vividly painted water reservoir on Castle Hill is splashed across the front.

See a magpie for the first time. Only ever read about them going for shiny objects in Enid Blyton books. Apparently known for attacking people. Two cameramen shoo it away.

Eat barramundi for the first time. From the size of the cut-up pieces, it seems like one massive fish. Can't detect a distinctive flavour.

August 15
Townsville is massive for the number of inhabitants it has, like most places in Australia. Space for what seems like hundreds of thousands more people. Most of the apartments are recent developments, lots of vacancy signs outside them. The older, more traditional, houses are Queenslanders - made of wood and raised on stilts, some short, some longer, to allow air to come up through the floorboards and cool the insides in summer. Each one looks quite different from the other at first glance, in terms of colour and construction, unlike row houses in England.

A five-day culture festival is on at the Strand, by the beach. Food, music and dance from various countries, many of them small islands in Oceania. Watch an aggressive stage performance from Papua New Guinea - huge men with painted faces, dressed in coconut leaves, shouting each other down. Eat food from the Torres Straits Islands (mussels, and sweet potatoes cooked in coconut milk) and the Phillipines (various kinds of pork). Too full to sample Fiji and El Salvador. Stay away from the masala dosas.

August 16
Catch the 208 bus at 8.05am from Walker Street to Endeavour Park for a couple of days. The next 208 is 30 minutes later. Share the ride with the same people both days - a mother and daughter, two girls going to school, and several William Ross school students. Get a couple of nods of recognition. Very rare to see the same people on the same bus in India, even if everyone is following a daily routine. Never have to wait 30 minutes between buses at home.

Cover cricket the old-school way at Endeavour Park. No television to look at for replays; no ball-by-ball commentary on ESPNcricinfo either. Miss something and it's lost forever. Two matches on at the same time: India-Papua New Guinea and West Indies-Zimbabwe, on adjacent grounds. Imagine two circles drawn next to each other with a ten-metre gap between the closest parts of their circumferences. Press tent is pitched in that gap. Turn head to the right for India-PNG, to the left for West Indies-Zimbabwe. Like watching tennis. Sightscreens for West Indies-Zimbabwe are two freight containers stacked on top of each other and covered with black tarp. No one asks for them to be moved.

August 17
Taken to interview the Aussies after they finish a pool session. Speak to Kurtis Patterson dressed in just a towel. Will remind him of it if he plays international cricket one day.

The quarter-finalists arrive from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. Five Indians are seated on a couch in the small lobby of their service apartment building. A bus draws up and out troop the Pakistanis, wearing green blazers, dragging suitcases and huge kit bags. They crowd the lobby. The Indians watch from the couch; the England players look down from the floor above. New Zealand also arrive, dressed in crisp white shirts, dark trousers and striped ties with the white fern on it. They wait patiently outside until the Pakistanis check in. Not much talking between opponents. Imagine they're sizing each other up.

England captain Adam Ball is a Charlton Athletic fan, but finds it hard to play as them on FIFA because everyone else is playing as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

August 18
Getting tired of answering questions about what I have been up to in Australia apart from the cricket. Nothing much at all, is the answer. No games in Townsville today but there are teams to meet ahead of the quarter-finals. Grateful for the patience of the receptionists at Oaks M on Palmer as I repeatedly ask them to connect me to various rooms. Spend the day gathering information; spend the night writing. Haven't seen the panoramic views from atop Castle Hill yet. Was five days before I wet my feet in the Pacific for the first time. Covering cricket is not as glamorous as it may look from the outside, but it's pretty damn good.

August 19
South Africa are playing England in the quarter-final at the Tony Ireland Stadium when sounds unusual for Townsville are heard: the revving of motorcycle engines and blaring of truck horns. About 200 of each pass by in a convoy that is part of an event raising money for a children's charity. They make a din that won't be out of place in Mumbai, during which England wicketkeeper Ben Foakes drops South Africa's Murray Coetzee.

Wasim Akram watches Pakistan practise ahead of their quarter-final against India. The team takes a group photo with him afterwards. And then they all want individual photos with Waz, who patiently strikes a pose and wears a smile and holds both for several minutes.

August 20
India-Pakistan quarter-final. Indian fans outnumber the Pakistanis, who try valiantly to compete in the shouting. It's a battle they cannot win unless their team does. The core group of Indian supporters seems to be from the Malayali Association of Townsville - someone shows up with a huge banner saying as much. The cheers are in Hindi, so that the Indian players can understand, but the chatter is in Malayalam.

Ravikant Singh walks to the midwicket boundary in front of the grandstand to field, immediately after taking two Pakistan wickets in an over."That's not Ravikant, that's Rajinikanth," someone shouts. Ravikant turns and laughs.

August 21
Australia's captain, William "The Barnacle" Bosisto, finally has an average. It's 189. After four unbeaten innings, two of which strongly influenced Australia victories, he is dismissed by South Africa, but not before his 40 takes Australia within four runs of a semi-final spot. It needs a run-out to remove Bosisto; no bowler has got the better of him yet. The South Africans drop three catches. Wonder if the ace fielders in their senior team get better after 19.

August 22
Townsville being a port town, it's quite common to see boats on the streets, being towed by cars. Try to read names of boats on the river while walking over the bridge. See Mental As Anything painted on the side of a catamaran. Not the most reassuring name to see in the sea.

Call a cab to go back to the city from Tony Ireland Stadium. The little lady driving it is old enough to be someone's grandmother. Talks about how sprawling new shopping complexes are sprouting in the town and about how the Goods and Services Tax has made everything more expensive. "We pay a tax on tax," she says.

Get a call from the bus company saying that someone I called at 9.42am has left their phone on a bus. Check records and see it's the New Zealand team manager. Give them details of where he's staying and make a note to check with him at the semi-final. That's the second lost item I've seen try to be returned by the bus company. Wonder if it's common in larger Australian cities too.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo