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Our correspondent catches some tennis, comes to grips with oversize parathas, and watches a "milkshake challenge"
March 3, 2014
Series/Tournaments: ICC Under-19 World Cup
The teams are back to training after taking the first gap day off between the group stages and the knockouts. Head down to the ICC Academy ovals where India and New Zealand are training. As the Indians pack up and leave, the sounds of Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" disturb the peace. The DJ? Sarfaraz Khan. It plays off his mobile phone in his pocket with the volume cranked right up.
Meet New Zealand's Raki Weerasundara and then thank the team manager Kaushik Patel for setting it up. As I leave I ask if he's in any way related to Dipak Patel, the former New Zealand offspinner. "Yeah. He's my brother." Like Dipak, Kaushik has dedicated his life to cricket and has been coaching since he was 20. A former opening batsman and left-arm spinner, Kaushik played semi-professionally for Stratfordshire and signed as a junior player with Worcestershire. Settled in New Zealand in 1996 and has been involved as an U-19 coach and selector since. Says the Patel family was "born with a cricket bat and ball in their hand". The conversation veers towards Dipak's career.
The knockouts begin. The defending champions India are shown the door by England in a nail-biter. The mouthy send-offs to two England players spark comments on Twitter and in the media box about the behaviour of the Indian players when under pressure. Ben Duckett, the star of the day, says England didn't expect to make it to the semis. There's hardly anyone from the British media to cover it. Perhaps they didn't expect it either.
Nicolas Pooran plays a blinder, 143 against Australia. His mentor Daren Ganga times his arrival in Dubai perfectly to witness the innings of the tournament.
It's interesting observing different players handle media conferences. The Australia captain Alex Gregory appears nervous. I tell him he better get used to it, for it's only the start, and he laughs. The previous day India's Vijay Zol was asked how boring it was to talk to the media. He looks startled for a second and gives a diplomatic answer: "It's all part of the game."
England have a habit of producing thrillers. If they are not getting abuse thrown at them, they're dishing it out, as is the case in the second semi-final against Pakistan, but the camaraderie between the two sides after the game makes up for it. Catch up with Imam-ul-Haq, the tournament's leading run scorer at that point, and nephew of Inzamam-ul-Haq. Over a 15-minute conversation - rather monologue - it's clear the excitement of the win hasn't sunk in for him. The floodlights are dimmed by the end of it and the ground is empty. Fear the team has already left for the hotel without him.
The South Africans are having fun at a fielding session at the Academy Oval. Coach Ray Jennings splits them into two groups, batsmen v bowlers, for a "milkshake" challenge: the team with the most direct hits wins. The batsmen come out on top. The captain, Aiden Markram, is the best fielder of the evening. The bowlers have to shell out cash for milkshakes for the winners.
My quest for new eating options continues. I come across a no-frills Pakistani joint in a residential area. Grossly underestimate the size of the parathas.
It's the second semi-final, with Australia taking on South Africa. The game gets over earlier than expected. As usual, a few of us head down to the seats to get a feel of the action. We head back up to the media room after a while but one of the journalists wants to stay on for a few more overs. He ends up staying for longer because he gets locked in. A security guard has bolted the exit door to keep fans from entering the commentary enclosure. A few phone calls and an argument with the guard later, he's released from captivity.
The first of two gap days before the final. I head to Sharjah for a change. Unlike Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the location of the stadium here is more central - if anachronistic. The press and VIP enclosures are open-air and the commentary box, when in use, can get really cramped. That was open air too in the days when Henry "Blowers" Blofeld graced the chair. Also surprised at the size of the outfield. Maybe it was Tony Greig who made it seem like Sachin hit those sixes into the ocean. Watch India gain a consolation win for fifth place before they catch the flight back home.
At night a few of us journalists decide to have a mini night out in Dubai. We head to the Irish Village next door to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. It's the start of the weekend and there are no seats outdoors. A giant screen shows the live match for those who couldn't get in or afford tickets. Dubai's answer to Henman Hill.
It's the eve of the final and a captains' press conference is arranged at ICC headquarters. Head to the Academy Oval to watch a bit of the third-place playoff between England and Australia. It's a good place to watch cricket so long as the weather is good. Dave Richardson makes an appearance. Dave Collier too drops by for the game. A couple of England players fill their plates and sit down for lunch next to us. After the press conference, Sami-ul-Hasan, the ICC's media and communications manager, gives us a guided tour of the ICC office. It's empty since it's a holiday.
The final day of the tournament. The stands start filling up as Pakistan keep losing wickets. Plenty of green jerseys around during the interval. We watch the first 15 overs from the seats, and at 28 for 2 the expectations are high. They recede as Markram and Greg Oldfield build on. The celebrations after the win aren't quite the same as India's tribute to Usain Bolt in Townsville in 2012.
It's one of the simpler tournament final presentations I have seen - no confetti or crackers. How it should be. Jennings prefers to sit outside the change room, where his boys are letting their hair down. Markram sits coiled on the outfield on his own, answering his mobile, before joining the rest. We stay on and get some reactions from Justin Dill and Clyde Fortuin. A few South Africans come out with the trophy for some photo ops. Ngazibini Sigwili shakes our hands before heading inside. There's one final warm gesture awaiting us. As we say goodbye to the South Africa manager and thank him for his help, he lets each of us hold the World Cup trophy. It was the postcard moment of the tournament. It didn't matter that all of us are over 19.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Kanishkaa Balachandran
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