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Being on the Beeb and other stories

In which our correspondent is remembered by a former international cricketer, befriends a librarian, and talks horses with Ravindra Jadeja

Sidharth Monga

June 16, 2014

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An ad for tea featuring Mushtaq Ali
The first Indian cricketer to feature in an advert?
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June 29
7am. First day in a new country. Always expect to be wide-eyed, taking in surroundings. Like removing a blindfold after hours. No such sensation here. Stay underground, into the tube and off to Derby, where the Indians will play their second and last tour game before the Tests, from St Pancras. All efficient, with arrival times kept, and zero anxiety of missing connections. Will remove blindfold tomorrow.

Strike that. Sit by Derwent in Derby and marvel at daylight at 10.30pm. Don't know yet that it will be four days before darkness is first seen in UK.

June 30
Things I know about Derby:

On the banks of the Derwent, which is more canal than river.

Possibly the oldest factory in the history of factories, Lombe's, a silk-throwing mill, was built here. Silk Mill is a famous pub in Derby now.

Home to massive transport manufacturing, including Rolls Royce. Mohammad Azharuddin played his home county matches here.

On a rain-affected day in 1969, in the Derbyshire nets, Majid Khan proved to three front-line Glamorgan bowlers you need not move your feet when batting, just hands and eyes. For 20 minutes, on a rough and unprepared pitch, Majid batted without moving his feet. Didn't miss one ball, played all the shots. Those who saw it estimate he scored about 75 runs.

Brian Clough died here. There is a Brian Clough Drive here. Clough joined Derby County in 1967; in four years he took them from nowhere to first the second-division title, and then their first England championship.

The Indians once lost a three-day match here to Derbyshire in 1996. Dean Jones was captain, Devon Malcolm took eight wickets. To rub it in, Malcolm opened the chase of 13 runs. India won't be playing competitive cricket here this time, just an exhibition match with all 18 allowed to play at various times.

July 1
County Ground in Derby. Small. Intimate. Conveniently located, near city centre. Fans can walk up next to change rooms and get autographs, photos, and the newest fad, selfies. Someone in the Indian set-up doesn't like it. Fans cordoned away, players walk to nets with four security guards in tow. Locals have never seen anyone with four security guards in Derby. "In Derby of all places," they laugh.

Indians lose toss, and look largely ineffectively with the ball on a flat, slow pitch. No one bowling at 100% intensity. Big concern that Ishant Sharma has bowled nine no-balls. Umpire George Sharp omits to call about as many. Will hate it if he thinks he is all right now and then finds out he has overstepped with wicket-taking deliveries in Tests. Derbyshire 326 for 5 declared.

Not more than a handful out in city centre at night. Streets and buildings look like each other. Get lost on way back to bed and breakfast. Will become routine. In Derby, you get lost.

July 2
More consternation among fans and media at Indians' refusal to engage with them.

Wall at Derby stadium where bricks can be bought to commemorate people's lives, events, meeting of lovers here, a son's gratitude towards his father for introducing him to cricket. One brick has name Jonty Rhodes. Pretty sure he is not the Jonty Rhodes.

Derbyshire's official photographer David Griffin has dedicated one wall to aggressive Derbyshire batsman Ken Barnett. Griffin is a cricket tragic, and more importantly Derbyshire tragic. "Don't know what I was thinking when I became their fan," he says. Cricket, though, had him at hello. First match his father took him to involved a Garry Sobers hundred. You can't go back after that.


The Kirkby Boxing Club near Kirkby-in_Ashfield, July 2014
The land of Larwood Sidharth Monga / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Indians 341 for 6 declared. Cheteshwar Pujara scores fifty, MS Dhoni bats at No. 5. Are they thinking of the improbable, playing just five batsmen in first Test?

July 3
Iain O'Brien. Former New Zealand quick. Now doing BBC commentary for Derbyshire matches. Spoke to him for five minutes five years ago. Remembers my name. I am stunned. No one has ever remembered my name from a five-minute conversation after five years, let alone an international cricketer. "In Napier, not in McLean Park but in Nelson Park," he says.

Three kids in school blazers by India nets. Not even ten years old. Trying to watch Indians practise without getting noticed by security. "I asked him for an autograph, but his security guards won't let him. That's how they lose their popularity."

Pop in for lunchtime chat with O'Brien on the BBC. Indians' refusal to engage with fans and media hasn't gone unnoticed and is a topic of debate. Point out the players are not horrible people, and also to various cases of their getting heckled horribly by "fans". And that they don't need media any more, nor do they owe them anything except to let them watch their cricket, which will be on show in a week's time.

July 4
Derbyshire is real-ale country. Working-class drink. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, and served without artificial pressure introduced by nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Actually cask ale but named real ale as part of campaign to promote cask ale. Real and rail are combined as trails are run from Derby to Matlock with passengers taken on a tour of local ales and foods. Real Ale Rail Trail runs on what used to be the Midland line from Derby to Manchester.

Head towards Derby train station. Not to catch ale train, but train to Nottingham, next stop on tour.

July 5
Some mentions of Robin Hood:

In the Wallflowers' "Hollywood": "Oh my god / They've sold Hollywood / Burned down my neighbourhood / Even shot Robin Hood".

The Fake IPL Player nicknamed Ishant Sharma Little John, the trusted lieutenant.

"Feared by the bad / Loved by the good." Of course. Carl Sigman's quintessential Robin Hood song.

"Sidebottom, Sidebottom / Swings it through the air / Sidebottom, Sidebottom / With his curly hair". Sung to the tune of "Robin Hood", by the Barmy Army.

Robin Hood Pandey. The corrupt cop in Bollywood movie Dabang, played by Salman Khan.

"Einstein disguised as Robin Hood / With his memories in a trunk / Passed this way an hour ago / With his friend, a jealous monk." Only Bob Dylan can think of these things.

In Cockney rhyming slang, Robin means good. Good rhymes with Hood. Remove Hood from the rhyming set of words. If you're Robin, you're good.

July 6
India are back on the field, beginning their final round of training before the first Test, which begins on July 9. Becoming increasingly clear that Stuart Binny will get a debut, ahead of Rohit Sharma, so that India can have a support seamer. Pitch is dry, MS Dhoni looks confident of batting at No. 6.

Ravindra Jadeja, who will bat at No. 7, is putting in his usual extra hours working on his batting. As he walks off, ask him how his farm and horses are doing. His face lights up as he talks about his horses, as if they are his kids. Loves Kathiawadi horses. Their ears point inwards. Suggest he takes one home from here too. Says he doesn't like Arabian horses because their ears point outwards, making them look like donkeys. Feel offended, as a fan of almost every Indian child's most loved song, "Lakdi Ki Kathi" [Wooden Saddle], whose central character is an Arabian horse.

July 7
Peter Wynne-Thomas. Archivist, author, historian, librarian at Trent Bridge. Could be any granddad. "Oh, you have come to assault me again," he says, seeing a journalist enter the library. Yet spend five hours there talking cricket without ever feeling any discomfort. Talks about how Wisden, and thus ESPNcricinfo, has mistakes in many minor games' scorecards. Ask him what said mistakes are. "Not significant enough to change Bradman's average, unfortunately," he says. "More like the number of overs bowled are wrong, maidens are wrong, number of byes and leg-byes have been interchanged." He is poring over many such cards for Nottinghamshire.

Find in his library the Harold Larwood book by Duncan Hamilton, which he lends happily. Find also an old book with a full-page advertisement of Mushtaq Ali endorsing tea. "Tea for stamina," it says. Mushtaq must be the first Indian cricketer to have featured in any kind of advertisement. Also witness tolerance for political incorrectness back in the day. An ad in one of these books, asking for recruits for the services, says, "Hook the Jap for a six" with the batsman about to hit a ball that looks like a poorly drawn Japanese face.

July 8
Walk from Trent Bridge to Nottingham station, and then from Kirkby-in-Ashfield station to Nuncargate to, vaguely, imagine how it must have been for Larwood to walk many a mile for his cricket. Walk past Waggon & Horses, which looks like a completely run-down pub. Board next to it says Kirkby Boxing Club. Looks like a rough old place. Richard Wheldon, former amateur boxer, quit his job as plasterer to take over this decrepit pub and turn it into a gym and boxing school of sorts. Local offenders are being reformed here. They have a place they can come to stay fit, something to look forward to. Sounds like a movie script.

Another good movie script is bitter rivalry between Nottingham and Derby football teams, but shared love for Clough. Like Derby, Nottingham Forest, too, won title under Clough. Stand devoted to Clough in Nottingham Forest's home ground. When he died, fans of both teams came together to pay tribute.


The Abbey Road zebra crossing, of Beatles fame, in London, July 2014
The quietest it gets: Abbey Road during a lean patch Sidharth Monga / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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July 9
Before toss, go to library to return book. "Oh no, will I have to entertain you again now?" says Wynne-Thomas. I'm sure he won't mind talking more cricket for three more hours. He is allowed to watch the Test only from the third day. No, Peter, the entertaining will have to be done by the Test today.

And the Test fails miserably. What is popularly known as a chief executive's pitch has been rolled out: a slow, low surface designed so that the county can recover its bid money for staging the Test. Steve Birks, known for his bowler-friendly pitches at Trent Bridge, almost apologises for what has turned up this time.

India win toss, bat first, Stuart Binny gets his debut, M Vijay scores a hundred, but stroke-making is not easy because of the pitch's slowness.

India 259 for 4.

July 10
Trent Bridge press box superbly located, right behind bowler's arm at Radcliffe Road End, and not too high either. In fact, no movement allowed inside press box when an over from the Radcliffe Road End is on. Wonder how Sachin Tendulkar ever batted here: sightscreens are small, and people are allowed to sit right under and above them. His average here: 68, with a highest of 177.

Don't like glass-blocked press boxes. Can't hear cricket. Can't feel it when a match is heaving, when it is meandering. Too sterile. Sit out in stands to watch Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami plonk their front feet down and tonk everyone to get to fifties. When No. 11 with average of 3 can score a fifty without looking troubled, it can't be a good pitch.

Stuart Broad is asked if it is demoralising that the visitors are feeling more at home than the hosts, and he says, "Well, Indian pitches are faster than this." Also warns England tail is looking forward to batting.

England 43 for 1 against India 457.

July 11
Broad Appeal Day. Stuart's mother and Chris's wife died of Motor Neurone Disease. Family raising money for awareness about and research into cure for the ailment. They are happy with what they have raised today. Stuart's sister Gemma involved too. Also England ODI team's analyst. Ask her for an example of how her inputs might have helped her brother get a wicket in an ODI. "Not giving out team secrets," she says. Father and sister remain nervous until Stuart has got off the mark. No need to be nervous here: he scores a quick-fire 47 to take England past the follow-on mark but Ishant Sharma's back-breaking spell has left India in the box seat.

England 352 for 9 against India 457.

July 12
Dickie Bird. Stopping in same bed and breakfast. Invited to watch fourth day's play. Drives from Yorkshire to Nottingham. Ask him why modern umpires don't bend as the bowler runs in, like him and his contemporaries. Not impressed with modern stance. "We had to watch the back foot, and also staying low helped us judge height vis-à-vis the stumps. We even used to run a lot so we could get into position to adjudge run-outs. Now… [makes the third-umpire signal]" Ask if the back-foot no-ball was the only reason to bend in their stance. Says no. Your move, modern umpires.

Broad's premonition comes true. Joe Root and James Anderson add 198 for the last wicket, a world record. Anderson misses century by 19. Says when he reached fifty, Root asked him to "milk it" with long celebration. Now India only team that can lose.

India 457 and 167 for 3 against England 496.

July 13
After a spot of bother, Stuart Binny sees India through to safety. Not even three innings completed. Sounds like a cruel joke to someone watching his first Test in England. Can we start over again, please? Let's just play the first Test again, on a pitch with some bounce, a little movement, and where edges carry. If you build it, they will come.

In Nottingham, you run by the Trent, and watch the football final by the Trent.

July 14
London / Is the place for me / London / This lovely city.

Some neighbours: Liam Gallagher, John Major, Kate Moss, Abbey Road Studios. Challenge to self: photograph Abbey Road crossing when no one is around; no car, bus or person.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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