September 9, 2014

Riding with Shastri, trailing Pink Floyd

Our correspondent cuts corners with train tickets, discovers Stoolball and tries to understand the Bristol dialect

Ravi Shastri - still itching to get out there and play © Getty Images

August 14
Haven't booked a train ticket from Manchester to London. Now the ticket is worth £88. Outrageous sum to pay. Remember reading travel forums before coming here that said sometimes splitting a journey helps. A bit of googling, and reach splityourticket.co.uk. Travel from Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent. Wait half an hour. Get next train to London. Save £50. Feel clever.

August 15
The Oval. Another ground by a train station. In fact a tube station named after the ground. Got to love these. Like Baker Street does Sherlock Holmes, walls on ticket hall of The Oval station depict cricketers in various poses. It has been observed that one of the stretchy bowling actions might be Gordon Rorke's, who used to drag his back foot so much when he bowled he forced a review of back-foot no-ball.

India bowled out for 148 on a seaming track with resistance only from the captain MS Dhoni, who scores 82. Running out of excuses, India send fielding coach Trevor Penney for a press conference. Penney defends techniques and temperaments of his slip catchers. Revealingly says first slip has to realise Dhoni won't be diving for catches between keeper and slip.

August 16
Denied entry in casino. Why? Wearing shorts. Man has come to lose money. They don't want it. People are crazy. Times are strange.

August 16
Growing up, was always fascinated by the imposing structure near The Oval. Gas holders. Owned by Southern Gas. Redundant now. Seems a matter of time before this backdrop is brought down. Prime property after all. Had always wanted to watch some bit of the Test from around somewhere there. Had planned to go on the fourth day. What fourth day?

Gallivanting in London, spot building where the first Bentley was produced.

August 17
Battersea Power Station. Early in 1977 while biking around, Roger Waters took photos of this partially closed unit. He was drawn to its "doomy, inhuman image". This was to be the cover of Floyd's next album Animals. One fine day, residents of this area woke up to a big crew trying to get airborne a moored inflated pink pig at the power station. They even had a gunman ready should the pig escape the moorings and become a threat to air traffic. Much misadventure and three days later, they finally managed to complete the shoot. With foreboding clouds and gloomy pillars, it did indeed look doomy.

Now, Battersea Power Station is completely shut. Instead, a housing colony is coming up. Advertises "innovative, integrated and highly collaborative mindset". Will restore the pillars but will try to retain their original look.

August 18
BCCI acts. Or is being seen to have acted? Ravi Shastri has been sent in to oversee what Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher are doing. Penney and Joe Dawes [bowling coach] are sent on "leave". India support staff to come in. Shastri seen having meetings at the team hotel. Followed by a lunch with IPL COO Sundar Raman. Observers hope old Shastri, unafraid and uninhibited, takes up the job. They also fear that Shastri might have checked out long ago.

Listen to a busker bassing up "Yesterday" at Trafalgar Square. Are some members of the Indian team feeling all their troubles were so far away yesterday? Does it look as though they are here to stay? Busker has a sense of irony. Next up is Floyd's "Money".

In London, in Islington, come across The Peanut Vendor. A vintage furniture store. Quite posh. Not the image you have in mind when you think "Peanut Vendor"

August 19
Seven Dials. Roundabout with seven exits. In a city whose closest resemblance in India is Mumbai, this is the place Mumbai can claim to have replicated in a manner of speaking. Saat Rasta is a bigger version of Seven Dials. Also much more crowded and intimidating. Both also have a theatre. One at Seven Dials showing Matilda, based on Roald Dahl's work. One at Saat Rasta, called New Shirin Cinema, playing the Bhojpuri film Ek Laila Teen Chhaila.

August 20
Robertsbridge in east Sussex. At Gray-Nicolls bat factory. Learn of a new sport - actually old - called stoolball. Apparently an ancestor to cricket, baseball and rounders. Stoolball bat looks like a frying pan. Sport was played by milkmaids who used to protect their wicket with that frying-pan-like wooden bat. There were no fours or sixes. Just a single each time for successfully defending the wicket. Now we have Powerplays and free hits.

August 21
"Peanut Vendor". Possibly the most famous piece of music from Cuba. One of the most recorded songs too, with at least 200 versions of it in various languages and styles. Song based on a hawker's street cry. In London, in Islington, come across The Peanut Vendor. A vintage furniture store. Quite posh. Not the image you have in mind when you think "Peanut Vendor". That's Marcia Griffiths singing of the sesame smell she remembers from childhood.

August 22
Back to some cricket. Indians practise against Middlesex, and even though they continue playing everyone-play-everyone warm-up games, they win easily. There is a moment of slight embarrassment when they have to send in Suresh Raina at No. 11 because they have lost nine wickets in little over 40 overs.

Read the Wodehouse joke about Lord's.

"Ever heard of the wasps inside the Lord's pavilion?"

"No."

"Exactly. Only members can get in."

August 23
Spot at Paddington station in London, India's new team director buying a ticket. Will be sharing a ride with Shastri. Unlike other members of the Indian team, who avoid journalists like the plague, Shastri wants you to sit with him. Not sure yet if he can take this new job full-time. First responsibility is to instil some confidence, and then suggest some sort of roadmap for the tour of Australia and the World Cup. Is a big believer in county cricket helping the development of cricketers and human beings. Have to do everything yourself. Strains his neck when he sees cricket being played in open fields. "That makes me want to play." Ask him if he is in touch with Tilak Raj, the bowler he hit for six sixes in an over in 1985. He isn't, but says he can never forget the amount of time Raj made him spend on the field when he used to play against him.

August 24
Bristol. Many parts of Britain's much-loved sitcom Only Fools And Horses set in London's Peckham suburb, were shot in Bristol. The Nelson Mandela House of Peckham is behind Ashton Gate in Bristol. Famous pub Nag's Head in Only Fools And Horses is actually a set, but scenes outside the pub were mostly shot in Bristol.

August 25
Coldest Bank Holiday in recent memory. First ODI washed out without a ball being bowled.

Things about Bristol
Looks an old port city.
Must have most graffiti per capita in the UK.
Must also have the least punctual buses in all of the UK.
Sachin Tendulkar once scored an ODI century here, days after his father's death.
It is the headquarters of the BBC, and a popular filming location for other TV too.
Indian reformer Ram Mohan Roy, who challenged Hindu conventions in the 18th century, died here in 1833. He rests in Arnos Vale Cemetery.
Home to the Bristol L, something individual to Bristolian dialect. They round the "a" or "o" at the end of words more pronouncedly than elsewhere. If Glenn McGrath is McGrar in Australia, here it is possible his name might be pronounced McGraow, which to the outsider can sound like ending in L.

August 26
A NATO summit is on in Cardiff. City centre looks a bit like a fort. Nine thousand and five hundred extra policemen have been drafted in. Despite all these arrangements, steal two missile men, Michael Holding and Wasim Akram, for an interview. Full of respect for each other. Keep making each other laugh. Ask Holding what his ideal field set was, and Akram interrupts, "They never had a mid-off or a mid-on." Holding laughs. Says, "Six slips, fine leg, leg gully, bat-pad." When Holding talks of Dujon, Richards, Lloyd, Richardson and Garner taking all the catches behind the wicket, Akram counts how many were dropped by his keeper and slips off his bowling.

The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham is the oldest pub in England © Getty Images

August 27
Chris Jordan has the kind of day beginners in tennis dread. He just keeps bowling wides. Like serving faults. At least in tennis you serve two faults and you lose the point. Here Jordan has to keep running in to finish his over. He bowls 12 wides. Five in one over. Crowd mock-cheers him. Truly embarrassing.

August 28
Back to Nottingham. Stop at same bed and breakfast. Take same buses. Visit same alehouse. Tour has come full circle.

August 29
Visit Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Apparently the oldest pub in England. Find also Duncan Fletcher has brought all his support staff, new and old, here. No Shastri here. Signs already that they might be a team?

August 30
Raina turns another game on its head with the wicket of Alex Hales when England are 82 for 0 in the 18th over. A tame sweep shot brings the downfall. A choke hold follows. India chase 228 easily. Can't lose the series now.

August 31
Yet another train ride. To Birmingham this time. Remember vaguely that in 2012 MPs claiming first-class train fare in the UK was a proper scandal. How Indians will laugh.

See Gary Barwell, Edgbaston's groundsman. He is not happy with journalists because he believes they write what they feel like without checking with the groundsman what actually might have gone wrong with the pitch. Says he doesn't want to talk. Then realises he is turning back someone who is actually making the effort to find out from the groundsman about the pitch. Shows the pitch. Explains properly different nuances to it.

September 1
In a vintage store, find Vic Lewis' book, Music & Maiden overs. Jazz guitarist and orchestra bandleader. Played with who's who of music. Also with Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Frank Worrell, Glenn Turner, and a host of England and foreign cricketers. Book tells of a match in Crewe, played for Surrey batsman Dennis Cox's benefit, when Sobers et al wanted him to captain. Lewis had Roy Gilchrist in his side. Opposition captain was a certain Geoff Bull. As Bull came in to bat at No. 6, Gilchrist asked Lewis for the ball. Lewis asked him to wait. Bull asked Lewis, "You won't be bowling Gilchrist, will you?"

Lewis didn't know what was up, but was annoyed nonetheless. Bull got a few runs on the board whereupon Lewis decided it was time for Gilchrist, who set his own field: four slips, two gullies, two leg gullies and a mid-off. The first ball hit Bull in the kidneys and knocked him out. Gilchrist went up to him, bent over him and said, "Serves you f***ing right." Turned out Bull was a local cricket writer who used to accuse Gilchrist of chucking.

September 2
Another limp batting display from England, which is easily overshadowed by Ajinkya Rahane's first ODI hundred.

Moeen Ali feels the Edgbaston crowd is booing him because they are of Indian origin and he of Pakistani.

September 3
Get into Leeds. Take train immediately to New Pudsey to meet 82-year-old Ray Illingworth. Until four years ago he was the groundsman of Farsley Cricket Club. Gave up when his back gave up. Still sometimes does the boundary lines on Saturday mornings.

Talk to him about the acrimonious tour of Australia, the rare away Ashes win against a full-strength Australian side. Says the acrimony was between the officials and players, not the two sets of players. Aussies in fact respected tough Yorkshiremen. Remembers a particularly officious umpire Lou Rowan, who once stopped play and walked 70 yards to the edge of the boundary. Why? "Because there was one young kid sat with his legs dangling over the wooden boundary fence. Rowan wanted to tell the lad to get his legs the other side."

Seen in Farsley: Melbourne Street and Sydney Street.

September 4
Shoaib Akhtar. A walking, talking bundle of hyper energy. There is a bus driver who has driven visiting teams in England to and from grounds for the last 20 years. Shoaib sees him. Driver says hello. Shoaib wants to hug him properly. Knows almost everybody in England. Almost everybody knows him.

September 5
England finally get on board in the ODI series with Joe Root and Jos Buttler taking apart India's death bowling. A little too late with the series lost, but the win lightens up Alastair Cook a little and makes for a lovely exchange at the end of the press conference.

Hardly a day has gone this summer when Cook's job - as Test opener, Test captain, ODI opener, ODI captain - hasn't been questioned. Now that his summer is over - he won't be playing the T20 - Cook greets everyone in the press, and says, "See you soon." Asks one of the journalists, "In the West Indies (England's next Test assignment)?" And it's all good banter. Cook pauses a moment and asks the journalist, "So you aren't covering Sri Lanka? (England's next ODI assignment)"

September 6
Back to Birmingham. Like on a treacherous pitch, can never feel at home in here. Keep getting lost in the city centre because of circular roads, malls and construction work almost everywhere.

Sit and have a drink by the canal in Birmingham. (By the way, Birmingham has more canal miles than Venice.) Spot Ian Gould. Much-loved umpire. A character. Once responded to a ridiculous lbw appeal by saying he wouldn't give the batsman out because he loves to watch him bat.

September 7
Dhoni provides one final twist to the tour by farming the strike with seven balls to go, 17 runs to get, and a specialist batsman Ambati Rayudu for company. T20 possibly won't provide for enough time to analyse and reflect on this. Dhoni says he felt Rayudu wasn't middling the ball, and that he had to take the responsibility. Came out on the wrong side of the ledger this time. Dhoni leaves without Cook-like pleasantries. There is no off season for India cricketers. Dhoni already has the Champions League on his mind. How he has not gone mad with so much cricket is beyond logic.

As soon as Dhoni leaves the press-conference room, people start saying their goodbyes. Seventy-five days of not looking beyond the next story later, all of a sudden a tour ends. There's a general wistfulness even though the cricket hasn't been excellent. Suddenly autumn leaves are being noticed on the floor. A cricket season has ended. Normal life will take getting used to. England will be missed. Since saying more will be unEnglish, ta.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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