Another day in Paradise
The last time I was in Hyderabad was early June 2014. The new state, Telangana, had officially come into existence a day earlier, following a prolonged struggle, and the city was tense. The streets were as empty as they are on an India-Pakistan World Cup match day. This time around, there is no calm. The bustle is back, so is the persistent honking of drivers and riders, and terrible traffic jams. By the time I land at the airport, go down to the hotel, leave my luggage, collect the match ticket and reach the stadium, I am in danger of missing out on the first ball. Since the match isn't sold out, the queue to get in moves at a rapid pace, and I heave a sigh of relief.
The Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium used to be the home of international cricket in Hyderabad, while the Gymkhana Ground (also known as Parade Ground) was the place to be for all the budding and first-class cricketers. Until the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) constructed a stadium on the outskirts of the city in 2004. Since then - while the HCA administrative office at the gymkhana is still operational - all the office-bearers have moved to huge cabins in the Uppal stadium premises. There to meet some of them, I start laughing after reading a plaque above one of the cabins. "Shivlal Yadav, President BCCI". It is well over two months since Yadav's stint as interim president, appointed by the Supreme Court, ended.
Hyderabadis love biryani. Many raised in the city have dum biryani for breakfast, lunch, dinner and also as an evening snack. Whether you like the dish or not, you cannot leave Hyderabad without paying a visit to Paradise, arguably the most popular biryani joint in the city. Some say it's delicious, some that it's overrated. The biryani is good, but the kebabs just blow me away.
John Manoj is the secretary of the HCA. But he relishes the tag of cricket coach more - understandable considering his most famous ward was a certain VVS Laxman. As he narrates how he started coaching at the young age of 27, sitting in the office of St John's Cricket Academy, which has produced almost 40 first-class cricketers since its inception in 1987, he also takes you through a pictorial history of the academy's progress over the last three decades, which adorns the walls of his office. While Laxman features in virtually every other picture, three walls proudly display evidence of visits by the who's who of Indian cricket, including Kapil Dev, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. In a corner of the fourth wall hangs a photograph of Mohammad Azharuddin advising youngsters. Purely unintentional, but Azhar seems to have been sidelined even here.
Wet. Wait. Wet. Wait. The match gets off to a start. Many spectators at the Uppal stadium have no roof above their heads and as a result are drenched even when the curtailed match gets over. Fans are forced to seek shelter, either near a loo or on the staircases or anywhere else, during three rain breaks. The rain does not spare even the chief minister. During the first rain break, as his 20-car motorcade drives into Uppal, the man himself is forced to wait in his car for almost five minutes. Such is the deluge that a huge puddle has formed, preventing him from stepping out of his car. He does so only after a last-minute scupper has ensured a makeshift carpet for him. With no start to the game in sight, he leaves in a while.
I meet a couple of players in the team hotel lobby. To relax ahead of Sunday's big clash against Mumbai Indians, the Sunrisers Hyderabad players have been given time off, barring two who have to attend a sponsor's event. You cannot help but feel for the players. No doubt they rake in the moolah but they lead hectic lives for two months. If travelling within hours after the end of a match and playing the next game soon after landing in a new city isn't enough, they have to oblige fans and sponsors alike with wide grins. "It's not easy but karna toh padta hai [you've got to do it]," says one of them as gets ready to oblige waiting fans for a selfie.
The IPL is a great spectator driver. More importantly, it is a great educator. I have been to four stadiums in three cities and I have heard this conversation at least once during every match. From a corporate employee to her companion in Pune, a toddler to his father at the Wankhede, a granny to her granddaughter at the CCI, and now a woman to her husband in Hyderabad. "Look at that, they are bowling from the other side now. I didn't know this." Take that all you IPL haters. Had it not been for the tournament, how would so many people learn about how the game is played?
Before leaving the stadium, I go to the cabin of the "President, BCCI" to take a picture of the plaque. Surprise, surprise, the plate has been removed, apparently on the instructions of a high-profile BCCI employee who saw it just before the game started.
Relief. Not because I'm done with yet another gruelling IPL season - or so I think at the time (I am deputed for the next two games even before getting back to Mumbai). Not because of having to not bear with the dry Hyderabad heat anymore. Relieved purely because I have had my last breakfast at the hotel. I have enjoyed every bit of the hotel: the spacious room, decent room service and a well-maintained gym; but I dreaded the breakfast. As much due to the crammed enclosure as for the thin and inefficient staff. Over the last week, I have seen guests standing and eating, like they do in train stations. For three consecutive days, a woman is made to wait for a masala dosa for 45 minutes, only to be told that they have run out of it. She storms out of the enclosure abandoning her already ruined breakfast. If I ever come to Hyderabad with my wife, I won't be checking in here, for sure.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo