India in New Zealand 2008-09 February 21, 2009

Intense first training session for Indians

The "rockstars" campaign has been devised to advertise India's tour of New Zealand © Cricinfo Ltd

India have brought rains with them, locals in Christchurch claim. But when it came to India's first practice session, the clouds made way for the sun, and India trained in ideal conditions at the picturesque Bert Sutcliffe Oval. Equally warm was the reception that India got - largely from Indians living in New Zealand, at a ground half an hour away from the town and not known by many in the city.

Earlier in the day, though, the thoughts of outdoor activities looked unlikely. It was an ideal winter morning with the rain sounding pitter-patter on the canopy of a street café near Cathedral Square, a perfect place to enjoy a hot coffee. The radio announced: "The rockstars of cricket are here." So did a hoarding outside the AMI Stadium, which was closed on the weekend. The "rockstars" campaign has been devised to advertise India's tour of New Zealand.

Elsewhere New Zealand Herald profiled some of the key Indian players under the headline, "The happy-slog millionaires".

The Indian team took a bus to Lincoln University, which houses the Oval, passing by lush green meadows and the idyllic Prebbleton village.

For someone new to the city, it is difficult to believe a team would go so far out of the city for the nets session. But the England Lions, here to face New Zealand Emerging Players, were already training there when the Indians arrived.

The Indians may be used to drawing attention wherever they go in the world but even they wouldn't have expected the numbers that turned up to watch them at a ground half of Christchurch hasn't heard of.

The Lions, including Luke Wright, Samit Patel and Sajid Mahmood, went on about their business like university students on a routine day. Not a single journalist to watch, a fan was a far cry. The ground staff golf-carted their way around the ground as they would on any other day. But around 2.30pm, cars started pulling up in front of the ground. From nowhere a crowd of about 35 gathered, one of them a courier driver and a school mate of Irfan Pathan's. John Wright was surprised to see the crowd and realised what they were there for only after the Indian team arrived. "Sachin, Sachin," he chanted, though not too loud lest the man himself heard.

This was no routine practice session. The groundstaff had to get to work immediately to keep people out of the nets area. The word spread, and in no time the crowd almost doubled. A few Indian university students, along with their New Zealand friends, were among those who stayed the longest. Out came the bean bags, sofa, an easy chair, from what looked like a hostel building near the Oval. And the beer. The rest made good use of the grass banks around the ground. Every good shot at the nets, every good extraordinary delivery bowled, every special catch taken in the fielding practice, was cheered.

The players also kept the crowd entertained with banter loud enough to be heard across the nets. But despite the fun and games, it was an intense first session, focusing on all three disciplines, after which all the players took time to sign autographs - on bats, papers, and bodies - and take photographs. A quaint university had come to life for three hours. The locals acknowledged not many would turn up if New Zealand were training. That will be put to test on Monday, when the hosts assemble after finishing their domestic Twenty20s.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo