The Punjabis are famous for their hospitality, and if you’re covering cricket you’d certainly know what I’m talking about. The officials and staff at the Punjab Cricket Association in Mohali are among the most courteous, efficient and helpful. It was something you got nowhere else in India. Until now. It might not please Mr. Bindra and some of his colleagues, but the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) is now, officially, the venue that makes you feel most comfortable, covering cricket, in the country.
Covering cricket at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad, used to be a nightmare. When I first came here, for the New Zealand Test match in 1999, the reception was far from warm, the press box a shambles, and the whole area a dustbowl. But now, it’s a completely different story. If you have a minute, listen to a couple of stories.
After a long, long day at the ground, watching practices, attending press conferences, writing stories, a friend and I were standing outside the stadium, in the dark, in the hope of hailing a cab to get us back to the city, about 15 kilometres away. As the cars sped by, and hope began to wane, one came out of the stadium and pulled up along us. A man we’d never seen before insisted we come with him, and drove us to the doorstep of the Gujarat Sports Club, where we had been booked rooms by the cricket association. As we stepped out of the car he introduced himself as Umesh Belsare. Turns out he helps out at the GCA, and also, that he played first-class cricket for eight years.
A couple of days later, a photographer from Mumbai who was covering the tournament, took badly ill, suffering from high temperatures and a severe throat infection. It was the Gujarati new year, and getting hold of a doctor would be difficult. One phone call to the GCA, and they sent their medical man – the one in charge of looking after the players if an eventuality arose – to the club where we were staying. He swiftly diagnosed the problem, prescribed medication and rushed back, for house calls on New Year’s day was hardly a thing to do. The good doctor - Pratap Desai - wonder of wonders, had played first-class cricket for Gujarat.
But the strangest sight of all was on the day of the India match. With literally thousands choking the gates trying to enter on a day so hot it you were bathed in sweat if you spent a minute outside an airconditioned room, was a man in a safari suit, standing near the gate, welcoming people as they entered. The first thought was to feel bad for him as he’d obviously been given a bum job by the GCA. A closer look, and it was Narhari Amin, the president of the GCA himself, who was doing the job!
Amin, a former deputy chief minister of the state of Gujarat, and a man known for his love of shreekand and massages, could have been sitting in the president’s box, the best seat in the house, and watching the cricket. But the former student leader and politician obviously knew a thing or two about the importance of being among the masses. Believe me, it was not a gesture that went unnoticed. At the GCA, some extremely hard working and sincere people – like Hitesh Patel, the joint secretary, have a genuine interest in people, and that makes all the difference
Anand Vasu is a former associate editor at Cricinfo