"DO NOT USE cameras, sound recorders, mobile phones or electronic forms of communication in this area. Penalty $1000."
First thing of note seen in Australia. At the immigration counter. Wally Hammond would have said, "A fine f***ing way to start a series." A timely reminder that Australia is a fine country. Take photo of the sign. That rustling sound is the rule book in the wind.
Drive to Macksville, Phillip Hughes' hometown, about 500km from Sydney. Hughes killed by a routine bouncer in a Shield game. Shock around Australia. Tests rescheduled. Funeral in Macksville in two days. Town's population under 3000. Will receive at least twice as many visitors on December 3.
Go past the Pub With No Beer Hotel, earlier called the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and widely believed to be subject of the Slim Dusty song "Pub With No Beer". "But there's-a nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear / Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer." Named fifth-best Australian song of all time by the Australasian Performing Rights Association.
Stop at the Star Hotel, by the Nambucca River, for a drink. Michael Clarke, Stuart MacGill and Hughes' father, Greg, also there. Nice to see them smiling and laughing a little. Have a chat with two regular patrons who have never been out of town. Know Indians as Raj Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory and those who tell the weather at the Met department. Little do they know, but then they don't look like folk who have computer problems.
Spend the night in Port Macquarie. Reminded of being in Gosford, another New South Wales town, on the last trip to Australia. In New South Wales, you get stuck and spend nights in strange places. Port Macquarie replaced Newcastle as a penal settlement. Now a retirement destination. Accordingly, town is dead by 8pm.
What have they done to good old Adelaide Oval? It has gone from an intimate ground to an almost intimidating stadium. Big stands all over. One over the top of the other. Cathedral not visible. Nor is the Torrens from the back corridors. Doesn't strike you as much on this day because people have gathered to pay respects to Hughes and watch his funeral on the big screens. His brother has endearing stories of playing cricket with him in the backyard. Cousin Nino Ramunno has great anecdotes.
"The only grumble Phillip had about school was in the final year. After the first day of school he came home and when he was questioned about how his day went, he complained that there were no girls there. We thought that the name Homebush Boys would have given him some indication, but no."
Bus it down to Glenelg Oval. Locals shocked I have figured out Adelaide buses. They say they have never managed to do so. Explains the empty bus.
Cricket back on after Hughes tragedy. Indians playing two-day tour game against Cricket Australia XI. Virat Kohli hasn't yet made it back from the funeral, so Ishant Sharma starts as captain.
Indians use Karn Sharma before R Ashwin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar not bowling or training, but team management says he is all right. Duncan Fletcher seen on the sidelines asking fast bowlers to go round the wicket. No qualms about bowling bouncers.
Park 25 Oval. Watch Australia train for the first time since Hughes' death. Nobody knows how they will react. They begin with fun and games. Dances. Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris waltz. David Warner pulls out the worm. Huddles done. Laughs shared. Warner goes into nets. Clearly not prepared for loneliness of batting. Pulls out after a few minutes of scratchy batting. Spends half an hour with team psychologist Michael Lloyd. There is a tear or three. It's going to be a difficult summer for everyone involved.
Good old Adelaide. Nothing has changed. Feels like coming back to a home town after having spent years away for work. Same friendly man at the Falafel House on Hindley Street still says "beautifuuuul" at every ingredient you ask for in your roll. Without looking up. Hookahs still being smoked all over Hindley Street as if it is rural Haryana. "Sitting in the same chair / As they were sitting in the last year / Talking about the crows / Crooooows," sang Paul Kelly in "Adelaide".
Crows and Adelaide go back a long way. One of the footy teams is called Adelaide Crows. South Australians are referred to as crow-eaters - a term "first applied to some of the original settlers at Mount Barker who - whether from necessity or a desire to sample strange native fauna - killed, cooked and ate some crows disguised under the term 'Mount Barker pheasants'".
One change in Adelaide, though, thanks to the new stands at the Oval. The view of the city from the statue of Colonel Light was obstructed, so it had to be raised.
An inscription on the statue - an extract from Colonel Light's diary - reads: "The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged of at present. My enemies, however, by disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am perfectly willing to bear it, and I leave it to posterity and not to them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or to blame."
Julius. Security guard at Adelaide Oval. Of Sudanese origin. Worked in the Australian army in the early 2000s. Served for three years in Afghanistan. Talks of his experiences there. How they used to wear x-ray vision glasses, and had to shoot people, no questions asked, if they were suspected of carrying bombs in their clothing. "Doesn't matter if it is an old lady or a young child. Just shoot." Julius quit the army after that experience. Doesn't know much about cricket, but happy with a job that doesn't involve killing.
Emotional start to series. After all the tributes to Hughes, his mate David Warner scores a century. Batsmen pause on 63 - Hughes' score when he was killed. They look up on 100. They all believe their little mate is watching over them.
India carry through with indications seen at Glenelg Oval. Legspinner Karn picked over Ashwin. Aggressive intent but Karn has little first-class experience. Bowls flat. As do others. More round-the-wicket bowling. Warner scores plenty off it. Surely some independent thinker in the team needs to point out this is not working?
Rain slows game down. Time enough, though, for Steven Smith and Michael Clarke to bring up hundreds. Three of Hughes' best mates in the team have scored tons, although Clarke is playing in considerable pain.
Big screen shows highlights of Chennai tied Test. Find Dean Jones in one of the commentary boxes and talk to him about the match. Fascinating to listen to him. Scandalous how two scoreboards had two different scores. Deano himself and Allan Border were under the impression India needed two to win when it was actually one, and were shocked Ravi Shastri had taken the single and exposed Maninder Singh a run short. Wisdom of taking that single still questioned by some, even if scores were level, but for a few moments Deano and AB thought they had won. Some others knew it was tied. At least one bowler thought they had lost, so fried was he by the heat and humidity.
Mitchell Johnson scones Virat Kohli first ball. Opposition captain in Australia. Hit smack on helmet badge. First ball he faces in Test cricket on tour. Minutes to go to lunch. Normally Australia would be all over him. Johnson would bowl all out, and come back fresh after lunch to finish Kohli off. Not now. Here they all come up to check on the batsman. Kohli finds it all surreal and waves everyone away. Johnson goes a little soft. Kohli scores a hundred. Big moment on tour. Johnson comes back towards the end of the day to bounce Kohli again, and gets him on the top edge.
Adelaide Oval has strange press-box dress code. Need collars on t-shirts. No thongs on feet. Struggle to get through Test with limited supplies of collared shirts. Wear New Zealand ODI jersey from early 2000s. Trouble is, it looks like a Port Adelaide jersey. Abused for wearing it at Crows' home ground. Apologised to and hugged when said people realise it is New Zealand and not Port Adelaide.
It takes only three days before unacceptable behaviour returns to the middle. Kohli starts it with his in-your-face send-offs. Warner gives it back when he discovers the ball that got him is a no-ball. Only gets uglier afterwards. Warner scores another century, India will need 364 to win on the final day.
Mostly one-sided match has come to life because of twin declarations necessitated by rain on day two. India chase in spirited manner. Kohli scores another century. Only man other than Greg Chappell to make two on debut. M Vijay falls on 99. India collapse towards the end, but at 242 for 2 they had been a good chance to win. India can be proud of their batting, but need to remember they took only 12 wickets.
Australia relieved. Been a tough week. Emotions pour out when they come out of their changing room hours later to sing the team song. Nathan Lyon, who has inherited song-leading privileges from Michael Hussey, has finally come into his own. Man of the Match with 12 wickets, his first ten-for.
A certain sense of loss when leaving Adelaide. No ODI here on this tour. A certain sense of worry, too, for establishments on Hindley Street when India play Pakistan here in World Cup. Good job they have a police station right here.
Brisbane then. Third time zone entered already. Sydney is behind Adelaide, which is behind Brisbane. Neither does it make geographic sense nor do early dawns - as early at 4am - in Brisbane let you sleep in. Missing link here is day-light saving. Queensland doesn't want to save daylight. Which makes it a butt of jokes. Reasons for its refusing to save daylight, according to rest of Australia: some fear cattle won't give milk at unnatural times, some feel curtains will fade.
Bananabender is to Queenslanders what croweaters is to South Australians. Because Queenslanders are supposed to be spending most of their time putting the bend in the banana.
Kevin Mitchell Jr has been preparing the Gabba pitch for 34 years. Took over from Kevin Mitchell, his father. Remembers the days of the old hill. Old scoreboard wasn't visible from all parts of the hill. Spectators would go over to the scoreboard and signal the scores to the rest as if playing dumb charades.
A proper Brisbane stinker. Phone app says 42 degrees. Channel Nine says 36 degrees. India win toss and bat first. A flat Gabba wicket is anti-climactic. Can see why, though. One of Australia's most unsure batting line-ups, considering Clarke is out with a hamstring injury.
Hard work for all involved. Drinks breaks every 40 minutes, as opposed to every hour. M Vijay, who scores a century, cramps from the effort of sweeping. Mitchell Marsh tears a hamstring, Mitchell Starc has heat exhaustion, and debutant Josh Hazlewood keeps cramping. Hopefully Bill Bryson is watching. In his lovely book Down Under, the American writer calls cricket - because of its easy pace - a "nap with consciousness".
Before start of play, on air, Ian Chappell is worried about overnight batsman Rohit Sharma, who "bats like in a dream", or "in a net with no focus on scoring runs". A dreamy push at a wide delivery from Shane Watson triggers a collapse, and given India have scored runs at a fair clip, they haven't batted Australia out despite scoring 408. Later in the day, Watson does a Rohit Sharma, and hits powerfully to mid-on without making an effort to keep it down or clear the man. Two men who won't want this - and massive scores in ODIs and T20Is - to be the stories of their lives.
"How many wickets have you got?" is the question Mitchell Johnson is asked before he is bounced by India. Johnson hasn't got any, but the sledging seems to have woken the beast. He smacks 88 impactful runs to snatch the game clean out of India's grasp. When he gets to 50, he looks around at every Indian player. None are sledging. Like a wrestler who has just cleared the field in the middle of a Royal Rumble match.
A strange morning with injuries to two Indian batsmen in the nets. An unsettled side crashes to defeat but not without a fight after an initial collapse. India have shown much better resolve than on the last trip, but halfway into the series the scoreline reads the same: 0-2.
Spend night at the Southern Cross Motel near the Gabba. Discover its in-house Italian restaurant, Spizzico, had a special visitor in 2011. To eat meatballs made by owner Angelo Di Bartolo's mother Rosa. Headline of a news report about Jerry Lewis' visit uses proudly the phrase Bris Vegas, originally an ironic reference to Brisbane's lack of nightlife. Also see: Brisneyland.