It's my last day in Tauranga for now. There's been a lot of walking on the trip, so I decide to take a taxi to the grocery store to stock up on essentials, and it is an eventful ride. On finding out I'm here for the cricket, the driver calls a close friend, Dev Sangha, who runs a cricket academy. This excites me and two other journalists because we've been itching to have a bowl. Sangha calls us over the moment we tell him this.
He is hospitable and offers us desi chai, but it's 32 degrees and feels closer to 40. We're guzzling cold water when his doorbell rings. It's *Evan Gray, the former New Zealand spinner. We get chatting about cricket, life and all else until we realise it's nearly toss time for the New Zealand-South Africa match. It's an inconsequential game, as far as qualification goes, so we take our time and make our way in shortly after play begins.
Travel day, and I'm going to Queenstown. I'd only heard of the beautiful airplane landing before, and the sight of the majestic mountains captivates me. The Indian team is on the same flight, and like me, a lot of the boys are equally fascinated. We chat about mobile-phone photography and Instagram. The distance from the airport to my guest house is supposed to be 3km, but my driver, a fluent Marathi-speaking Mumbaikar, takes me via a shortcut and gets me there in three minutes. The fare: $25. Rip off! I spend the rest of the evening exploring the city.
I interview Australia's Baxter Holt and England's Ethan Bamber. By the time I head home it's nearly 8pm. A fellow journalist on tour happens to know a friend who moved here from Pune. Any acquaintance in an unknown city instantly becomes a friend, as I discover. Arjun is an adventure freak and works for a zipline company. Much of the evening is spent planning adventure sport in Queenstown.
Australia are batting first in their quarter-final against England. The Indian team is training too, so I hop over to the nets. The Indian liaison officer happens to be a New Zealander, and he's delighted at what's happening. "No respectful Kiwi will support the Aussies, mate," he tells me. Australia are bowled out for 127. I quickly head over to the press tent and have a template for my match report ready before strolling out again.
On the grass banks, I meet the parents of England's Dillon Pennington. He's just picked up three wickets and both of them are disappointed to be flying out the next day and missing watching their son in the semi-final. They watch the next 30 minutes in horror as England collapse sensationally against Lloyd Pope. That also means I have to rush back to the press box and finish my report.
Bungee-jumping day. Though I tried to think of every possible reason why I shouldn't do it, I wake up feeling the itch to do it because I'm in the adventure-sport capital of the world. I originally book a 43-metre jump, only for my colleague to scoff at the idea because there's a better jump from 134 metres. I change my booking and head to the jump site. I want to get it out of the way and not nervously wait to see others dilly-dally at jump point. I'm the first one in my batch of ten. Boom! It's the most exhilarating thing I've ever done.
Pre-match day, so another set of interviews. Speaking to the Bangladesh players seems quite a challenge because of the language barrier. I get chatting with a member of their support staff, who hails from Sylhet. It's a city I enjoyed visiting when I was there for the 2014 Women's World T20. We chat about the Sylheti tea, the city, and its close proximity to India, all in fluent Hindi. Then I head over for a chat with India's Shivam Mavi. Diplomacy, "process" and "doing my basics" isn't his thing. I ask him if he's ever hit someone on the head with a bouncer. "Yes, plenty of times. People used to run away. I had a lot of fun because they were scared of me," he says.
It's taken me four days into the trip to admire the view Queenstown has to offer, particularly from the cricket ground. The Bangladesh-India quarter-final turns out to be a predictable game, and watching planes take off and land by the minute seems more fun.
Wake up to a glorious, sunny day and am lured into a six-hour drive to Christchurch at the cost of ditching my flight. My colleague hired a car on hearing the lakes on the drive out of Queenstown are some of the most pristine you'll find in the southern hemisphere. He gets the car for a rental of just one dollar, because the owner is desperately looking for someone to drive the car to Christchurch. It's a drive that is totally worth my contribution of 30 cents!
IPL auction day, and I feel insignificant because the centre of the cricket world seems to be Bangalore. It doesn't matter if the Indian team is training or not. I make my way to the team hotel to quickly chat with Shubman Gill, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Prithvi Shaw, whose combined value at the auction is close to a million dollars.
In the evening, I finish my first Hindi-English interview with Pashto-speaking Afghanistan mystery spinner Mujeeb Zadran through Khaliq Dad, the team's assistant coach. Mujeeb was on his way out to shop for Real Madrid merchandise when we stop him. The interview is a laugh riot.
After the beauty and excitement of Queenstown, Christchurch seems sleepy. The Afghanistan-Australia semi-final is my first visit to the Hagley Oval. It's unreal, in the middle of a botanical garden. As we make our way to the press box, we're joined by a familiar visitor, who asks about Australia's new-ball bowlers who didn't play the tournament opener against India. Guess who? Rahul Dravid. He spends 15-20 minutes chatting with a bunch of us about the Australian team before he leaves.
Engrossed in my writing, I'm nearly hit by one from Jack Edwards, who launches a shot on the bounce into the press tent. The ball deflects off my hand onto the laptop screen of another journalist. Thank god the screen didn't crack and I got away without having to paying for damages.
It's India-Pakistan and I'm stunned that there's no hype surrounding this game. No flag-waving or the chaos that usually comes with the clash. On the field too, there's nothing to suggest this is a match between the arch-rivals. Gill makes a sublime century and is congratulated by every member of the Pakistan team. In return, India bundle them out for a record low. We're done and dusted much before the sun sets. After the writing, I head to a pub with a group of friends, only to hear familiar voices discussing cricket at the table next to us. It's Danny Morrison, Tom Moody and Robert Key. On the other side, a bunch of students are talking in fluent Kannada. The Bengaluru connection gets us chatting. One of the guys is now a Christchurch resident. First question he asks: "How bad is the traffic now?"
Travel day again for one last time on tour. It's a long one too. I first hop on to a flight to Auckland, followed by a bus journey to Tauranga. On the way to the airport, my taxi driver, Andrew, laments how poorly New Zealand Cricket has marketed the tournament and how there's no awareness because the matches aren't on free-to-air stations. His understanding of the game and how journalists go about their work turns out to be the highlight of an otherwise long and sleepy day.
I meet Devinder Singh Uppal, father of Australia Under-19 batsman Param Uppal, at a cafe in downtown Tauranga. It's stormy and the weather is right for a hot cuppa. We chat about cricket, life in Sydney, Indian roots, Australia, and much else. Uppal is staying at a serviced apartment with parents of a few other players. "Ah, some parents it's daunting to be around," he says, referring to Steve Waugh, a player he grew up watching. Uppal speaks fluent Punjabi and doesn't like me calling him "uncle". "Call me by my name, mate." It turns out to be a fun hour-long chat, and a very warm one too.
I'm part of the ICC panel, along with Ian Bishop, Tom Moody, Anjum Chopra and Jeff Crowe, to pick the Player of the Tournament and the Team of the tournament. The first debate lasts all of ten seconds. "It's pretty clear isn't it, lady and gentlemen," Moody says. Shubman Gill it is. Anyone disagree? No. There you go.
Now to the team. We go position-wise. Many names are thrown up. Bishop is so soft-spoken that I have to strain my ears to hear him despite sitting right next to him. But it's a voice that makes you sit up and listen carefully. He has done his homework and his remarks about the cricketers he has seen are fascinating. I'm a little nervous amid a group of former internationals, but they don't make me feel like an outsider, and value my views. It's a great learning experience. We debate and discuss and come out of our 40-minute meeting with ten slots penciled in. The last one will be decided on match day.
It's the grand finale, which means it's going to be a long night. Since it's a day-night game, I sleep in till noon. The atmosphere is unlike anything I've seen before in the tournament. We could have been in Mohali and not Mount Maunganui. Nearly 4000 people are in and it feels full. India stroll home to lift the cup. We pack up and rush to the team hotel for interviews. The players take their own sweet time to arrive, but once they are there, the sleepy hotel lobby comes alive. All of them soak in the applause and oblige fans with interviews and selfies.
The small group of travelling journalists sets up shop. We work until about 3am, when Rahul Dravid, Paras Mhambrey and Abhay Sharma walk in after dinner to realise we're still there at the hotel. Abhay, the fielding coach, still has the energy to talk about the methods that worked for his team. "At this stage, it's about the mindset and not technique," he says. Dravid asks about our plans for the rest of the trip. It's nearly 4am and we realise there's plenty of writing to do. And just like that, the tour is over. Where did the month go?
10:34:33 GMT, February 5, 2018: *The article earlier erroneously identified this ex-player as Ewen Chatfield