At exactly 4.30am, about 45 minutes after British Airways flight BA 119 touched down on the tarmac, the large, forbidding blue gates that cordon off the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited/V.I.P section from the rest of the Bangalore airport burst open, and a Ford Endeavour SUV bearing Anil Kumble, led by a police jeep, dispersed the gathered mob of television cameramen and photographers, and sped away into the inky darkness. Soon after, Robin Uthappa's maroon vehicle emerged, and finally the stampede of those gathered reached its peak as Rahul Dravid, who had been received by Vijeta, his wife, made his exit. The long vigil for pressmen was over; the slightly tense wait for the cops finished, and in the twinkling of an eye, normalcy returned.
In different circumstances, the welcoming party would have been different. Not weeks ago it was hoped that India would return from the Caribbean, no earlier than April 29, a bit of silverware adding to the excess baggage, and then there would have been bedlam. Officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India would have been present, the media would have been welcome onlookers, and the public euphoric.
After India's campaign in the World Cup panned out as it did, and with the team arriving in bits and pieces - some might say that's exactly how they turned out on the field - the arrival of Dravid, Kumble, Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik and S Ramakrishnan, the video analyst, at Bangalore, was as low-key as expected. While the local trio would head off in a flurry, with no more than 50 fans jostling with members of the Rapid Action Force clad in their blue fatigues, toting rather intimidating guns, Karthik and Ramki stayed back in the airport, sorting out the earliest connection to Chennai.
Fortunately, there were no untoward incidents, no sloganeering or effigy burning. And yes, there certainly weren't any press conferences. "This is still the biggest crowd I've seen in Bangalore," one of the cricketers who arrived, let on. "Whether we win or lose, it's usually peaceful coming in to Bangalore, especially in the night."
But, till they actually left the airport for the safety and comfort of their homes, there was just that edge, a bit of concern, that some idiot might try and pull a stunt, more out of disappointment and frustration than intent to cause harm. "There are bound to be reactions and bound to be over-reactions," a member of the team said. "Which other country has the support of a billion? If you don't want this kind of reaction then you shouldn't play for India, boss, you should play for Bermuda."
If there was one moment of concern, it was at the airport in London, where there weren't any porters about to handle the massive volume of luggage, consisting mostly of cricket kitbags and equipment, and Russell Radhakrishnan, the person in charge of the team's logistics, was trying to sort things out. An Indian fan approached a few members of the team, and before they could react, said, "sukh ya dukh, hum tumhare saath hain" [We'll support you in the good and bad times]. A collective sigh of relief, luggage dealt with, and the team was on its way.
From London, they headed in different directions, with different groups arriving in different cities. In Bangalore, the majority of pressmen were really gathered to ask just one question. From the horse's mouth, they wanted to know if Kumble was calling it quits from one-day cricket. In an interview to CNN-IBN, the television news channel, before the team embarked on its World Cup campaign, Kumble had said that this would be his last World Cup, and "probably" his last one-day tournament. Now that is widely being interpreted as an announcement of retirement, although the BCCI is yet to receive any such communication from Kumble.
With that question unanswered, and India's cricketers making a quiet, quick arrival and exit, there was little left to do for the media and the bleary eyed policemen, but to pack up and head home.