On personal grooming
The day before the match, I am at the ground with my colleague, the young Nagraj Gollapudi, who is interviewing the curator, the famous Chandu Borde. Nagraj asks Borde what he thought of the pitches in the recent series against New Zealand. "You see," Borde says, in his typically colourful style, "people in this country have a very bad attitude towards grass. They see grass, they cut it off with a scissor. And you know what kind of scissor I am talking about?"
Young Nagraj boyishly shakes his head. Borde looks pleased, and continues: "I am talking about the kind of scissor which you use to cut your moustache." Borde's fingers rise to his face and, just below the pugnacious nose that troubled West Indies so in 1959, he makes scissor-like movements. "Snip snip snip," he says. Young Nagraj looks befuddled, presumably never having snipped a moustache before.
"I like grass," says Borde, emphatically. "There is nothing wrong with grass."
* * * * * *
A short while later, young Nagraj and I are at the team press conference, where Stephen Fleming is being asked inane questions by journalists consumed by their self-importance. He is asked how the team morale is, and what he thinks of Australia, and what plans he has to beat Australia, and what he thinks his chances in the tournament are, and does he like the sandwiches? (Ok, so I made that last one up; I liked the cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, which were served, as must be the custom somewhere, with batata wadas.) Then he is asked about the pitch.
"It has a lot of grass on it," he says. "The first hour could be interesting." Clearly, his mind is on Faridabad.
A persistent grey-haired gentleman called Mamu asks him about the lessons the team learnt from the Faridabad loss. What did they speak about later at the team meeting after the game?
"Heads and tails," says Fleming, and smiles. So do good players make their own luck? If they're lucky.
* * * * * *
You can call me Benny
Fleming is unlucky. Ricky Ponting wins the toss, cheerfully decides to bowl, and Fleming walks back to the pavilion preparing himself to face Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams, who devastated New Zealand in their last encounter at Faridabad.
If Glenn McGrath lurks in the corridor, Brad Williams wanders around an auditorium. But when he swings like Benny Goodman, what does it matter? Williams was Man of the Match at Faridabad, and he begins this match like he began that one, moving the ball around prodigiously and bowling an errant first over.He strikes in his second, and keeps picking up wickets from there on. He is erratic throughout his first spell - but he when he does pitch it right, he strikes. Who says Australian fast bowlers don't like to bowl in India?
* * * * * *
Adam Gilchrist's high bat-speed is a legend of the future, and he's as quick in everything he does. Between overs, when the ball is in his possession, he jogs across the pitch juggling the ball from glove-to-glove in a blur of white in a background of yellow - it is almost as if he is making Meter Coffee in fast motion. My Madrasi friends would be pleased.
* * * * * *
Like a knife through butter
If the Australian team on the field is a buzz of activity, a rippling stream, Stephen Fleming is calm and collected, a tranquil lake. As the bowler runs in to bowl to him, there is a stillness about Fleming. His bat, at the crest of its backlift, is motionless. The sun gleams off it ominously. Then, just as the bowler moves into his final stride-and-jump, there is the briefest across movement of first back and then front foot, before the bat, if it needs to, come down on the ball.
Brian Lara's footwork at the crease was once compared with the sparring of a boxer. Fleming is more like a tai-chi exponent. There is an element of zen to his batting - the pure focus, the minimal movement, the sifting out of everything, mental or physical, that is inessential. But all around him there is a blaze of yellow. Can ice conquer fire?
Not this time. The Australians blaze too brightly.
* * * * * *
Jacob Oram leads a feisty fightback, though, and as the Zew Zealand score surges, so the crowd builds up. Pune must really love its cricket - very few centers would attract such crowds for a match not involving India. The stands on one side of the ground are packed, while those on the other side have empty spaces, but in pockets, separated by groups of people cheering animatedly.
They really get going when Oram mounts his charge towards the end of the innings, and start chanting his name. They pronounce it, not "oh rum", but "Oh Raam". They clap their hands and they go "Oh Raam, Oh Raam, Oh Raam," as if this is a satsang, or some kind of communal meditation camp. Perhaps, in a different way, inside their dressing room, New Zealand pray as well. Brendon McCullum answers.
* * * * * *
Now that's a good boy. In one of the stands adjacent to the press box, I spot this boy, perhaps 14 years old, wearing dirty jeans and a white t-shirt that says "10 Figo". He has just been screaming "Sachin, Sachin, Sachin". It is quite delightful, but the crowd does not get the humour of the situation, and even his friends - three dishevelled boys - do not chant along. The boy stops, looks around, and is embarrassed. He tells himself - and this is a surmise, because naturally, I don't hear him - that he will never shout "Sachin, Sachin, Sachin" again. "We want Sixer?"
* * * * * * * * *
The request show
Now, if you want sixer, Adam Gilchrist is the gentleman you should approach.
"Excuse me Mr Gilchrist, could I have a sixer please?"
"Why not? But I have a condition?"
"And what is that, Mr Gilchrist? That I ask the bowler to bowl you a half-volley?"
"Nah, I don't need that."
"Then what, Mr Gilchrist? Long-hop, full toss, short ball?"
"Nah, I don't need bad balls to hit sixers."
"Then what, Mr Gilchrist? Short boundaries, crowd support, Mexican wave, some screaming, perhaps?"
"Then what, Mr Gilchrist?"
"Just stop calling me Mr Gilchrist. My name is Matthew Hayden. You are a foolish dillettante who has a shallow understanding of cricket. You watch bits and pieces of highlights packages and think you are an expert. You enjoy watching sixes but fail to comprehend the intricate drama of a dot ball. You are entranced by celebrity, not excellence. You are a fool. Go away now before I toss you up in the air just for sport."
Well, it could happen.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.