A significant part of being a cricket journalist involves standing around. It can be a pleasure and a pain, depending on how you see it. Today a group of print and electronic media waited two hours for a five-minute spectacle. In the evening, 25 minutes of watching Rahul Dravid seemed too short.
Welcomed by a thunderous rainstorm, the Indian team arrived in Colombo for the Compaq Cup, which they will contest on September 11 and 12 with hopes of making the final. The players reached Sri Lanka in the afternoon and headed straight for the team hotel under strong security cover. Two hours before their arrival, the lobby at the Taj Samudra was abuzz in anticipation. It felt more like a G8 Summit. Rounds of coffee and tea were had. Jokes were cracked. Acquaintances were made and renewed.
The Indians arrived and out came the garlands. Shutters clicked. Cameras panned every inch of the players’ moves. The area between two elevators was chaotic. Hotel staff, guests and traveling fans clamoured to get a look. I was startled when a male fan came running toward his friends and actually jumped up and down showing off the pictures taken on his camera phone. The entire spectacle lasted but five minutes, and we’d been waiting for two hours; some from even before.
You know the Indians are around because security and the number of cameras is tripled. Some 35 journalists applied for media accreditation for a four-game tournament, out of which India are guaranteed only two. In the evening, an optional practice was attended by the entire Indian team and support staff. Where only a few nights ago I had been able to virtually stand a few feet from Shane Bond and watch him bowl, this evening all of us journalists were told to keep our distance.
The players warmed up with fielding drills along the length of the pitches before disbanding into three groups. One bunch did reflex catching along with Gary Kirsten in one net. Robin Singh conducted pick and throw sessions in another. Paddy Upton conducted another drill. After turning a shade of purple trying to blow up an inflatable stretching ball, the trainer worked with Abhishek Nayar.
Two of us journalists strolled along the outer circumference of the R Premadasa Stadium to watch Dravid bat. While Sachin Tendulkar faced Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar and Amit Mishra, and played some rather aggressive shots, Dravid batted for roughly 25 minutes against four local net bowlers. I’ve always enjoyed watching net sessions, because it gives you the ability to watch a batsman in his own zone without the pressure of spectators, cameras and playing in real time. A net session is about the individual. Standing around watching a session doesn’t feel tedious for a second. It can be rather enlightening. Kishore Kumar's tunes, playing from near the players' kitbags, also kept us entertained.
This was Dravid’s first net session with the Indian team on tour. He was far from his best against the four lads. There were plenty of mistimed drives, inside-edged tucks off the pads, cramped pull shots and bottom-handed drives to the off. But there were also fine drives off the front foot and rubber-wrist glances. Dravid didn’t use his feet much to the two slow bowlers, one whose action was a crude mix of Sohail Tanvir and Mushtaq Ahmed. The times he did, the ball was firmly hit and almost always along the ground. The frustration of mistimed shots was evident in how Dravid threw the ball back to the bowlers.
When Tendulkar was finished, Dravid walked over to face the team bowlers. The timing improved. Mishra was twice driven straight, one shot going nearly into the sight screen. Harbhajan was slog-swept with power. Dravid shuffled a lot to Nehra and Praveen, looking a bit twitchy.
Yuvraj Singh, having taken Dravid’s place against the net bowlers, began with pokes and pushes before settling down to show off his power. One mighty heave landed on the roof. Venkatesh Prasad and Nehra, as practice winded down, did laps of the ground. Dravid and Suresh Raina did the same.
It was time to head back and we walked to the media centre unrestricted past the ground, staying just inside the boundary rope. We knew how to keep our distance. Cricket journalism is a job undoubtedly, and it's pretty fulfilling.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo