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Tour Diary

Not quite the home of cricket

Imagine a cabbie in Melbourne not knowing how to get to the MCG, or his counterpart in New York staring at you blankly when you ask to go to Yankee Stadium

Saeed Khan/AFP

Saeed Khan/AFP

Imagine a cabbie in Melbourne not knowing how to get to the MCG, or his counterpart in New York staring at you blankly when you ask to go to Yankee Stadium. You can't. But in Kuala Lumpur, where cricket really isn't part of the nation's sporting psyche, blank looks are usually what you get when you get in and ask to be taken to the Kinrara Oval. Located in the suburb of Puchong, it's more than a half-hour drive from the city's commercial hub, and exact directions and a gaze or two at the road map are necessary before you can head off in the right direction.
Along the way, you pass the National Stadium at Bukit Jalil, a magnificent structure that seats 100,000 which hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1998. And nearer the airport is another sporting venue that Malaysians are immensely proud of - the Formula-One circuit at Sepang. As my cabbie tells me earnestly, cricket doesn't really register here. The main newspapers have opted for agency coverage of these matches, and the lack of interest was evident as West Indies and Australia played out the opening game in front of empty plastic seats and upholstered chairs.
"Soccer is the most popular game," he tells me seriously, before adding that despite the government's best efforts, the national team languishes outside the top 100 in the FIFA rankings. When it comes to national sporting icons, you have to look towards badminton - remember the famous Sidek brothers? - and squash, where Nicole David now heads the women's rankings. They also have a handy hockey team, once coached by Australian legend Terry Walsh.
Legends from a different sport await me as I arrive at the Oval. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are first into the nets when India arrive for a practice session, and they're soon followed by legends-in-the-making like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag. RP Singh has a fine stint early on to do his chances of inclusion in the XI no harm at all, and Sreesanth also bowls some nippy stuff to Dhoni as the players knuckle down.
In an adjacent net, Suresh Raina bats with a stump on a concrete pitch, as Ian Frazer throws a plastic ball down at just short of a length. More often than not, Raina is nicely in line, and able to work the ball away off his hips or square on the onside. And later, as the sun goes down and the lights shine bright, he's to the fore again as the team goes through its fielding drills. After weeks of preparation - both in the form of camps and team-bonding exercises - the team's wait is nearly over. As they would say in the paddock at Sepang, it's time for the flag to drop, and the bullshit to stop.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo