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Coast to coast, hunting a win

Our correspondent shuttles between Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth in the wake of Dhoni and Co

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Graeme Swann bowls against the backdrop of the SCG pavilion, Cricket Australia Invitational XI v England, Sydney, 1st day, November 13, 2013

If you're a media person at the SCG, wear shoes  •  PA Photos

January 13
Back to Melbourne. Rated world's most liveable city fourth time running. Mostly friendly to tourists too, except that it won't share its public-transport timetables with Google. Almost all other major cities in world make it easy for tourists (and residents) with Google Maps telling them which bus/tram/train to take from which station/stop/platform at what time to get from one point to another. Not Melbourne. Not Victoria. During the last elections, the Labour party even promised it would get public transport on Google Maps should it win. Breath is still being held.
January 14
Back to MCG. Go on an unguided basement tour. Looking for near-legendary holding cell where police used to detain those who got too drunk before sending them out. No longer exists. Still find basement fascinating. A walk around it is about 600 metres long. Told that because of the pipes running overhead with water in them, this is the most moderate place in Melbourne to be. Helps guards who work here in a city with four seasons in one day. On a bitterly cold day temperatures in the MCG basement: 22 degrees. On a stinker: 25.
January 15
MCC library at the G. Can spend hours here. Most interesting section is the archives. Come across a 1988 issue of Pakistan's Cricketer magazine where Adil Najam has floated an idea of a World Cup for Tests. What prompts the thought is that "public and player interest" in Test cricket is dying. A World Cup of Test cricket could be the shot in the arm Test cricket needed, according to Najam.
Was Najam before his time or does every generation think Test cricket the way they loved it is dying? Feel a little older after reading this, because have been worried about the future of Tests for a while.
January 16
Listen to Australia beating England in Sydney when on the road in Victoria. Reminded of Bill Bryson's experience when travelling in the Australian outback:
"As if to emphasise the isolation, all the area radio stations began to abandon me. One by one their signals faltered, and all those smoky voices so integral to Australian airwaves - Vic Damone, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra at the mindless height of his doo-bee-doo phase - faded away, as if being drawn by some heavy gravity back into the hole from which they had escaped. Eventually the radio dial presented only an uninterrupted cat's hiss of static, but for one clear spot near the end of the dial. At first I thought that's all it was - just an empty clear spot - but then I realised I could hear the faint shiftings and stirrings of seated people, and after quite a pause a voice, calm and reflective, said […]
"I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on radio."
January 17
India at the MCG nets. MS Dhoni gets into a contest with a perky local offspinning net bowler. Offspinner keeps firing into the pads. Every time Dhoni fails to hit him for a big shot, he sounds self-congratulatory. Mostly, though, Dhoni keeps connecting. When he bowls one too many down leg and then argues against it being called wide, Dhoni says, "This even I wouldn't have been able to collect if I was keeping." Everybody has to agree. Dhoni doesn't miss many when standing up to the stumps.
January 18
Man by the supper table in MCG press box: "Is this bloke some big shot? Acts like one."
Me: "Yeah, best one-day bowler of all time. One of the best Test bowlers of all time."
Man: "What's his name?
Me: "Wasim Akram."
Man: "Hmm. I don't follow cricket much, you see."
India lose to Australia again with their death bowlers keeping India quiet. India missing Ravindra Jadeja, hence circumspect towards the end, says Dhoni.
January 19
Past midnight on the 18th. Say goodbye to MCG, and the lovely old security guard at the gates, Jill. Waits for every last journalist before she leaves for home, which is half an hour away. Never hurries anyone along. Was here during the 2011-12 tour too. Is at every MCG match. MCG stewards notorious for being officious. Jill complete opposite. Loves her cricket. After she cheered him on to a hundred in the first innings of the Test last month, Virat Kohli's loose shot to get out in the second innings drew this response: "What a d**k." Doesn't seem to take kindly to disappointment. Will be at the World Cup. Be nice to her and you could get a great home-cooked meal.
January 20
India rolled over by England in Brisbane. Stuart Binny top-scores with 44. His father, Roger, a national selector, is here too. He wanders over to the media lunchroom to say hello to known faces. Dean Jones tells him his boy has done well. Roger doesn't say much, but Jones goes on to remind Sunil Gavaskar of his son Rohan's debut right here at the Gabba. Sunil remembers it clearly. VVS Laxman was 99 when Rohan got strike with three balls to go in the 50th over. He played out a dot. That's when Sunil got nervous. "Whatever you do, just hand the strike over. Take a single. If you have to get out, hit a high ball and cross over before the catch is taken. Whatever you do, don't get bowled or miss the ball."
Rohan got the single, Laxman hit the last ball for four, Sunil was relieved, Rohan went on to take a sensational return catch in the second innings, and India won. On this tour, though, they are winless, and time is running out fast.
January 21
More radio on the road from Brisbane to Sydney. Informed by a Byron Bay station that January 21 is the day, in 1965, when the Rolling Stones first set foot in Australia. Find later an amusing report in the Canberra Times of January 21, 1965 that talks of police, Commonwealth officers and security guards gearing up for the arrival "of five young men--the Rolling Stones" and "what might prove to be the most frenzied scenes since the arrival of the Beatles last year".
January 22
Still driving from Brisbane to Sydney after having stopped over in Macksville, Phillip Hughes' home town. Australian radio has entered its weird hour. Impassioned debate around a woman who has created a scene at a McDonalds. Apparently wasn't given free tap water. A trucker, also on the road from Macksville to Sydney, weighs in. While driving. "Just another night's work, mate," he describes the drive. A lawyer from Melbourne quotes the law, saying it is illegal in Australia to refuse water to anyone who comes a-knocking. Illegal for anyone - a business, a home. Must try this some day in the middle of a hot afternoon by cold-calling at a house.
Another caller later in the night is a cousin of the infamous bank robber Brenden Abbott. Better known as the Postcard Bandit. Also known for his prison escapes. Cousin not very complimentary about Abbott. Not sure I would talk like that if my cousin was a notorious robber who escapes prison for fun. There might be radios in jail, you know?
January 23
Len Pascoe. Ferocious fast bowler from the '70s and'80s. His parents were immigrants. Mother was a Volsci, one of the oldest tribes in Europe. Father was Macedonian. Came to Australia and became a brick carter. Always been curious about how foreigners take up cricket. Pascoe's story: "We would find a round rock, and my mother would bring rags and roll them around and roll them around and roll them around. And stitch them up and she would make a ball. And we would play cricket on the farm. I was only six. I didn't know what I was doing. My cousins later would play with Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee. As it turned out, Dennis's father used to cut the timber that my father used to cart in the truck in the same place - around the River Busselton regions."
January 24
Holsworthy Station in suburban Sydney at 8pm. Not much life nearby. Not many buses operating. Need to get to Wattle Grove, which is 2km away. No cab company can get a taxi around because drivers are refusing such a short trip. Surely drivers from back home in India have infiltrated the system. "Wahan se khali aana, saar [Will not get any passengers for the return trip]," is the usual refrain in Bangalore.
January 25
Simon Katich. Now on his way to becoming operations manager with Great Western Sydney Giants. Spent one season as message runner for head coaches. Listen to him talk about pressures of playing footy - short careers, physicality, ruthless demands, sacked coaches every year - and think out loud that cricket might be a wimpy sport. Katich shows the other side: "Guys suffer in cricket because it's a ruthless game. You have one mistake and that's it. You make one mistake as a batsman and you're sitting there for two days watching your team-mates score the runs. That can affect many guys mentally. I don't think it's a matter of being wimpy."
January 26
Nearly sent back from the SCG. Forgot their press box is in the members area and the members' draconian dress code. Ask stewards to get into the spirit of Australia Day. Surely thongs (flip-flops to the rest of the world) are the national footwear? Allowed in only under one condition: should not leave press box until match is over, otherwise members won't like it. Boo.
No point coming in apart from the free supper. Persistent rain ensures only 16 overs are bowled.
January 27
Raining and cold in Sydney. Seems like it has been raining non-stop since last night. Sit in an airplane and come out three hours behind, in hot, hot Perth. As always with the heat, a red sky at night welcomes you to Perth. Everything has slowed down a little. Taxis are older, seats lower. Wait for shuttle from airport. Told WA stands for "Wait Awhile".
January 28
From an Avengers comic from 2013.
Men in brightly coloured clothing: "Come with us. We will show you the wonders of the universe and have great adventures. And once you have tasted glory and the thrill of the victory, then we will make you back to Australia."
Response: "Pretty sure we'll survive it."
A man in brightly coloured clothing: "You say that, but where I come from, you cannot imagine what a beer costs."
A$17.5 a pint if it is a Belgian beer you are after. Australian ones at 12.50. Everything is expensive in Perth. "They think we are all making mining money," say locals.
January 28
WACA Ground. Most storied ground in the world. A living two-fingered salute to homogeneity and corporatisation. Lovely old floodlight towers. Portable toilets. Flies. Grass banks. Free sunscreen. Marquees as bars. No officious stewards. Most importantly, rock-hard pitch with cracks. No place for pretenders here. Only good bowlers and good batsmen survive. Wait for the Fremantle Doctor when it gets too hot. Good to see it hasn't changed, except that Perth has been soft this time, with thunderstorms and temperatures of under 40.
January 29
Surprised with reminder that the "day-night" matches in Perth will begin at 11.20am. Why? Because the east coast of Australia must get its 2.20pm start. Even Brisbane has to bow to this television demand and start at 1.20pm. What of the convenience of cricket watchers in Perth, who might want to watch the second innings from the ground, after office? It's TV money that counts.
Small mercy that they don't force Test matches to start at 7.30am. Then again, a 10.30am start in Perth makes it almost a day-night Test for the east coast. And TV loves it.
January 30
Oh WACA, you bloody little beauty, you. Rolls out a pitch with a bit of a gutter running vertically down it. Just outside a right-hand batsman's off stump, just short of a length. From that general spot, in one over, Dhoni is hit in the head and in the shin. Second one gets him lbw. India score 200, and lose to end the tour winless.
On the way to press conference, come across Mark Nicholas asking Dhoni where the team will be between now and World Cup.
"I can't tell you now, this media guy is here."
"It's okay, MS, I am going home after this."
"Oh, you will do this small series, and somebody else will cover the World Cup?"
"Yes, I can't handle high-pressure matches like you do."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo