Flight from Delhi to London delayed because the one coming in from London has arrived late. Once on board, realise this can't be a one off. This flight too will take an hour more than the usual nine and a half because aircraft leaving India or headed there cannot fly over Pakistan airspace.
May 26 Spend lull before World Cup storm at colleague Osman Samiuddin's house in Wimbledon. At Wimbledon station, after day out with Samiuddin family, hear a properly stressed "As-salamu Alaykum" from behind. Not the casual "Slaamalekum".
It is Azhar Mahmood, former Pakistan allrounder and now their bowling coach, greeting Samiuddin. Mahmood should have been in Cardiff for his side's warm-up match against Bangladesh but rain put paid to that. Took leave, boarded first train from Cardiff to London, into tube, off to Wimbledon, to break today's fast with his wife. Also, son's birthday next morning. Joys of playing in England.
Mahmood unaware Samiuddin family has moved in here. Those wanting to eavesdrop on fast-bowling masterclasses, do stake out restaurants in Wimbledon in the weeks after the World Cup. Expect quotable quotes flying all over.
Meet Shahriar Khan, former Asian Cricket Council media officer, who now lives in London. Talk about dodgy Sharjah match in 1991, where nobody knew the regulations when bad light interrupted play. Nobody knew which rain rule would be followed - if at all - with India in a good position when chasing. Mohammad Azharuddin, India captain, looked to press box for clarity but found none. Eventually, in light so faded the streetlights had come on, Waqar Younis bowled lethal yorkers to successfully defend 11 in the last over.
Shahriar remembers another dangerous-in-the-dark Waqar spell the following year or so in England. Exhibition game organised by local business. Miandad XI v Azharuddin XI in suburban London. Teams turned up late because money reached them late. Rowdy, charged-up big crowd in temporary stands. Bouncers outside dressing rooms. High-intensity match. Miandad XI bat first. When Azharuddin XI bat, Waqar is in searing form, taking two early wickets.
Each wicket brings out pitch invaders, one of whom nicks Waqar's gold chain, given to him by his mum. Play stops momentarily. PA announces: "Whoever has it please bring it back." Good luck with that.
It is late evening by now. It is September. No floodlights. Waqar angry. Proper pissed-off. Bowls bouncer after bouncer in the gloom. No umpire at this level can enforce any bouncer restriction. Raman Lamba backing away. Azharuddin slashing at everything. One man, though, has all the time to get behind the line and then either fend it down right by his toes or get out of the way. Whenever Waqar pitches up, he drives. Sachin Tendulkar is just properly announcing himself to world.
Bristol. St Nicholas Market. Lovely food stalls from the world over: Moroccan, Italian, Indian, you name it. Great for vegans. Does street food every Thursday and Friday. Proper market. Cash-only because small businesses can't afford to pay bank fees.
Complaints around during warm-up games that some stalls at venues wouldn't accept cash payments. Also hear murmurs ticketing is going to be a big issue this World Cup. People still waiting for their tickets to arrive in the mail. Crazy if World Cup is forcing cashless payments at stalls but can't provide paperless tickets, which just about every other entertainment event does.
Finally see sun for the first time in two trips, five years apart, to Bristol. Last visit was too short to get a grip on Bristolian, the famous dialect. Pick up A Dictionary of Bristle. First lesson. "T" inside a word is not pronounced. Hence Bristle. "Churz drive" if you want to thank bus driver. Lose the "r's" at end of words. Replace most "me's" with "I's". Add "wl" where Aussies add an "r". If "idea" is pronounced "ideaR" in AustraliaR, it becomes "ideaWL" in Bristle. Drop all "h's" at start of words. Everything is shortened.
"Innit" comes from Bristolian. "Mind" to emphasise something; "see" to prove a point, as in "See, I told you"; "mint" as in "very good" - they all come from Bristolian. "Lush" to suggest something or someone is "very nice" was even added to the Oxford Dictionary in the mid-2000s. All sounds a lot like what is spoken in Only Fools and Horses, which is fitting because it was mostly shot in Bristol, even though the show was based in Peckham.
Bristol citizenship test at end of dictionary. Be lush to clear it by end of World Cup.
World Cup starts in London. Realise why The Hundred will be a roaring success when it launches. No hotel TV is showing home World Cup because Sky is too expensive for them. Even Sky's online packages are steep. The greatest broadcast in cricket - definitely best commentators in game - is coming at a big cost. Being watched in small percentage of households and sports bars only. The Hundred will be free to air. Massive percentage of kids will watch it as their first experience of cricket.
Cash being accepted at stalls but tickets not all arrived. Full houses not quite full.
Pre-match training for Afghanistan and Australia. Try to ask Gulbadin Naib, Afghanistan's new captain, something in Urdu. Denied by ICC media officer. It can't be, but hope this is not an ICC embargo on languages other than English.
Afghan fans turn up outside County Ground in Bristol without tickets. Have driven in from afar. Find ways to buy them off others and make it in. Reminiscent of Gulbadin telling me last year: "We Pathans are a different race. If we make up our mind to do something, we don't let it go. Ever."
Australia beat Afghanistan comfortably but not without a workout for David Warner, who returns to international cricket with his slowest half-century.
Gulbadin happy to speak Pashto at press conference. In ICC's mixed-zone interaction, he explains - in Urdu - it is Afghanistan's request to prevent questions in Urdu. "It is not my language, it is not my land," Gulbadin says of Pakistan, where he was born, a refugee. "Nor is Hindi my language."
Discover three Bangladesh players were observing Ramzan fasts when beating South Africa in their first league match. Remember a chat with Afghan players who did it in the heat of India last June. Tried to reason with them that they should be allowed to forego fasting when travelling. Was told staying in air-conditioned hotels was not the kind of travel that the exception was made for. Even those Afghan players are not fasting here in England because the summer days are just too long: Sehri, the dawn meal, is before 3am and Iftar, the evening one, after 9pm, and not even a drop of water for 18 hours in between.
Can be unhealthy, especially when playing sport for such long hours, but wasn't that said of veganism and vegetarianism in sport too? Discover Adam Zampa has joined growing list of vegan elite athletes. Says he feels lighter on field.
Bengali sweets in Brick Lane on Chaand Raat, eve of Eid. Pained to see racially named Habshi halwa has made it to Bengali sweet shops. "Habshi" was used to describe black slaves brought in from Africa to India in pre-British times. Comes from the Persian word for "Abyssinian". Is often casually used in north India and Pakistan for dark people. Habshi halwa, darkest of halwas.
Many Bangladeshis live here but streets are quieter than usual. Next morning is a big one: Eid prayers, festivities, preparation for cricket day after. Bangladesh media keen to find out where team will be praying, but it is kept secret. Some of them still rattled after terrorist attack on mosque they were praying in in Christchurch.
Tattered old bat at New Zealand training at The Oval. Used to simulate edges for wicketkeepers. Since it's difficult to edge balls on demand, you try to bat normally, and anything not off the middle of the bat ends up being an edge for the wicketkeeper to catch. Tell Luke Ronchi, fielding coach, if they ever forget to bring "nicking bat" along, I could provide practice as expert at edging balls, even with proper bats. There might still be a future in cricket for this writer.
Match day outside The Oval. Saw foxes feast on rubbish here last night. Now vendors selling flags, facepaint and stuffed tigers. Water and slices of toast being given out for free. Bangladesh crowd totally drowns out three middle-aged men selling their brand of Christianity, reading out of a book into a mic. Ross Taylor feels like he is playing in Chittagong as the crowd lives every ball of tense two-wicket defeat for Bangladesh.
Feel like Afghanistan fans when showing up in Bath - along with Willy Nicholls, New Zealand's media officer - hopefully to play for the Forty Club, the "largest wandering club in the world". There is only one vacancy, and that has gone to Nicholls already. But sure enough, another shows up.
The Forty Club's aim is to give games to schoolkids to encourage them to play cricket to highest possible standard of performance and behaviour. Kids don't spend on game, and pros declare with interesting targets if they manage to bat long enough. Time declarations so kids either win in last two overs or fall ten or so short.
Players here didn't ask his name back then but clearly remember lad who smashed them all over the park 13 years ago was Jos Buttler.
Monkton Combe ground lives up to my team-mate, journalist Scyld Berry's hype that it is as beautiful as Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Nicholls raises English eyebrows by playing ramps in front of impressionable minds. Wins them over with commitment in field.
Experience first-hand how the Dukes ball starts to swing only after six overs. Open bowling, start with maiden, bowl another in six-over spell, and come excruciatingly close to "c Nicholls b Monga" entry on scorecard. Match is drawn, neighbourhood pub is visited, and as sun starts to set on the most memorable day of the World Cup, Berry sends us off with the memorable words: "Wouldn't it be wonderful? To keep playing cricket forever."
Not having watched - of course - West Indies lose to Australia, I read their complaints about the umpiring. Arguably West Indies are here because of umpiring error in crucial World Cup qualifier match against Scotland. West Indies won by five runs on DLS method thanks to an lbw four overs before a rain interruption, which would have been reversed on DRS, had it been there. Got to be more accepting of errors. Don't hear "replace X player with machine because he dropped catch". Shouldn't have to hear same thing every time umpires make mistakes. World Cup without villains, please.
The Oval press box has visitors. Schoolkids - under ten, all - on a tour of the ground. Usually these tours are conducted when press boxes are empty. Today they have journalists to ask questions of. First one: "Why does cricket stop when it drizzles?"
Ask them a question: which format of cricket do they like? "What is a format?" is the reply. Realise cricket can be massively confusing to newcomers. More than half zone out of conversation. A couple of the really interested ones know what formats are. One says he likes ODIs "because you can play big shots but you also have time to defend". It is not dying. Not yet.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo