Heard/overheard in Ahmedabad:
- A waiter (who hails from Udaipur) while dusting off a credit card machine not used for years
- A taxi driver, referencing self-made tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani while talking socio-economic issues
- A British couple at the luggage carousel at the airport.
A day before the World Cup, it doesn't feel like one is about to start at all. Billboards, events, discounts on televisions, advertisement campaigns, all very lukewarm. The ICC flies in eight other captains - England and New Zealand are already here - on chartered planes to drum up some excitement. Ravi Shastri asks Babar Azam about the biryani in Hyderabad, where Pakistan have been camping. Babar gives him an inscrutable look. "We have been asked this hundreds of times," he says.
Happy World Cup Day. Things seen in Ahmedabad today:
- Sweet old couple riding a scooter, one in a sidecar
- Schoolkids packed into a van, giggling at people from the rear window
- Garba classes and billboards for garba events, which start on October 15
- Gujarat Titans flags being sold outside the Motera ground
- A Gujarat Cricket Association employee in the media lounge standing up instinctively when he sees Jay Shah on TV, and remaining like that as long as the camera keeps showing his boss
Passengers aboard the Ahmedabad-Delhi flight realise how tall Javagal Srinath really is when they see him struggle in his economy seat. Now a match referee, Srinath oversaw the World Cup opener, and is on his way to the Delhi matches along with umpire Sharfuddoula Saikat. Srinath then has to take the coach from the aircraft to the terminal, leaving people a lot of time to approach him for selfies. Polite, smiling and posing for photographs. Same polite smile when I say hello. Realise he is in auto-pilot polite mode when he says to me, "Nice to meet you." Either that or my face is so unremarkable and common that he doesn't remember me. Can't blame him either way.
Looks like dystopia, feels like the BCCI keeping its promise of free drinking water at the grounds. Feroz Shah Kotla seems to also have kept its promise of clean toilets for women.
Oh Delhi, why do you have to be so lovely yet so unlivable? Eat at Kake di Hatti and Giani di Hatti past Fatehpuri Masjid in Old Delhi, then walk to Mirza Ghalib's old house in Gali Qasim Jaan. The intoxicating smell of blackboard tree flowers all around. Sit there and wonder, "Humne mana rahe Dilli mein / saans lenge kya?" Granted Delhi is great to live in, but what will we breathe?
Credit cards with corporate deals can get you into fancy hotels, but after that you are on your own. And on your own, you can't pay their laundry rates, which are often higher than the cost of the clothes to be laundered. The Dhobi Ghat in Delhi is located right between the bungalow of a member of parliament and an apartment complex called MP Awas, housing other, probably less important, MPs.
An afternoon in Lajpat Nagar, home to a number of Afghan refugees in India who have built themselves restaurants, stores selling nuts (or as we in India call them, dry fruits), and pharmacies with names in Persian script. Watch with nervous amusement as a Pashtun Afghan fights a Tajik Afghan outside a restaurant. Nervous because they are big dudes this close to going bareknuckle at each other, amusement because they are cursing each other in Hindi. Side note: some of the Afghan players ate here last night.
Heard/overheard in Delhi:
- A seller in Sarojini Market, offering AirPods Pros for as little as Rs 1000.
- A Haryanvi cop outside Feroz Shah Kotla to a man already drunk in the afternoon.
Have been told my flight to Ahmedabad has been cancelled for "operational reasons". The conspiracy theorist in me believes one operational reason could be that the Indian team booked it and turned it into a charter - well after I bought my ticket way back in July. The airline's customer care neither confirms nor denies this.
Day before India vs Pakistan. A reporter looking for fervour starts asking Rohit Sharma a question by saying they have seen tears in his eyes during the national anthems. Rohit fact-checks him. "You have seen me in tears," he counters, with his typical incredulous expression.
Mohammed Siraj starts bowling cross-seam pretty early. Then Jasprit Bumrah comes back to seemingly seam the ball away just a smidge to bowl Shadab Khan as India roll over Pakistan for an easy win, which makes it 8-0 for them in World Cups. Only Waqar thinks it is reverse swing - but with the shine contrary to the orientation for regular reverse. Bumrah later confirms it indeed was reverse, and that India saw a dry square and were onto it from ball one. Game recognises game.
All the quick-moving normal queues at the airport entrance lead to a DigiYatra counter, where a facial recognition system let you get in without having your ticket and ID card checked by a security official. Don't feel comfortable sharing data? Take the long queue, and we have also reduced the number of entry points for you.
If Liverpool were a club representing an Indian city, they would drop the "alone" from YNWA.
The real test of spectator-friendliness of this World Cup has arrived: Pune. One of the great Indian cities, with arguably the most inconvenient ground, situated halfway to Mumbai, with no public transport to get there and the horrible traffic of an IT hub to negotiate. Once you get there, one half of the stadium - including the media and broadcasters - have to use just the one toilet, which results in longer queues than at the non-DigiYatra entry points at airports. Women? No toilets. They get a Portaloo only on match days.
Bleary-eyed at 3am, hours after the perfect game for India - low score to chase, quick start, Virat Kohli century - walk through several snaking passages to end up at DigiYatra counters repeatedly. At each two or three volunteers try to convince you to register. If Ahmedabad was coercion, this is salesmanship more aggressive than in Sarojini Market. Eventually find a security official who lets me through.
Get driven from Amritsar to Dharamsala. The music of AP Dhillon and Shubh are my icebreakers with Bunty, the taxi driver. Update myself with latest rumours in Punjab politics, some unprintable stories behind the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala, and introduce Bunty to some Pakistani Punjabi music. More ghastly road-widening as we approach the hills. Sights of hills freshly cut into - vertically, like cake slices - to make way for roads.
It's not just Thakur on the hoardings. His brother and IPL chief, Arun Dhumal, is there too. The Himachal Pradesh chief minister, who happens to be their political rival, has managed some ambush marketing with a few hoardings of his own.
Late night in Dharamkot, which is a few kilometres north of McLeodganj, where most tourists tend to concentrate. A traffic jam on the way back, at the end of which is a stampede-like scene outside McLo, the oldest restaurant and bar in Dharamsala, where the Australian team likes to spend at least an evening whenever they are here. Surely it is not them having a night out hours before they play New Zealand?
One of the most pleasant walks to a cricket ground on a pre-winter morning. The sun is out, the air is clean, the dhabas around the stadium are bustling. Parathas being made by the tens, tea is flowing non-stop, and the eateries have to double up as cloak rooms because the stadium won't let people take bags in. Thankfully they are not being opportunistic about it - though not happy about having to look after loads of bags, they are not charging people a fee for it.
On the drive down to Chandigarh, listen to the songs the Australian team were playing on a Bluetooth speaker during their practice. It might give away my age a little but that playlist was a vibe. Here are most of them:
Heard/overheard in Kolkata:
- A fan in the stands about Shaheen Shah Afridi.
- Mohammad Rizwan telling his fans he will gift them his pads and gloves after his last game in Kolkata.
Back in Pakistan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, the chief selector, has resigned because of a pretty blatant conflict of interest.
Headline in a paper in Kolkata: "Voice-choking cough, fever lay city low, doctors blame sudden dip in night temperatures." The minimum temperature: 24 degrees.
Some lovely street names in Kolkata:
Ghalib, the poet, lived in Calcutta for a year and a half when it was the capital of the colonial English empire in India. His house still exists on Ramdulal Street, which is now famous for its mishti shops, including the extra-famous Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy, which sells Sandesh like it is bootleg stuff. Ghalib, who lived just around the corner, is supposed to have said, according to the biographical show written and directed by the poet Gulzar, "Bengal lives 100 years in the past as well as 100 years into the future."
Overheard/heard in Kolkata:
- A spectator at the nets, video-calling home and showing them van der Dussen struggle against a left-arm spinner. Note to self: Ravindra Jadeja will bowl first change tomorrow.
- Another spectator to a policeman, who is relaying a request to the fans from Virat Kohli to not scream during the nets
Jadeja takes five after Kohli scores a century on his birthday to go level with Sachin Tendulkar on 49 ODI hundreds as India dispose of their final challengers, South Africa. They have beaten all comers, but there still remains the duality of this format: knockouts to follow a league in which every team has played everyone else. Knockouts are not my problem, though. Time to avoid DigiYatra counters one last time and go home.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo