Around Asia with a press pass

It's a subcontinent and Middle East special in part four as our correspondent takes in the UAE, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on his world cricket tour

Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman
A leopard rests atop a rock at Yala National Park, Sri Lanka, November 2014

Yala National Park: home to some of the best leopard-spotting on the planet  •  Subash Jayaraman

Day 93
Aboard a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Dubai. Seeing the business-class cabin empty, I joke to the stewardess that she should just let us sit there. She tells us that the seats have takers. Sure enough, there is a hubbub later as passengers go up from economy to the front to take pictures - of Bollywood couple Ajay Devgn and Kajol.
Stay in the Al-Karama area of Dubai with the father of Bharathram, who has transcribed the Couch Talk podcasts for more than two years. The area is a lot like India. There is even a South Indian restaurant around the corner, of which we take full advantage.
Day 96
Take a taxi to the Sharjah Cricket Stadium to watch the last day's action of Australia's tour match against Pakistan A before the Test series begins. My last memories of living in India and watching cricket on TV are of Sachin Tendulkar's "desert storm" innings, so the visit to the stadium feels a bit like a pilgrimage. There are still hoardings and advertisements in the stadium from when a portion of the IPL was held there many months earlier.
Talk to a kid of about 12 years who I see filming the match on a camcorder. He is of Indian origin and is a legspinner. Plays his cricket at a local cricket academy. Tells us his parents drop him off in the morning and pick him up at close of play, every day. Dedication.
Some 100 vocal Pakistani fans make their presence felt. The Pakistani superfan, "T20 Chacha", leads the chants of "Pakistan Zindabad" as the Australians are beaten easily. Chacha gets a selfie taken with Greg Blewett, who is with the Australian team, and then asks him his name. Seen it happen to Blewett in 2007 in Antigua too!
Day 98
Pick up my press pass at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Beautiful arena with plush facilities, but far away from the city centre. Need to take the metro and then a bus to get there.
Michael Clarke addresses the Australian journalists. He's still in his pads, straight out of a nets session. He seems a bit ticked off with one of the journalists about a recent piece questioning his form. Says that "respect has to go both ways" and since they "will be seeing each other a lot over the next 12 months", he wants to lay down some ground rules.
Rent a car away from home for the first time, and drive to Al Ain zoo. Lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, gorillas - animals far from their natural habitats. Seems like the story of Dubai - a modern, glitzy city in the middle of a desert. That the Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski resort fits.
Day 99
Pre-series pressers with the captains. Clarke makes eye contact with the person he's responding to. Misbah-ul-Haq has an emotionless stare fixed on a spot faraway. Both very professional at handling the press.
Head to the ICC Global Cricket Academy to meet former Pakistan opener Mudassar "Mudi Pa" Nazar, who's the coach there. A car stops to drop off Clarke and James Faulkner. They ask me the way to the dressing rooms. I tell them I'm as new there as they are. They walk off, trying the various doors.
Ask the gentleman who the players off for directions to the academy. He offers to drive me there. Turns out he was just a fan who had come to see the players at training, and not some officially appointed escort.
Day 100
First day of the Dubai Test. On the bus to the ground, meet a couple from Yorkshire, Ian and Sue Jones, who have been travelling to warmer climes every English winter for the last 15-odd years to follow cricket.
Day 101
Realise while trying to interview Mudi Pa that Skype-to-phone calls are not allowed in the UAE for some reason. Internet helps in identifying a reliable VPN service that re-routes the call through another country, which allows Skype-to-phone to work. The things you learn on a world trip!
Day 104
Australia take the Test to the final session, threatening to draw the match, but lose. It could have been one of those blockbuster nerve-wracking draws that make Test cricket what it is, and given me "I was there" bragging rights, but alas, it is not to be. Clarke comes to the presser and soaks up the blame, while giving credit to Younis Khan and Pakistan. He showed up for the previous days when Australia didn't do well, too. My respect for him goes up, for showing he is ready to cop it for the team. Some teams send assistant coaches to the pressers after they have had bad days.
Day 105
Attend a media interaction at ICC headquarters. Presentation on DRS and the upcoming World Cup. Then a q&a with ICC chief executive David Richardson. Not happy with the responses and explanations I get for my questions on DRS. Request Richardson to be on Couch Talk. He says, "Maybe." We get a tour of the building. Get to see the new office of N Srinivasan.
Day 107
Pre-match presser day. Wait at the ground for three hours for Australia to finish training to interview their assistant coach Craig McDermott. Conduct the interview by the sightscreen even as the nets session winds down. You can hear Steven Smith nail them in practice in the background. The normally subdued Chris Rogers hits one out of the park and the team hollers and whoops it up.
See a lot of Phillip Hughes, running around taking part in drills and just trying to keep the mood up in the group after the 221-run defeat in Dubai. Little do I know that it will be the last I ever see of him.
Day 108
First day of second Test in Abu Dhabi. Another Younis century. Clarke fronts up to the press again. Get delayed by work in the press box and Abu Dhabi traffic. Rush to the airport to catch flight to Sri Lanka.
Day 109
Land in Sri Lanka. Made cranky by the red-eye flight and the annoying cellphone and foreign exchange hawkers at the airport. Glad to be in the taxi finally, to nod off on the way to the home of Andrew Fernando of ESPNcricinfo in Colombo's suburbs. It is the monsoon season in Sri Lanka and one can feel it in the humidity.
Day 112
Take the train down the picturesque south-west coast to Galle. Walk to the Galle Stadium, which still has a lot of banners of Mahela Jayawardene from his last Test in Sri Lanka. Kids in whites play a schools game. Plenty of spin bowling but the match is cut short by rain. Story of the trip. There is no international cricket on in Sri Lanka at the time but the West Indies High Performance Centre team was visiting, and the matches I was planning on watching get washed out.
Days 114-115
Take a seven-hour bus ride from Galle via Hambantota to Tissamaharama for a safari at Yala National Park - the best place on the planet to spot leopards in the wild. An hour into our safari, we see one resting on top of a rocky outcrop, warming up in the morning sun. We see a couple more later on. On our way back, we notice kids playing cricket just beyond the boundaries of the park. Brave souls!
Day 117
Back in Colombo, visit the Cricket Club Café. All the items on the menu are named after cricketers. "Ian Botham's Banana Split". The restaurant has cricket memorabilia from all over the world, displayed country-wise. You can tell from the fact that there is a Bradman Bar - at the centre of the restaurant - that cricket-mad Australians set it up.
Day 118
Train to Kandy. Relief from the heat of Colombo as we slowly chug up the mist-covered mountains. Stay near Trinity college, Kumar Sangakkara's alma mater.
Spot a game of street cricket on the hillside and join in for a bit. The kids are playing "Test cricket": hitting directly into the neighboring houses is "out", in addition to the normal ways of getting out.
Day 122
Oversleep and nearly miss the early-morning flight to Bangladesh. Wake up just three hours before the flight. Manage to get there in time. Fall asleep at a friend's place in Gulshan, Dhaka. Wake up to Rohit Sharma's 264 on the telly. Take overnight bus to Chittagong.
Day 123
Day three of the third Test between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. First session in the stands but the BCB media liaison invites us to the press box. Watch the remainder of the Test from there.
Day 126
Stay an extra day in Chittagong to take part in a media cricket tournament. Get to open the bowling for the "journalists" team with a taped tennis ball. Three-over spell. Two catches dropped off my bowling. ESPNcricinfo's Mohammad Isam takes three wickets with his left-arm orthodox spin.
Overnight bus back to Dhaka.
Day 128
Aboard the Jet Airways flight from Dhaka to Mumbai. It's the same stewardess from our Mumbai-Dubai flight. She recognises us and gives us extra beer. Good times.