Indian stars wake up sleepy NZ

In a country where five-day weeks are religiously followed,the AMI Stadium,venue for Wednesday’s New Zealand-India T20 game...

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Published:February 22, 2009 11:30 pm

In a country where five-day weeks are religiously followed,the AMI Stadium,venue for Wednesday’s New Zealand-India T20 game,wears a deserted look even though it’s late morning.

The quest for an opening to enter the premises leads one to an unexpected notice that sticks out on the electronically locked gate. It’s about the rescheduling of the Iron Maiden concert. The heavy metal band was slated to play at AMI on Saturday but now the gig has been pushed ahead by a day,and to a different part of the city.

Before one can inquire about the details of the new fixture,a car moves in,dragging a giant billboard. “The rock stars of cricket are coming,” it announces,with silhouettes of batsmen brandishing bats like guitars standing out against an orange background. There is a buzz about India’s tour to New Zealand,which becomes clear as the day gets older.

The world champions of the game’s shortest format had their first net session here and there are enough signals that there will be no empty seats in the stadium in the days to come.

The Indian cricketers are training at the Lincoln University campus,which is peacefully nestled in a rural setting on the Canterbury Plains,about half-an-hour’s drive from Christchurch,but the word has spread. Long before the team bus enters the arena,the fans,mostly expat Indians,have taken vantage positions around the scenic ground.

Elderly ladies,giggly teenage girls,students wearing India blues,middle-aged men with cameras hanging around their necks,and even a few toddlers,are part of the welcome party. For Indian cricket fans in New Zealand,following the the team means following ball-to-ball commentary on the Internet and highlights on YouTube. They grudgingly talk about rugby’s number-one status in their adopted country and confess their lack of passion for the starless Black Caps. With the Indians visiting after six years,the local Indian community can’t get enough of them.

A man in his late 20s vouches that he was Irfan Pathan’s senior at Rosary School in Baroda but isn’t sure that the star will recognise him. Team India are busy just signing autographs on souvenir stumps or bats,and even on a young girl’s T-shirt that says,“I love Mumbai”.

A group of Indian students is prepared for a comfortable cricketing experience,virtually moving their entire living room on the sidelines of the nets. First they park a sofa for a ringside view,then come a couch and a bean bag,before a crate of cold beers completes the preparations.

MS Dhoni and his men are enjoying the attention and their rare interaction with fans without the usual overwhelming presence of policemen.

Waiting for his turn to bat,the Indian skipper hears loud music from an approaching car that somewhat spoils the serenity of the picture-perfect venue. “This must be an Indian,” he jokes,triggering peels of laughter.

With rock stars in town,the decibel-level in this sleepy city has just gone up.

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