“Let’s show them that hum bhi hass sakte hai.” Rahul Dravid had had enough. It was a couple of days before the semi-final stage of the World Cup. The Indian and Australian teams had just finished their practice sessions at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. For 15 minutes now, the noise of indiscriminate laughter from the Australian camp next door had been disrupting Dravid’s attempts to get his routine team meeting started. The Indian team felt it was done on purpose.
Now, the Indian coach wanted his boys to show the Aussies that they could play this game too. As Shubman Gill reveals to The Indian Express now, he and his teammates started laughing as hysterically as the Australians for 10 minutes. They kept laughing right through to the final — walloping a hapless Pakistan along the way — where they came across the same Australians. And there they of course had the final laugh.
The Great Australian Laughter Challenge was still perceived as a funny memory in some ways; the real fractious exchange came against Bangladesh. It had a past too. The Indians felt that Bangladesh had gone over the top after beating India at the Asia Cup in Malaysia two months back. Verbals were exchanged, and it had left a bad taste in the mind. It was payback time now. The team management too agreed, and gave the licence to the team to give it back. And they went full monty.
Barring these two episodes, the campaign was almost a canter for a team, and even many players were surprised by how smooth it was. Couple of players even talked about how they didn’t have much to do – the lack of opportunities to showcase their talent.
The real test, in some ways, came on Monday evening in Mumbai when they walked into the ballroom of a hotel that was spilling with cameras and media persons jostling to shove a mike and recorders at their faces. The official press conference of Dravid and Prithvi Shaw went on for 25 minutes, which was followed by a free-for-all scramble that went on for 90 minutes. It was like a grand sale at a basement exhibition hall, where people fall over each other to haggle for best rates, which in this case was precious time with a star. To their credit, they handled it with aplomb.
It wasn’t the teenagers who gave up first, but a conscientious policewoman who saved the day with a perfect intervention. She stormed across to a corner where Prithvi Shaw was mobbed by the presspack and selfie-hunters, separated him, acted as a human shield, and whisked him to safety. Two minutes later, even as Shaw stood dazed, she told him to go sit in a chair in the corner.
Shaw was in demand even in his absence. As the baggage of the team rolled out of the minivan at the backside of the hotel, the hotel staff quietly pushed out the large suitcases into the hotel. Except when the luggage of Shaw came out. “Arre, Shaw ka suitcase, Shaw ka,” one of them screamed out, and his colleagues looked at it as if it was a new-born baby.
DJ in the house
The World Cup campaign in New Zealand wasn’t all hard work and perspiration. Anukul Roy, the highest wickettaker of the team, talks about the song and dance in the dressing room before practice sessions and after games. “Riyan Parag is our DJ – he plays English songs, and even Bhojpuri numbers.”
Gill, the batting star of the tournament, had his own playlist playing during the bus journey to the grounds. A boy of routine and who along with his best friend Abhishek Sharma, the all-rounder, would have Dominos Pizza before every game in India had to find a different routine as the pizza outlet wasn’t available in New Zealand. So he exchanged music for food. “During every bus journey I would play the same songs – Starboy from The Weeknd was the main song,” Gill says.
Luckily for him, though, he still had Sharma as his room partner across venues. “The rest of the team were complaining how they had to constantly shift roommates, but somehow we two were always together.”
The toughest test that Gill faced came in the final during the run chase. The floodlights were troubling him. “It was LED lights, and I couldn’t spot the spinner’s action. He was bowling carromball, and he had his finger bandaged, and I couldn’t see the ball release when he flicked it. I couldn’t see it and thought the ball was coming in and it didn’t.”
The floodlights might not have been the best but in the here and now, Gill and Co. are showered by the arc lights of public adulation. Dravid has already done his best to keep the players grounded. Many of them aren’t going to sit and soak up the fame but immediately plunge into cricket as the caravan rolls on to Vijay Hazare tournament. A 17-hour journey from Mount Maunganui to Mumbai, isn’t going to end with feet up in the air.