Fun in the games: Quirkiest jobs in the Indian Premier League

From DJ who creates playlist Sachin wants,to tagline writer,we profile people with quirkiest jobs at IPL.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | New Delhi | Published: May 19, 2013 1:36:46 am

Player in the House

Gary Fernandes,28 DJ

Gary Fernandes does not like cricket. In fact,he deplores it. Even a ringside view of all the IPL matches held in Mumbai in the last five years has not changed that.

Fan he might not be,but DJ Gary’s otherwise deep-set and impassive eyes light up when he recalls his fondest memory from his association with the IPL. It transpired last season and involved a certain Sachin Tendulkar. “We do get requests from the Mumbai players,especially while they are warming up for a match. We all know about Sachin’s love for retro music,so we always have either Dire Straits or Pink Floyd on for him. Last year,after a few retro numbers,I tried changing the music when the man himself requested me to continue with Dire Straits,” says Fernandes.

Dressed in a loose Mumbai Indians jersey and shorts,Fernandes is a heavy-set 28-year-old who loves sprinkling ‘dude’ in all his sentences. While he began his career playing at house parties and clubs around the city,his big break with the IPL came via his contacts with DNA networks,who were hired by Mumbai Indians for in-stadia entertainment.

Over the years,it’s not just Tendulkar’s taste in music that Fernandes has become accustomed to. Harbhajan Singh is always greeted with bhangra numbers while Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo need house hits to get them going. “At times,Pollard signals me to pump up the music when the team’s on a downer. I have a vibe going with most other players too,” he says.

The easy-going DJ admits that while he is in-charge of the genre of music blasting from the multiple amplifiers around Wankhede Stadium,his hands are tied when it comes to the timing. “Once the match begins,we have to stick to our template,which allows us to play music between overs. But we can’t experiment much. Mostly,we have to juggle between team anthems and the IPL anthem,” he says. The IPL horn is used to either gauge the mood of the crowd or perk them during a lull — which in T20 cricket could mean three to four balls without a boundary or wicket. The anthems,the horn,the heartbeat during a decision referral and the free-hit hooter are all loaded onto preset buttons on his fancy DJ console,which includes the turntable.

The lengthy IPL stint has also forced Fernandes to enhance his collection of Bollywood hits,as “90 per cent of the crowd connects with them.” While the guidelines state that music needs to stop immediately when a bowler starts his run-up,there are times when Fernandes and his colleague Clement have pushed the limits. Like the players,they have been pulled up by the match referee on occasions for these indiscretions. “It’s not a big deal though,dude. He can’t really ban us or even fine us,” says Fernandes.

Not surprisingly,he is a cause of great envy among his cricket-loving friends. While being privy to the best seat in the house might seem like a plush job,it’s anything but. Fernandes needs to reach the ground four hours before a match to set up his system so that the music starts blaring as soon as the gates open. It’s the 45 minutes leading up to a match where he is required to push his DJ pedal to the medal. It’s not just the men playing the music but their equipment too that has to contend with the extreme summer heat. “It’s hard work. We have to get here so early,and especially during the afternoon matches,we just get fried in the heat,” he says.

While the IPL organisers haven’t allowed booze near the DJ podium after the inaugural edition,they are taken care of when it comes to food and beverages. The pay is good,Fernandes admits,but it’s the adrenaline rush of playing music for a packed house that is the biggest attraction. “I have heard my friends brag about playing in front of 20,000 people. But I tell them that’s nothing compared to the vibe of 40,000 people grooving to your music. It’s just mind-blowing,” he says.

Making Mexican Waves

Sunny Khandelwal,26 Emcee

At first glance,IPL stadiums are throbbing bastions of home support. Logos of the home teams and pictures of their star players cover every available surface. At Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla,for example,half-tone renderings of Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan adorn even the elevator doors. Everyone cheers for the home team or waves their flag.

But it’s not all spontaneous. Emcee Sunny Khandelwal is one of the key figures working behind the scenes to choreograph that support. Khandelwal,based in Hyderabad,has been part of the IPL since its first season,and has worked with a number of franchisees. This season,he has emceed matches in Mumbai and Pune. His work begins well before the start of the match,when the first few spectators begin to file in.

“We make sure that they grab their flags which are in the seating area,and we ask the crowd to wave the flags when a wicket falls,when the batsmen come in,so that it looks good for the camera on air,” says Khandelwal. “Before the game begins,there’s an ‘Oh Yes Abhi!’ Pepsi countdown,so I educate the crowd on what needs to be done — after four,there’s no three,two,one; it’s ‘Oh Yes Abhi.’”

Khandelwal’s brief is clear: get the crowd to cheer for the home team. “Irrespective of which team is performing well,our focus and my major concentration and effort is only towards getting the crowd behind the home team to cheer them,” he says. “During the game,depending on the situation,we get the crowd to cheer ‘We want a six’ or ‘We want a wicket’,for the home team. And there are interactive jingles,and cheers that we do,like ‘East or West,Mumbai Indians is the best’,or ‘One and two and three and four,Mumbai Indians we want more’.”

Different venues,Khandelwal says,respond differently to the routines.

“At the Wankhede,we’ve done the maximum number of Mexican waves compared to any other ground in the IPL. We’ve done close to 20 waves,non-stop. Not in one match. In one go,” he says. “In Pune,we hardly do two before they settle down. Something which works very well with them is,holding the flags aloft in the air and waving with the music.”

At some level,according to Khandelwal,all the noise from the spectators has some influence on the proceedings in the middle.

“What we often find is,say around the 16th or 17th over,when the crowd is cheering ‘We want a sixer,’ the batsman goes for a swing,” he says. “In a way,we are contributing,and creating an atmosphere where the the players are comfortable,and they feel that they are widely supported. When you have a packed stadium,about 35,000-plus,cheering for you and asking for you to do something,you’d definitely want to do that.”

With home teams winning nearly 70 per cent of IPL matches this year,there might be some truth to this.

Apart from the IPL,Khandelwal has emceed other cricket formats including the Celebrity Cricket League and a few ODIs in Hyderabad. His non-cricketing assignments include corporate events,weddings and concerts. The major difference between those events and a cricket match,he says,is how the crowd responds. “Whether it’s a corporate affair or a press conference or a seminar,we have to break the ice and get into the crowd,” he says. “In a cricket match,we have crowds in multiples of thousands,but a crowd which is willing to participate in anything.” 

Screen Presence

Arvind Sabherwal,27 Tagline writer and visual effects person

If there was a contest for the best tagline of IPL VI,‘Gayle-storm’ is likely to be an overwhelming favourite. It has popped up on video-screens at stadiums across the country,whenever Royal Challengers Bangalore and their dashing Jamaican batsman Chris Gayle has blown the opposition to smithereens.

Many memorable one-liners and wacky captions have accompanied exciting moments of the IPL’s sixth edition. When Gayle suffered a rare failure against Delhi Daredevils last week,the giant screen at the Ferozshah Kotla only seconds later read “Go Gayle Gone”. A day earlier in Mohali,Shaun Marsh’s tremendous stroke-making inspired an apt hyperbole,“Shaun-sational”.

Arvind Sabherwal is one of the few people who have the job of inventing these catchy slogans at various venues. The 27-year-old from Hyderabad,who is in-charge of the visual effects for Mumbai Indians and Pune Warriors,is after all a veteran in this unique field,having worked with five IPL franchises previously. It’s all about being impulsive,according to Sabherwal. “Some days,you’ll see a Gayle storm but other days he will blow away like a storm. You cannot pre-empt the events or the outcome of a match or the performance of an individual. We have to keep abreast with whatever’s happening and then respond,” he says.

Sabherwal is laid-back,almost nonchalant about the lines that he ad-libs during an IPL match. He says he doesn’t even have to break his head around the taglines these days. That they just come to him naturally. “I was DJing along with doing visual effects even before the IPL for corporate events. My first cricket assignment was the Champions League T20 in Hyderabad back in 2009. Then came the IPL. So I’m very well-versed with what is expected of me,” says Sabherwal,who runs his own sound and light effects company.

While his first two years in the IPL were focused mainly on providing visuals and effects on the screen for entertainment inside the stadium,Sabherwal soon realised the need to make the most of the platform. “You have to keep doing something new every season. After two years,I decided these tag-lines could make the show more interesting. Next season,we’re going to have three screens dedicated to entertainment,” he says.

Sabherwal admits that it’s not always possible to avoid the clichés. But he insists on never attempting to be risqué with his taglines. “It’s inevitable that a lot of funny lines come to my head,which aren’t very politically correct. I have to follow the code of conduct,and I’ve never been tempted to cross the line,” he says. How to get a roar from the audience? Come up with lines in their language during moments of high drama. “Like say, Aata vaat laagli in Pune or Jhakaas in Mumbai,” he says.

It’s an unwritten rule that taglines are expected to be slightly biased in favour of the visiting team. While Sabherwal works as part of a team along with the two DJs and the emcee,he is left on his own during night matches,and at times has had to face the ire of the crowd. “After 10pm,once the music has to stop,it’s just me. There are people who’ll be screaming,‘Paaji,start the music man’. But I’ve learned to ignore them,” he says.

Safety Shield

Steve Stephenson,53 In-charge of player’s security

Steve Stephenson is one of the busiest men in the IPL. When we meet him at the official hotel for all the franchises in Pune,the 53-year-old South African,who is the co-ordinator for security of players and officials in the city as well as for Pune Warriors,tells us he has barely slept for two hours. Since 4 am,he has completed a recce,conducted random checks on floors where the players are staying,escorted Robin Uthappa through a swarm of frenzied fans and completed a feedback session with the hotel’s in-house security.

Defining his work profile,Stephenson says,“I plan team movements,conduct location and security recces,and liaison with the local police. I also sanitise the eating areas for players and prep hotel security.” He has a team of 16 officers working with him,but likes to “do things myself,so that I know what is going on”.

Born in Uitenhage,a small town in South Africa,Stephenson joined the South African Police as part of his compulsory military service,spending close to a decade and a half with them. He left the police service in 1981 and then spent the next 13 years with an international security agency. In 1995,he launched his own security company,handling two venues during the 2003 cricket World Cup in South Africa and the President’s Cup golf tournament,in November 2003.

“The ICC gave the highest security rating to the two venues we managed,and invited me to India in 2006 for the Champions Trophy. I met Lalit Modi in Jaipur during that tournament,and he invited me as a consultant for security arrangements in the IPL,” he says. In the first two editions,Stephenson served as the national security co-ordinator for the company that provides close protection to players and officials in the IPL. In the next four editions,he was Pune’s security co-ordinator.

After having worked on six editions of the league,Stephenson has a few interesting stories to tell. “During one of the early editions,we had a high threat level in Kolkata. The entire hotel was in lockdown. A former KKR captain,at that time the second most popular player in India,wanted to go home. We just couldn’t allow that. It was quite a difficult task for me to convince him,” he says.

Dean Stapelberg,a close security officer in Stephenson’s team,joins the chat and says that he had quite an encounter with a Maharashtra minister at a post-match party last week. “He came too close to players I was protecting. I requested him to keep his distance but he just wouldn’t listen. I eventually had to act a little tough,” he chuckles.

The Peace Keeper

Arvind Kumar,45 Yoga instructor,Kolkata Knight Riders

In the alluring world of IPL,where showmanship is as important as sportsmanship,Arvind Kumar seems like a misfit. As the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) players and management partied till the wee hours after winning their maiden IPL title last year,Kumar quietly slipped into his room. His celebration was different — a handshake with the players,dinner and sound sleep. He likes to keep things simple. This quality makes the 45-year-old yoga guru an integral member of the KKR support staff. In a league where there’s distraction at every level for the players,Kumar’s job is to help them keep calm,refresh their mind and body,and help them focus.

He teaches the players meditation and breathing exercises,apart from stretching,which helps improve flexibility. “There’s not a moment’s rest for the players in the IPL. Even when they are not playing,they are constantly travelling and thinking about their next match. So it’s important for them to relax,” Kumar says. His job has become easier this year,he says,as “there are fewer parties now,giving more time to the players to relax.”

When he is not busy with the IPL,Kumar works with the government on various yoga projects in Delhi and UP. He is on the finance committee and the governing body of the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in Delhi. “Besides,I have been a part of the government delegation that holds yoga camps in Italy and France,” he says.

Kumar has been a part of the IPL since its first season. While working on a few government projects,he got acquainted with Yuvraj Singh who got him on board at Kings XI Punjab before being brought to KKR by Shah Rukh Khan himself. Kumar says he first met Khan a decade ago when he treated the actor for a sore neck. “The first time I came to Mumbai,it was with him. He had a recurring neck problem in 2003. During the course of the treatment,I stayed with him at his home for 25 days,and accompanied him for his shoots to Mehboob Studio,” Kumar says.

In the three years with the team,Kumar has managed to endear himself to the players. Jacques Kallis,for instance,has acupuncture,breathing and stretching session with ‘guruji’ before every match. “There are no fixed sessions or routines. I practise every morning near the poolside of the hotel where we stay and whoever is interested joins me. Before every match,I help the bowlers in stretching so that they do not pull their muscles,” he says. “Jacques is quite diligent and knows the importance (of these exercises). Even Gautam (Gambhir) and his wife call me up whenever he is in Delhi. The relationship I have developed with the players extends beyond the IPL,” adds Kumar.

Younger players,though,prefer working out in a gym over yoga. Kumar believes combining the two can do wonders for them.

Hitchhiker and Guide

Kirk Russell,44 Delhi Daredevils physiotherapist

Three needles swiftly pierce through the skin above Naman Ojha’s right elbow,geometrically injected in the shape of an isosceles triangle by a man who knows a thing or two about acupuncture — Delhi Daredevils physiotherapist Kirk Russell. As Ojha is gently lowered to rest,both focus on not displacing the objects poked into the arm.

Grimacing,the player cushions his head with his left palm and shifts uneasily in his effort to keep the needles upright. Russell lends a stabilising hand and says,“The key is to find the right balance.”

That has been always true in Russell’s life. Especially as a young hitchhiker,who happily travelled atop speeding lorries in his quest to see the world.

That zest saw him thumb his way through England,his land of birth,and New Zealand,the country of his college life,as a teenager. In his mid-twenties,he crisscrossed eastern Europe and British Columbia with nothing more than a backpack on. Now a soft-spoken man in his mid-forties,that quest has brought him to India,following a long and fruitful spell as England’s longest serving physiotherapist. “At the end of this IPL season,I certainly do wish to pick up on my travels,” he says. With a CV that boasts over a 100 Tests,Russell has visited India on several tours with the England national team. “I used to stay back on tours back then too. I’ve always wanted to see a tiger in one of Rajasthan’s wildlife sanctuaries. So far,it hasn’t happened,” he says. “This time,though,I’ll begin with Dharamsala. There’s a Tibetan monk I need to meet. We have been friends for a while now.” Russell believes that the best physiotherapists are inherently spiritual. Could it also be due to the fact that they deal with the aches of mankind round the clock? He agrees. “It’s not your regular job,that’s for sure. I’ve seen some terrible injuries in my times. But somehow,my travels prepared me.”

So how did a backpacker become the most successful in his line? “Cricket had always been a passion,” Russell says. It had to be,considering he was born in Bath,England before moving with his family to Auckland,NZ. Between the two countries,cricket was the strongest common denominator. “So when it was time to find myself a proper job,having studied physiotherapy at university,I applied to all the counties in England. Northampton replied.”

Having worked his therapeutic skills there for eight years,Russell began working with the England under-19s by the late ‘90s. “And by the time I became the physio of the main England team in 2002,most of those under-19 kids had graduated too. There was great continuity with most of those players,” he says. Between 2002 and 2011,Russell was part of a set-up that won two Ashes and the World T20 Championships. 

The 2005 Ashes,says Russell,was the highlight of his career. Not just because it was England’s first in nearly two decades,but mainly due to the fact that he managed to keep his side injury-free. “We managed to prevent stuff the Aussies couldn’t.”

He is referring to Glenn McGrath sitting out of the second Test in Edgbaston after having twisted his ankle on a stray ball,seconds before play began. “It was so innocuous. From that day on,I stepped up the level of field hygiene by ensuring that there are no bottles or balls lying around,” he says.

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