Between Adelaide and Sydney, India didn’t take a wrong turn till MS Dhoni lost the toss and the plot at the SCG. The defeat, however, couldn’t overshadow everything that was special about Australia. A few notes from the margins:(Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
First day in Australia, sitting in the backyard of a friend’s house. The neighbour peeps over the fence. He follows cricket and has his favourites. “Who?” I ask. “Harsha Bhogle,” he says. “Oh, he writes for our newspaper,” I reply. The neighbour suddenly disappears, only to return with a couple of pints. Throws one across and recalls some memorable exchanges between Bhogle and Kerry O’Keefe on ABC Radio. Bhogle is a radio legend in these parts. In the coming days, hear another Bhogle story. Glenn Mitchell, another ABC great, recounts being with Bhogle. Once, outside Eden Gardens, Mitchell and his co-commentator Jim Maxwell were mobbed as the fans had spotted Bhogle. The two Aussies waited but the crowd kept multiplying. Mitchell’s masterstroke, in his own words. “I point to Jim and tell the fans, ‘Hey guys, see Alan Border’. They now charge towards Jim and Harsha is free. Jim squeezes into the car and we all drive away. If not for that we would still be in Kolkata waiting for Bhogle to finish signing autographs.”
It is India vs Pakistan, the stadium is full. Fans are holding flags and banners. Remember 1985, India vs Pakistan World Series final. It’s been about 30 years but still remember this one banner in the stands from that day. It said: ‘Taxi drivers vs tram operators’. Then, didn’t really understand the message but didn’t have a good feeling about it. Hear that old joke. ‘Why no taxis on road today?’ ‘Because all drivers have gone for the game at the Oval.’ Have met smart young Asians here who are IT professionals, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, CEOs and, of course, taxi drivers. India’s image is changing. Against Pakistan, our quicks were better than theirs.
From airport, take Skybus to Southern Cross. Get down, buy an Opal card. Take a tram and train too. Whoever designed the train seats deserves the Nobel for innovation. They have the option of flipping the back-rests. In Shatabdi, you dread seats where you sit facing the guard coach. Here you can always be aligned with the direction of the train. Another massive benefit, though it can make you look rude: You don’t like the co-passenger sitting facing you, just flip the back-rest.
At the imposing MCG a friend has tickets for the top-tier. You suggest oxygen-mask for his kids. He shows ear plugs. By the end of the game, it’s the South Africans that are gasping for air. Mohit Sharma gets Amla with a short ball, when I am watching the game from the stands. “Is he Ishant Sharma’s brother?” asks a local. An Indian fan overhearing the conversation stands from his chair and shakes his head. With a very straight face and underlining each word, giving ample space between them, he says: “No . he . is . NOT . Ishant’s . brother.” “Got your point, mate,” murmurs the Aussie.
An apartment on the 13th floor in Melbourne’s China Town is home for India’s quarter-final game against Bangladesh. It’s a building full of Chinese students pursuing studies and chasing the dream to be Australian one day. You can get real authentic stir-fired noodles round the corner. Kids here colour their hair, wear caps with shining stars or skulls and wear big black-rimmed glasses without lenses. Keep bumping into a young boy who loves talking. He has an intimidating name, but me and a friend, we decide to call him Kuldeep. “Why?” you’d ask. Kuldeep Yadav, UP cricketer, India under-19, played for KKR, left-arm leg-spinner, chinaman. Get it, get it? On long tours, you need to keep yourself busy. “Who playing today?” Kuldeep asks. “India vs Bangladesh,” you say. “India, of course.” Even Kuldeep, who can’t differentiate between bat and stumps, knew it had to be India.
Kids in the local park are playing a very competitive game of baseball. It’s a fight for honour, the coaches and parents keep saying. Kicked, the four-feet somethings grit their teeth and make serious faces. School rivalries, you think, are so juvenile. You hear a few sledges too. Watching the Little Leaguers for close to an hour, you understand Aussie sports and sportspersons better. That’s how they play their sport. Even in the presence of parents and coaches, you can be insulting and intimidating to rivals. Remember what I heard from an old Aussie sports watcher. “If you had Brett Lee playing against Mathew Hayden, Lee would sledge Hayden as he would sledge Javagal Srinath or Vaas or whoever. It isn’t something that the Australians saved for international countries. So when they get called for sledging, they say I have heard all these things all the time.”
Mohammad Shami, the man of the match against West Indies, takes his position at the dais. He faces the usual question about India’s turnaround. Shami keeps it simple and says international cricket is all about ups and downs. The reporter spots an opening; he wants to connect the highs and lows of the game to the Sahaspur pacer’s modest beginning in life and subsequent fame. So has life taught you to bounce back and does that help you in cricket too’? Shami smiles, “Itne bhi kharaab din nahi dekhe maine.” (Life wasn’t all that bad).
Sydney Harbour is crowded with street performers. A very-talkative acrobat and his very silent wife have drawn a good crowd. The show has started but no one is clapping. “I have gone to 300 countries and they all applaud when I do the front flip,” he says. Still silence. “Do they still speak English in Sydney anyone,” the artist says looking at the wife. Actually, it could be true. Regardless, the crowd obliges. Walk a few paces, find a Italian-looking guy playing the guitar. Don’t know his name but Cacofonix would be fine. He is beyond repair. In front of him, on the pavement, are three bowls with cardboard labels stuck to them. For Beer, For Ferrari, For Hawaii; they say. He has more coins and dollar bills than the acrobat. Life isn’t fair.
Meet Greg Matthews. We are at a bar. These are the kind of days when you don’t want to work. Matthews’ stories are never-ending and hysterically funny. You see the clock on the wall and calculate India’s time. It’s getting late, even by Indian standards. “Heck, who cares, keep talking Uncle Mo,” you say. You had loved him as a teenager. You had wondered what kind of a man would wear a sweater in the Chennai heat. You had wondered how, despite being heckled by the crowd, he would win them over with his charm. Now he was telling you all that. You loved your job. You walk him out of the bar. He unbuckles a helmet and jumps on his bicycle. There have been so many boyhood heroes who disappoint you when you meet them. Then you meet Matthews. So you say ‘Wow, what a man’. From the bike, he says, “Boy, I will be back in an hour. We can talk more if you stick around.” Never ever has worked finished in an hour.
A day after India’s semi-final loss, I go to collect shirts from laundry. The Korean lady at the counter is folding the shirt. She is doing a favour as clothes are generally handed in hangers. She feels obliged to strike a conversation. She asks my reason for visiting Sydney. I answer. Buried in soiled and clean clothes all day, she doesn’t know cricket or World Cup. She does understand that I am here to watch my countrymen play some sport. She asks rather innocently, “How far your players stay from here.” “Not very far,” I reply. Question 2: How many of them here? Answer: About 15. The next question is interesting. “Where do they give their laundry?” With a straight face I tell her, “Just yesterday they went to the cleaners.” “Oh, no problem, that will be 10 dollars for the shirts,” she says pushing the plastic bag.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines