If you thought the Indian men’s cricket team, taking part in its maiden Asian Games, would not be recognised in Hangzhou, think again. Just as the team wrapped up its net session ahead of its quarterfinal match against Nepal on Tuesday, medical staff at the training venue walked up to Rinku Singh and asked him for an autograph on the back of his volunteer shirt.
Fu Qinghui didn’t know about cricket till last year. But since Zhejiang University, where he works in the medical department, was chosen at the venue for cricket, he has been fine-tuning his cricket vocabulary. “I have tried to learn the rules and some players of the world. I know Australia, New Zealand and India like this game. In 2011, India won the World Cup,” said Fu, pleased after securing a handful of signatures.
The autograph of India’s first-time skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad was the most coveted.
Trading country pins has been among the most sought-after activities for the volunteers and two of them jumped Washington Sundar on Monday, demanding that he kept his promise. “You said you would give us one [pin]. You didn’t, we are now heartbroken,” said one of them, pointing to the pins on the lanyard of her security card. Washington somehow wriggled away from the situation, claiming mistaken identities.
At the nets, it was the bowler’s turn to strap on the pads and get some batting practice. Arshdeep Singh, Ravi Bishnoi, Avesh Khan were facing throwdowns from the coaching staff and the part-time spinners, including Yashasvi Jaiswal.
When Jaiswal tossed one up, Bishnoi stepped out and smacked the ball to the leg side. “That’s a six!” yelled Arshdeep. When Jaiswal protested, Arshdeep reasoned, “ Yahan 47m ka boundary hai, ye shot 52m tha (The boundaries are 47m long here, and the shot was at least 52m).”
The boundary dimensions will come into play when India takes on Nepal at the Pingfeng Cricket Campus. Last week, Nepal became the first men’s team to go past 300 in T20is while Kushal Malla (34 balls) and Dipendra Singh (9 balls) shattered the fastest hundred and fastest fifty records in the same game. Dipendra, who broke Yuvraj Singh’s feat for the fastest 50, also hit five consecutive sixes in an over. If Bishnoi can strike past 50m, imagine the carnage the likes of Shivam Dube and Rinku Singh can unleash in these conditions.
Ruturaj, however, played down the prospect of his team chasing records, while head coach VVS Laxman said that “records are meant to be broken” in sports and that they will not be coveted.
In the days since the team landed in Hangzhou, it has been soaking in the experience of watching athletes of other disciplines from the stands and mixing with them during their visit to the athletes’ village.
“We got to know about the athletes and the struggles they go through [from our visit] and got to know the different dimensions of each sport. They get an opportunity to represent the country hardly every 2-3 years or 4 years. We took a lot of pride [from them in representing in the Asian Games],” said Ruturaj.
Laxman added, “It’s very different. Never thought we would come to China and play cricket. But it’s a great opportunity for the entire team. Participating in the Asian Games is a great opportunity and a matter of great pride for the players.
The players and staff were at the hockey stadium, when India beat Pakistan 10-2, and Washington, Kishore and Tilak Verma were in tow with coach Laxman for the men’s badminton team final against China to lend their voice in a partisan setting.
“This was a great chance for us to see our country play various sports like badminton, tennis and hockey. We enjoyed cheering for the teams. We realised what the fans go through when they watch from the outside,” said Ruturaj.
After donning the spectator’s hat for the last week, it is now their turn to thrill the followers.
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