In the dusty plains of Northern India, with the Ganges constituting its lifeline, gifting alluvial soil and water and supporting mankind, Lucknow harks back to an era of royalty and culinary delights, especially in its older parts, while the business district and suburbs have their high-rises and glitzy malls. In this landscape, from afar, the Ekana Stadium looks like a massive cake topped with white frosting laced with flecks of green. Visually, it is akin to the Optus Stadium in Perth, which seemingly impersonates a black forest cake!
As the cricket bandwagon rolled into Lucknow, with India scheduled to play against England on October 29, it was time to check out the venue on the outskirts of Uttar Pradesh’s capital. Like new airports across the country sprouting in distant places, and there is this famous one-liner about Bengaluru’s airport not being in Bengaluru, the Ekana Stadium, too, is a bit away on the map. But once you get there, the complex gets overwhelming with its size. The multiple facilities cater to cricket, tennis, and indoor sports. And to get to the B Ground to train at nets, cricketers were hopping into large cabs!
The match, though, was one-sided, as has been the case with most contests involving India in this World Cup. Even after the Men in Blue mustered 229 for nine, riding largely on skipper Rohit Sharma’s 87, the total felt adequate once Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami scythed through their rivals. India won by 100 runs, and it was time to head to Mumbai.
The next day at the airport, Rohit’s men, like always in public spaces, were treated like rockstars. Fellow passengers, airport staff, cabin crew, and security personnel were all smitten as cellphones were whipped out and pictures taken. In a corner sat Eoin Morgan, watching the spectacle unfold, when Kuldeep Yadav yelled to him: ‘Mo!’ The former England captain waved back. The man, who held aloft the World Cup in 2019, is now part of television commentary panel. His erstwhile team is now in free fall. Sport truly elevates, but it can also deflate, and England would vouch for that.
The Wankhede Stadium was all decked up and ready to honour one of its favourite sons. Sachin Tendulkar’s statue was unveiled inside the venue with much fanfare on November 1. The maestro playing a lofted shot was frozen in stone, and later Tendulkar spoke about his fascination for this ground, a place he had sneaked into as a 10-year-old to see a match when in reality he didn’t have a ticket, a truth he got to know later while taking the suburban train back home. And now, through the statue, he has become Wankhede’s permanent resident.
It was time to sample the abundant thrills of speed the next day as India blew away a hapless Sri Lanka. A 302-run triumph was initially mounted upon high-class batting thanks to Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, and Shreyas Iyer. But the killer punch was delivered by the fast troika of Bumrah, Shami, and Mohammed Siraj. The last two were in supreme rhythm, and Sri Lanka was bundled out for 55!
As the fans trooped out to Churchgate station and Marine Drive, finding ways to get back home, inside the Indian dressing room, the now-customary fielding medal was given to Shreyas. The pleasant surprise was Tendulkar popping up online and giving a pep talk: “I don’t want to say anything more, but I am sure all of you know what you need to do. I have been excited to see the brand of cricket you play.”
Time to fly from the west coast to the east, and as the plane descends into Kolkata, it is still evening, but the skies are pitch dark. The sun has set, and since India doesn’t have different time zones, natural light inevitably varies on the west-to-east axis or vice versa. Old yellow taxis and the latest vehicles ply the roads of this great eastern metropolis with its colonial legacy, cultural riches, and old tram lines, besides having the cricketing theatre of dreams, the Eden Gardens.
Sunday, November 5, is a day invested with a sporting halo. It is a day when India takes on South Africa, essentially a face-off between the number one and two teams according to the points tally. Equally, it is the day Kohli turns 35, and additionally, he is on the cusp of equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record ODI tally of 49 hundreds. Eden Gardens is at its best when it comes to rising to the occasion, and the weekend crowd relishes every moment as India defeats South Africa by 243 runs.
King Kohli equals his idol through a century, more attritional than aggressive, but more importantly, it helps India post 326 for five. The rivals, blown away in the first 10 overs by the Indian pace trio and Ravindra Jadeja, never recover. The last named bags a five-for, and the Men in Blue register their eighth win on the trot. Kolkata parties late into the night as egg rolls and frothy brews fly off the shelves at Park Street and across the city. With India ascendant and seemingly eyeing a fairytale finish in the World Cup, the caravan rolls into the final stretch.
K. C. Vijaya Kumar
With the monsoon season starting to take over the southeastern part of India, Bengaluru is almost always a beneficiary, with light showers here and there embellishing everything it touches.
For most of the two days leading up to the crucial Pakistan vs. New Zealand encounter in the Garden City of India, everyone had weather maps and DLS calculators open instead of team sheets or past scorecards, praying to any form of divinity they knew for a full game.
Inside the press box, an aisle to the right housed the Pakistan contingent. A lone New Zealander sat on the left, jabbing away on his laptop, courtesy of much of the press heading to the Rugby World Cup. The Bangalore Press Club had organised a dinner meet for the visiting reporters, an opportunity to make full use of the melting pot that World Cups can be.
But once the big screen at the Chinnaswamy Stadium announced, “Match called off, Pakistan wins by 21 runs (DLS),” the three rows where the Pakistan reporters were seated, which were quiet until then, erupted. Unscheduled pieces to camera ensued; some were singing in celebration, and others found the perfect ‘shayari’ (sonnets), in praise of centurion Fakhar Zaman.
The Indian reporters and even the lone Kiwi headed to the press club, waiting to pat these reporters on the back for a cherished win. But representation arrived only close to midnight, with the reporters sharing their joy with their compatriots back home before joining the others for a hot plate of biryani to end a memorable day.
Lavanya Lakshmi Narayanan
Friendly rivalry in cooler climes
After over three weeks of navigating India’s urban chaos, Dharamsala was a welcome break for the Australians and Kiwis. Though the surrounding beauty sharpens the senses, the Himalayan climes help ease into slow living. A subdued sibling rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, where, it is believed, there are more sheep than humans, couldn’t have asked for a better setting. The Trans-Tasman contest is often low on hype and high on substance, and it was no different this time around.
The Black Caps visited the Dalai Lama ahead of the match, and their skipper, Tom Latham, quipped that there were ‘certainly no field placements’ discussed with the spiritual leader. Aussie captain Pat Cummins, meanwhile, confessed with a smug smile that it was ‘sad’ that England’s campaign was unravelling.
With a shared contempt for the English and some Indian flavour thrown into their midst, the neighbours from across the Tasman Sea were at home. David Warner, egged on by the DJ’s contrivance to play the popular Telugu number Srivalli just as the Australian moved to the square-leg boundary, sent the crowd into delirium with his dance steps.
Then there was Rachin Ravindra, proud of his Indian heritage but a 100 per cent Kiwi, who endeared himself to the fans over the course of his valiant hundred.
A family of three — a son in Virat Kohli and mother and father in Glenn Maxwell and Kane Williamson jerseys — walking hand-in-hand to the HPCA Stadium was an enduring image of the contest. And a Kiwi fan who couldn’t stop brooding over the ‘accidental six’ at the 2019 World Cup final was a reminder of the scars left by the British.
Sunny side up
Journalists and sniffer dogs have something in common. They both spend much of their professional lives searching for “explosive” material.
As a result, it was no surprise to see a group of journalists covering the ODI World Cup match between South Africa and New Zealand in Pune gathering to meet the stadium’s resident sniffer dog after the pre-match press conference.
The sniffer, an English Cream Labrador, seemed delighted as he received affection from a group of strangers he might never encounter again.
A curious South African journalist asked the dog’s caretaker about its name. “Sunny,” came the reply.
“Oh, was he named after Sunil Gavaskar?” inquired the journalist, prompting loud laughter.
The bewildered caretaker looked on as Sunny wagged his tail in excitement amid the amusement.
Here’s another shared trait between journalists and sniffer dogs: they both are easily amused.
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