A cricketer-poet

Lara's lavish party, a poet in the Indian team, a nervous scorer, a batsman called `BOUNCING',a new game, `Wari' ... S. RAM MAHESH takes a look at them all.

May 28: My last full day in Trinidad. Brian Lara throws a lavish party for both teams at his hill-top villa. Guess who's carving out slices of humble pie! Accounts vary as they are apt to under the heady mix of alcohol and celebrity. Ramnaresh Sarwan, somewhere, is tucking into roti and chicken. Uninvited, I am forced to live it second-hand.

May 29: I know my journals so far have dwelt rather generously on air travel. Lest anyone accuse me of surrogate advertising — I did receive a reasonable offer; turned it down of course — let me plead innocence. Sometimes life seems an endless flight. Not for Sreesanth, who — settling to sleep — discovers we have arrived. "We are already there?" he asks. I discover he's a poet. He tries one title after another on Ian Frazer — who, by a curious twist of fate — has got the aisle to Sreesanth's window. Breach of confidentiality clauses prevent further revelations on those titles. Suffice to say they are all peaches.

May 30: What's this I see? A scorer that doesn't want to watch cricket! Kattian seems like she would rather be elsewhere; this, however, is neither because of an unwillingness to work nor disinterest. It's nervousness. Her husband Bertil Baltimore is out in the middle for Antigua and Barbuda against India at the Police Recreation Ground, and Kattian averts her eyes every time he gets on strike. Unfortunately for the happy couple, the story ends in disappointment as Bertil — after a lustily-hit six — is dismissed. I wonder if it will be recorded in the scorer's sheet.

In happier matters, skipper Sylvester Joseph makes a hundred. Locals feel `Bouncing' — as he is known — has received a raw deal, not being selected for the West Indies side.

"Why is he called Bouncing?" I ask.

"Because he fell off a tree," says Magic, local journalist and man about town.

"How high did he bounce?" "How high? A few times brother, a few times".

May 31: Team India discovers a new game at their practice match: Wari. Locals put me off by saying it's an African board game. But, I find it's no different from what we used to play as kids with tamarind seeds and a wooden board comprising neatly arranged hollows. Harbhajan Singh sits down for a game, or a cut, as it's called.

Rahul Dravid stops by. "What's the objective?" he asks. Magic tries explaining. The rules are rather complex. What Magic is certain about though is those strong in maths don't play the game well, while those who are intelligent do better on it. Finally, indisputable proof that maths has little to do with intelligence.

Intelligence is something the next man I meet has a scary amount of. Andy Roberts barely raises his voice above a whisper, but it's the most menacing whisper I've heard. He spots Dr. Rudy Webster, his former manager, and current consultant with Team India, and heads over. Roberts, Dr. Webster, Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid — members of cricket's Mensa — confer.

June 1: Grown men — some of whom have seen a lot of life (too much if you ask me) — stare open-mouthed. I suspect a few drops of drool splatter the posh, carpeted floor. Our objects of gaze are Sir Vivian Richards, Andy Roberts, Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson. The four are at Sticky Wicket, the cricket-memorabilia restaurant adjacent to the Stanford ground, promoting Stanford 20/20.

Roberts and Richardson, I've met, so, I concentrate on the King and Amby. One arrests attention with the persona he exudes. Whether it's the back slap he reserves for his former mate Roberts, or the nod of the head when he answers questions, or that regal Roman nose, Richards, makes compelling viewing. If only to try and figure how those statuesque arms and those keen eyes combined to slay bowlers everywhere.

Ambrose has a bit of a reputation for surliness when it comes to journalists. Even at the press conference, he keeps his silence, answering in a deep rumble, only when necessary. What is it with fast bowlers and spine-chilling voices?

But the six-foot-seven-inch tower of torment slowly opens up. It probably begins with a television interview that an enterprising journalist conducts standing on a chair to look him in the eye. By the end of the seventh or eighth interview, he's almost playing along, helping wrap up. Once he advertently moves as a journalist is finishing his piece to camera. Ambrose says in mock anguish, "Oh no! We ruined it".

Richards and Ambrose smile through endless requests for photos, autographs, and hand-shakes.

Brian Camacho, senior photographer, architect, and seasoned Viv-watcher, dispenses advice on the great man, "When his eyes are red, you don't push him". I check Richards's eyes, which are a reassuring white; you won't catch me pushing him though.

June 2: Rumour in the press box has it that an Indian finally wins something. As I contemplate a cutting comeback to that slight, I hear it's me. I win a prediction competition that needs the score at tea. I say 143; India reach 144.

To compute scoring rate taking into consideration track and atmosphere conditions, to determine over-rate based on percentage humidity and fatigue levels, and to multiply these two and the number of hours (4) are with me matters of mere seconds.

Oscar-acceptance speech time. But, I get lynched after forgetting to mention the name of the noble soul that kept me from dropping out of school as I contemplated life as a buffalo herd. Can't win them all.

June 3: Though the Indians struggle on field, some of their countrymen from the press contingent have success elsewhere. Two exciting dancing talents are spotted. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, Cricinfo, and Sanjeev Samyal, Mid Day, find their way to the famous double-decker stand, where Chickie plays his Hi-Fi system, and where the great Gravy used to showboat in his myriad costumes.

They jive with the locals, and I am told, are quite a hit.

"It was really fast, the beat," demurs a modest Siddhartha. "They played a fast version of `Those little pals of mine, Ramadin and Valentine'".