A fine innings

Virender Sehwag entertains the Saturday crowd at the Manuka Oval with a century before lunch — in 99 minutes to be precise, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

Sunday, January 6: The diary has come to dread the final day of Test matches, a fear that very nearly overwhelms its great love for the game; as someone or the other wrote, when you start working with something you love, the nature of y our relationship with it changes, even if not the love. That’s a lot of fancy talk for “It can sometimes be a pain in the you know what.” Today is particularly bad: there’s ill-temper and poor behaviour and incompetent umpiring. Ricky Ponting snaps in his time with the press and Anil Kumble channels Bill Woodfull and says there was just one team playing in the right spirit. And India, in case people weren’t paying attention, fails to hold on to a draw by eight minutes. Any one of those things would have kept a cricket writer occupied for 45 minutes.

Monday, January 7: More intrigue dear readers. Harbhajan Singh, early this morning, was banned for three Tests, and the Indian team remains in Sydney instead of travelling to Canberra by coach. The phone lines from India, according to eyewitness accounts, are burning, the ICC meanwhile is busy doing nothing, Ricky Ponting and his Australian side are telling anyone who listens that they are the nicest companions since the inflatable bear. Hectic engine-room parleying, in short. Journalists station themselves at various strategic points in and around the team hotel. In times like these, the merest action turns significant. The diary, having travelled to Canberra, is spared the trouble of exclaiming “Ooh… Harbhajan has had a third croissant! What can it mean!”, but forced to listen to it second-hand.

Tuesday, January 8: Australia has reacted two ways to the incident of the last few days.

One reaction is of shame and regret: an elderly lady met the diary’s comrades near Ovens Street in Canberra and apologised profusely “on behalf of Australia for our cricket team”; letters-to-the-editor columns have been filled with irate readers ranting about Australia’s on-field behaviour. Peter Roebuck’s piece calling for Ponting’s head attracts 551,800 hits, and the corresponding poll involves 82,000 votes (less 10 per cent of which was from India). Sixty per cent agrees with Roebuck. Others have wondered if the moneyed Indian board was arm-twisting the ICC again: some suggest it’s the Indian board that’s displaying hubris, not the Australian cricket team. Columnists have let it all hang out, and recanted the next day. Commentators have wondered in private if they had crossed the line separating passion from jingoism. There are — and this an old diary favourite (the ‘favourite’ is old, not the diary) — no easy answers.

Wednesday, January 9: What luck the Indian board has deputed Dr. M. V. Sridhar, formerly Hyderabad’s batting mainstay, as the media manager for the Test leg of the tour, and not someone from the customary shuffling pack of jokers. To be fair, the buffoonery is down usually to a lack of understanding of the job’s requirements, not a predilection, but, as the diary’s more experienced comrades testify, there have been several corkers. The good doctor, on the other hand, is professional and unfailingly courteous. Few would have handled a 3 a.m. press conference with such equanimity. He also is the only doctor-MBA the diary knows. A measure of how well Sridhar has done his job can be had from the fact that not one snide remark has been passed, where in the past it has usually taken all of two days. Yes, dear readers, journalists are that cynical, that chewed-up.

Thursday, January 10: There’s rice and dal at the press box here at the Manuka Oval — and of such quality that several vegetarians are willing to gloss over the fact that the enclosure is situated side-on, rather inconvenient to cover cricket from. Also, it’s on the same level as (and behind) a row of fans. The diary can therefore judge length and perceive bat-speed and observe no-balls, but it’s filtered through a hundred backs, the image not unlike one in a tattered kaleidoscope. Also, it can say little about line, swing, cut or turn. Fortunately, a giant TV screen has been installed, and the diary can show off like the pretentious expert it is.

Friday, January 11: It’s Canberra’s hottest day of the year (so what if it’s just 11 days into 2008), at a scorching 35.8 degrees. Mightn’t sound much, but it’s so dry here, it’s murder. The diary shouldn’t complain though: its exposure is limited to the 10-minute walk to and from the Manuka Oval. The cricketers have it hard; unfortunately for them, there isn’t an adequate joint to cool off in, if you get the diary’s drift.

Saturday, January 12: Virender Sehwag entertains the Saturday crowd at the Manuka Oval with a century before lunch — in 99 minutes to be precise. It’s been long since he has batted like this, and even accounting for a second-string attack, it was a fine innings. Hardly a stroke goes where he doesn’t intend it. Several journalists, having missed it, offer the classic “But, I was watching from the stands!”