A star, a fan and a franchise owner

Priety Zinta — Bollywood star, IPL franchise owner — is in Napier at the invitation of the New Zealand government, and she brings Dhoni luck at the toss. Later she addresses a press conference. Over to S. Ram Mahesh.

Sunday, March 1: The diary takes a flight from chilly, windy Wellington, which had barely cleared after a day’s rain, and discovers that Napier, a 40-minute flight away, and where the first ODI will be played, is hot — 29 degrees in the shade, the captain informs the turbo-prop’s passengers before he lands it. It’s even hotter in the open, and the diary, jacketed and gloved, provokes much mirth.

Monday, March 2: Niranjan Shah, one-time Board secretary and now team manager, bowls in the Indian nets, turning a smooth left-arm over, even as M. S. Dhoni tells the media that anyone “who can rotate his arm” can bowl for India in tomorrow’s ODI. A queue of journalists rapidly forms.

Tuesday, March 3: Priety Zinta — Bollywood star, IPL franchise owner — is here at the invitation of the New Zealand government, and she brings Dhoni luck at the toss. Later she addresses a press conference, which the diary will replicate in full for the reader’s pleasure:

Is this your first time here?

I’ve come here before five years ago. I shot three films here.

Are you a cricket fan? Now I am. When did you become a fan?

Just before the IPL, to be honest, I’ve become a fan.

How many movies have you done? 36. So you keep count? Yes of course I keep count. Will (Brett) Lee be fit for IPL?

I would think so. He has just had an operation and Neil told us he should be ok by the time the IPL starts. Let’s hope for the best.

Have you met any of your IPL team boys?

I’m here as an Indian more than as an IPL owner. I spoke to Dhoni, Yuvi, Irfan and Ishant.

Ah yes, fascinating stuff. In other fascinating stuff Yuvraj Singh appears to lose a chain of some sort on the field at McLean Park and stomps about trying to locate it. At one point, the diary is treated to the sight of five men side by side, Ishant the tallest of them, walking gingerly in a straight line over an area the chain is suspected to have fallen in. When play is stopped by rain, Yuvraj is out again, a comically pained expression on his face. Now the diary understands it’s being slightly cruel, for chains and bracelets and amulets and ear-rings and tongue piercings hold sentimental value for soft-headed dolts, and any loss must be grievous, but the look on Yuvraj’s face is priceless.

A bald, tired-looking bear of a man makes his way to the press box, selling apples. “How much?” asks the diary contemptuously. “Nothing, but they’ve got some interesting stickers on them,” replies the man, before introducing himself, “Hi, I’m Mark, Mark Greatbatch”. Whoa there. Seriously? He’s got the forearms to prove it, and colleagues of similar vintage manage to recognise the man who lumbered down the tracks to the opening bowlers in the 1992 World Cup and hit them over the top. The stickers on the apples show a younger Greatbatch in his 1992 livery. Greatbatch and Martin Crowe are into exporting Kiwi apples to India — “to Mumbai and Chennai, and from there it gets distributed all over,” says Greatbatch. The apples are terrific, and he promises us lunch before the Test in Napier, so that’s something to look forward to.

Wednesday, March 4: It’s such a pleasure travelling through New Zealand. Check-in takes five minutes — there are kiosks with touch screens in every airport, and you can pick where you want to sit (it doesn’t say who you’re sitting next to, unfortunately), print your boarding card and baggage tag. Thereafter it’s a matter of dropping off your suitcase, getting a muffin and a cup of tea, and reading your favourite gossip magazine. When it’s time to board the flight, you scan your boarding pass, find your seat, and relax. Airsickness isn’t a problem; flights last less than 50 minutes here. Although that does mean that all you get by way of in-flight service is a glass of water.

Thursday, March 5: Daniel Vettori might self-depreciatingly say he’s a skinny man with glasses, positioning himself as a nerd, and his movements in the field have a hint of daintiness about them, apparent in how he carries himself, as if holding trinkets in both hands, but boy is he skilled with a football. The New Zealand team warms up with a touch of football-rallying. Vettori immediately catches the eye, bouncing the football off his thigh, slicing it with the outside of his shoe and catching it on the other foot.

Friday, March 6: This is the diary’s last time to the Westpac Stadium this tour, and it takes everything in, realising it has missed much when it visited for the Twenty20 International. The harbour is to one side, and the sea is always beautiful, not quite ‘O sweet, green mother’, but sufficiently impressive; hills full of trees backdrop the other side. Out on the field, the football theme continues as the teams warm up before the game. India’s bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad practises step-overs before the Indian squad divided into teams put on a most entertaining game. At times it resembles the style of total football seen on school fields where the ball is pursued by an army from one end of the field to the other. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, on opposite sides, give each other a tough time, and both are pretty decent. Munaf is the sort who’d kick first and ask questions later, while Sachin Tendulkar is excellent at positional play, almost Van Basten-like, but is denied the service that would have realised half a dozen goals. Yuvraj deserves mention as well, for he shows fine kinaesthetic awareness, often dragging balls from behind him on the run.

Saturday, March 7: The diary travels to Christchurch, tired after last night’s activities. Dinner with John Wright is scheduled while it’s here, so do buy your copies early next week to see how that turns out.