Auckland, a bustling city

S. DINAKAR

Auckland is the business capital of New Zealand. It is a city with high-rise buildings and malls.-N. BALAJI

December 23. The Indian Test dreams have gone up in smoke. In the morning we catch up with the little Parthiv Patel. The sensational 17-year-old had taken a wonderful catch to dismiss Nathan Astle on the final day, and watching him we realise there still is hope. We also meet a large group of Indians who had come down from Auckland to watch the Test. Now, they are on their way back, disappointed. Hamilton is a town of flowers and parks, but all that the Indians found here were thorns. We have our dinner in `Little India', one of the several Indian restaurants here. The food is good, but it would have tasted so much better had the Indians performed better on the field.

A suburban train running near Eden Park Stadium.-N. BALAJI

December 24. In the morning, we leave serene Hamilton behind, and make our way to Auckland, the business capital of New Zealand. It's a bustling city, which has a population of 1.4 million out of a total of 3.8 million who live in New Zealand. An astonishing piece of statistics that reveals the importance of this city really. Auckland also has the highest percentage of Indians in this country. It's a glittering city of flyovers, high-rise buildings, dazzling shopping malls, yet, somehow, the essence of New Zealand, that calm and that quietness, is missing here. Life is too businesslike in Auckland, and the genuine warmth and affection we found in the other places is conspicuous by its absence. With Christmas in the air, it's celebration time in Auckland, and if you are a visitor here, it's probably the worst time to be in the city. The shops and the restaurants are closed, which means the food becomes a huge problem, especially if you happen to be a vegetarian. Meanwhile, we meet Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, who have joined the side for the one-dayers. The old boys are back in business? Some of the cricketers manage to sneak in time for a commercial shoot. Yuvraj Singh leaps in the air before the camera — will he fly high in the series?

December 25. The Indians have a practice session at the nets outside the huge Eden Park Stadium. Even as the players slug it out under a hot Auckland afternoon, we spot a silver coloured suburban train streaking past us; the kind of momentum that the Indians need, a winning one at that? The mood in the side is grim. Star batsman Sachin Tendulkar is down with an injured ankle and the indications are that he will miss at least the first two ODIs.

Yuvraj Singh plays a different role during the tour. He managed to sneak time for some commercial shots.-N. BALAJI

There are a lot of Indians in the crowd, and there is an interesting Kiwi too, with a little bird in his arms. As evening gives way to night, Auckland and the whole of New Zealand celebrates Christmas. Some of the buildings are brightly illuminated, and from a nearby church we can listen to the hymns. The next day will be a huge sporting occasion — Boxing Day.

December 26. Large groups of people head towards the stadium, long, serpentine queues form outside the Eden Park, it's closer to the sights we witness at home. The ODIs are highly popular in New Zealand, and inside the ground, we find a carnival atmosphere prevailing. Music from popular pop and rock numbers fill the air during the breaks and in between overs, and it's a mixture of cricket and `fun time' for the spectators. Former Kiwi cricketers make an appearance to the delight of fans during the interval, while on the field of play a much younger cricketer carries the day for New Zealand. In a tense, low scoring thriller, Jacob Oram emerges the hero for the Kiwis.

A New Zealander with a little bird on his arm watches the teams working out in the Eden Park Stadium.-N. BALAJI

December 27. People love to jump from high altitudes in New Zealand, properly protected, of course, and it's not just bungee jumping that's popular here. Sky jumping too is catching on and we watch the incredible sight of a brave man rapidly travelling down all the way from the top of the awesome Sky Towers, and he makes a safe landing too. It's a spectacular sight. In the afternoon we catch the flight to Napier, the charming tourist destination. In Napier, we meet Balbir Singh, a likable Punjabi, who owns the Indian restaurant, Sangam, in the heart of the town. He is a warm man, who has come up the hard way. A manual labourer in Saudi Arabia during the 80s, he now owns three restaurants in New Zealand, Sangam being one of them. He is saddened by the defeats of the Indians and hopes the side will turn the tables on the Kiwis on Sunday. We also spot Sanjay Bangar having his dinner here. This simple Marathi, who hails from Aurangabad, where his father held a government job, happens to be a great lover of old Hindi film music and is a keen collector as well.

Sky jumping is one of the favourite sports for New Zealanders.-N. BALAJI

December 28. Napier, a prominent coastal town in the Central Districts has a distinctly Mediterranean air about it, and the splendour of Art Deco and Spanish Mission buildings make the region one of the most unique architectural centres in the World. Indeed, there's a very Spanish feel here; there's bright sunshine in the summer, and some lovely buildings are a throwback to a different era. The region, called Hawke's Bay, has the Pacific Ocean forming a stunning backdrop to internationally renowned vineyards. It was here in 1769 that Captain James Cook arrived on a voyage, and he named the area after the First Lord of Admiralty, Sir Edward Hawke. Napier is a stunningly clean town with broad roads and spacious houses. Moving back to cricket, both the sides have nets at Nelson Park, a lovely facility close to the venue of contest — the McLean Park. There are children aplenty to see the teams and they have a whale of a time really. Even as the practice is on, we meet Dr. Gautama Ramakanthan and his ten-year-old son, who have flown down all the way from Mumbai to watch the Indians in action in New Zealand. A wonderful example of the passion for the game in India. "You know my son is a great supporter of the Indian cricket side, and since his school will reopen by the time the World Cup starts, I wanted to bring him here. I couldn't disappoint him. But the team... it is not winning.'' The hills form a lovely backdrop to the Nelson Park, but the Indians will have a hill of another kind to climb on Monday — during the second ODI.

Balbir Singh (centre) owner of Sangam a Punjabi restaurant in Napier. In fact, he owns three restaurants in New Zealand.-N. BALAJI

December 29. It's Napier big day. It's not really a big town, and on this day, all roads lead to the McLean Park. Meanwhile, the journalists have a tough time in the open press box, when the chill winds from the Pacific Ocean blow across the ground.

It's a sunny day all right, but then the breeze, on occasions, can be hit you hard if you are not directly under the sunshine. On the battleground the Indians contrive to lose from a winning situation and it's celebration time for the home fans. Even as we trek out of the ground in the evening, a little kid stops us. `I want to play for the Black Caps. Will you help me do that?' he asks. Winning can be so inspirational.