Dravid understands the role of the media

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

WE have been flying 18 hours. Delhi-London-Bridgetown. From one corner to the other, across the Atlantic. Our transit period in London involves being transported from Heathrow to Gatwick but the transfer is quick, thanks to the Bank Holiday. The traffic is thin, so the movement is swift. A big bonus really because the M-25 can be frustrating during peak hours. The British Airways flight to Bridgetown is also not crowded and there is plenty of leg space. In fact, there is plenty of space to stretch out and the crew lets the passengers know there is enough room at the rear for anyone wanting to sleep. My colleague, V. V. Krishnan and Manoj Vatsyayana of the AFP grab the opportunity.

An immigration official lends a helping hand to an elderly person at the Grantley Adams airport. Barbados is a very friendly place.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The long haul, despite the comfort on the London-Bridgetown sector, leaves us drained with the jet-lag factor haunting. We have a minor problem now. No visa to enter Barbados. Once the immigration officer understands the purpose of our visit, she is quick. The smiling people around are such a comforting experience, and such a wonderful change from the glum faces behind the counter at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport."Welcome to Barbados," an elderly person is greeted by an officer, who takes care that the passenger is not put through any hardship. He attends to the old man personally and rushes him through the immigration formalities. "I love doing it. That's what my job is, he tells the passenger," who is moved and is thanking him profusely. Barbados is a very friendly place and the pleasant time spent at the airport is just a fair indication of what to expect from the hospitable Bajans. We have to spend the night in Bridgetown and this time a porter guides us to the right place in town.

April 2: The team is up and about. No signs of jet lag and the boys are cheerful enough to pull off a few pranks at the breakfast table. Rahul Dravid is looking very fresh. "It was quite a pleasant flight actually," he says and quickly joins us for a photo shoot at the sea wall nearby. A good gesture to accommodate us keeping in mind the time difference.

"You guys are on the job always. Can't relax," he keeps the conversation going even as he suggests a couple of spots. The backdrop is not as enchanting as one would expect but then Dravid is game, readily posing and actually enjoying the session. Dravid is a rare cricketer who understands the important role played by the media. He is always keen to know the communication facilities for us and once in a while does not mind a visit to the press box. He is quite a transparent man and one who looks only at the positive things of life and cricket.

A fire is lit on the wet pitch, to dry it out, at the Police Ground.-V. V. KRISHNAN

For Dravid, this could be a tour of reckoning, one in keeping with the stature that he has attained over the years with his wonderful record overseas. As we return from the sea wall, a meeting is scheduled for the seniors in the side. Dravid rushes off with a smile, giving us enough time to work on the story and land it in time back home for publication.

April 3: The police ground is not a modern structure. The facilities may be archaic but then the scenic backdrop makes it a lovely venue. It has rained in the morning and the ground staff has covered the pitch. But water has seeped through and the Indians are denied batting practice.

The wet pitch presents a problem. There is one particular patch which rules out any possibility of nets. The groundsman is summoned and he gets down to business quickly, ordering some gasoline.

Fans watch the Busta Cup final, between Guyana and Jamaica, at the Demerara Cricket Club.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Gasoline to get the pitch ready? The picture becomes clear soon. He pours gasoline on the pitch and sets it afire. As smoke fills up the atmosphere, the Indians stop their training to look at this outdated methods of drying up the playing area. It is quite possible that some venues in India might still be using these methods but to see it happening in Georgetown confirms our belief that modernisation is still far away as far as cricket was concerned.

April 4: The Indian team is at the Demerara Cricket Club, very close to the Bourda. The ground is unkept but the practice pitch is lively. A good crowd turns to watch the Indians. Some of the fans in the crowd have grown up watching Clive Lloyd and Roy Fredricks at this very venue. The club and cricket then was far more exciting, informs Ramesh Ramgoolam, a veteran cricket watcher. "When Lloydy would bat, we would keep boys outside the ground, throwing the ball back into the field. He was a big hitter maan, this Lloydy was a big hitter," reflects Ramgoolam, who is delighted to watch Sachin Tendulkar in action. "I seen him on TV maan, but he looks different now," he is excited.

There is a sudden rush of these cricket fans towards the bar in the pavilion. The Busta Cup is on and Guyana has just picked the first Jamaican wicket. Crowd gathers around the television set and the Indians are forgotten. Such is the loyalty to their team, the crowd has travelled to Kingston for the final. Well, some of them return to watch the Indians, who have, by now, almost wound up their gruelling session.

April 5: The Indian connection is very prominent in Georgetown. There is a Prashad Nagar where obviously the Indian-origin population is in domination. Then there are a number of supermarkets and stores which offer Indian spices and cereals. "You want dhaniya, jeera, garam masala" the lady at the supermarket is very hospitable. But I am looking for some basmati rice, I tell her, and she just smiles, dips her hand into a box and comes up with what I need. The evening is made for us. In Georgetown, Hindi film music blares from the taxis; the local television beams a Hindi movie every evening. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam is shown four days in succession. "We see movies the same time they are released in India," gushes Naresh Hardeyaal. Posters of Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta fill up the walls of his shop. Most of the Indians can't speak Hindi, can't even remember in which part of India lie their roots but they do take certain pride in reminding you that they come from the same background, celebrate same festivals and follow the same traditions. For generations people in and around Georgetown have lived in complete harmony with no ill-will among the communities here. "Its a shame, isn't it, that you people kill each other for a temple or a mosque," counters Reshma Harinarine, a student and a part-time worker at a nearby store.

April 6: The sea wall is a big landmark in Georgetown. Morning and evening are the best time to spend, watching the sea and enjoying the breeze. The wall also presents a glorious view of the Everest Ground, where the entry fee for the match is 500 Guyanese dollars. For many cricket fans this is not affordable. So the sea wall offers a chance to catch up with the happenings at the ground. Fans fill up the place and by afternoon there is no space. Interested people also stop their cars behind one of the stands to get a glimpse of the contest. But it is the sea wall that offers a vantage position to the cricket lovers.

The India -Board President's XI match is in progress at the Everest Ground. Spectators watch the action from the sea wall. The entry fee for the match was 500 Guyanese dollars and many preferred to watch from the sea wall.-V. V. KRISHNAN

April 7: The Bank of Baroda branch in Georgetown is 26 years old and the present staff includes three gentlemen from India. Ashok Kumar Mahnot, S. Swaminathan and Manoranjan Bhuyan - all on three-year deputation. They go out of the way to make us comfortable. They are keen on inviting the Indian cricketers for a dinner, we are also included, but there is disappointment in store for them. As a policy, the team has stopped accepting such invitations, informs manager Gautam Dasgupta. "But the players can go in their individual capacity," says the manager politely. Mahnot, Swaminathan and Bhuyan drop the idea of a grand evening and instead we settle for a quiet dinner. The trio has plenty of tales to narrate and also enjoys sharing our experience of travelling with the team.