Embattled, but unruffled

M. S. Dhoni …“You will win quite a few games and lose quite a few, but what is important is to not get overconfident or get into depression.”-AP

It is remarkable to see the Indian skipper, M. S. Dhoni, wade past the queries and stay calm. Seeing him you wouldn't know whether India has won a match or lost it. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Rudyard Kipling may have said, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, but an Indian delicacy has made its way into the British hearts. We are not talking about ‘chicken tikka masala' here but ‘poppadams' which, in good old Malayalam, is ‘pappadam' and is known as ‘papad' in Hindi and ‘appalam' in Tamil.

Walk into any restaurant with an Indian flavour and you will realise that the most popular starter is this thin crispy fry. Its loyal patrons dip it in mango chutney and other savoury sauces before they sip their wine or beer.

Right now the Indian team is crumbling like ‘poppadams' and the fans await some belated good news in the NatWest Series.

That Mumbaiya spirit

The Rose Bowl in Southampton is geared up for the match between India and England on Tuesday (Sept. 6) but the rain is a constant sub-text.

A nearby hotel hosts a vast group of fans who are keen to watch the match, and in the restaurant, Hamza, whose roots are in Mumbai, is a busy man.

“Indian food here is customised to the British taste,” he says after a Bangladeshi restaurant, masquerading as an Indian joint, sends across a bland take-away menu in which the ‘Madras chicken curry' is not a patch on what you get in Tamil Nadu. You live and you learn.

Hamza and his group of friends at the front office speak in Mumbaiya Hindi to Indian customers and they also keep a tab on the political undercurrents in their homeland with their latest obsession being the life and motive of Anna Hazare.

Another employee Febin from Kochi speaks about the existence of a Malayalee Cricket Club in Southampton and you are reminded of that old joke about someone from ‘God's own country' selling tea on the moon.

Terror truths

“Any unattended baggage will be immediately removed,” blares the public address system at all railway stations. The days leading to September 11 trigger an avalanche of retrospective-coverage about the day when the World Trade Centre's twin towers crashed in New York in 2001 after a terrorist attack. News soon trickles in about blasts in Delhi and the shrinking world's angst against terror becomes a pressing reality on a nippy Wednesday (Sept. 7). London is gearing up for the Olympics next year and the surveillance against possible terror strikes is at an all-time high.

Will you guys win anything?

The trip to the Oval on Thursday (Sept. 8) proves memorable as Robert manoeuvres the iconic London taxi and offers his views on cricket. “Will you guys win anything on this tour?” he asks. “But this is not an English team. You have players from South Africa, Ireland… I mean where are the English players? Kevin Pietersen is South African, Andrew Strauss isn't originally from here.”

He is then reminded of Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott's roots in South Africa and promptly he shudders: “Oh come on, don't give me any more bad news. I tell you what, when we tour India next we will get hammered 0-5. Take it from me.” For harried scribes sending depressing despatches about India's defeats, Robert's words offer some encouragement.

Dry English humour

India is staring at another defeat on a damp Friday (Sept. 9) at the Oval and scorer Ray pipes in after a while: “This is going to be the most popular announcement of the day — ‘Tea is being served'.” There are more instances of the dry humour that the British are famous for as a scribe deadpans and asks the masseuse, “Your place or mine?” She quickly replies, “Your place” and immediately moves to where the writer is sitting crouched near his laptop and kneads his shoulders and neck.

The England and Wales Cricket Board have recruited the masseuse and it is indeed a thoughtful gesture as it is medically proven that journalists and others, who work extensively with computers, have a higher chance of suffering repetitive stress muscle injuries. The only hitch is that many scribes chasing tight deadlines prefer to cope with their muscle spasms instead of opting for a massage.

Captain Cool!

Another game is lost and M. S. Dhoni walks into the press conference hall at the Oval without any visible reflection of the angst he must be suffering. “You will win quite a few games and lose quite a few but what is important is to not get overconfident or get into depression,” he says. It is remarkable to see Dhoni wade past the queries and stay calm. Seeing him you wouldn't know whether India has won a match or lost it.