Football’s holy grail

Indian captain M. S. Dhone is also an expert Marksman (file pic). And he took some time out to test his shooting skills at the London metropolitan police shooting range.-RITU RAJ KONWAR Indian captain M. S. Dhone is also an expert Marksman (file pic). And he took some time out to test his shooting skills at the London metropolitan police shooting range.

A trip to Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home ground, is an eye-opener to the way a sporting centre stays alive even when there is no game in progress. The store at the stadium offers memorabilia ranging from key-chains to garments and is milling with tourists, mostly Koreans and Japanese, who are extremely fond of MU. K. C. Vijaya Kumar joins them.

A stay in Manchester for the fourth Test, lures in another temptation — the urge to step into the other Old Trafford. We are talking about football’s holy grail when it comes to clubs — Manchester United. A trip there is an eye-opener to the way a sporting centre stays alive even when there is no game in progress. The store at the stadium offers memorabilia ranging from key-chains to garments and it is milling with tourists, mostly Koreans and Japanese, who are extremely fond of MU.

There is a history-tour too, like the one at Lord’s and sadly, it is this branding of nostalgia that goes missing at Indian venues, which are high on history and do have a rich legacy. Maybe one day administrators back home, while living in the here and now, will also cast an eye towards our sporting past and honour it.

Thommo!

The fast bowlers club is an exclusive closed-door unit, where members are roped in purely on the basis of speed, skill and the ability to unleash menace. And when one of the high priests of that club, Michael Holding, raves about Jeff Thomson, you do sit up and take notice.

At a dinner in the Chinese quarter in Manchester, a few journalists were all ears, as seated with them were Holding and one of cricket’s greatest openers — Sunil Gavaskar. Talk veered towards the speed merchants and Holding quipped: “Thommo maaan, he was really quick maan! Usually among fast bowlers, we tend to bounce at each other but I never bounced at Thommo because I hoped that he will return the favour. But no chance maaan, one of the first times I faced him I would see him release the ball and then I wouldn’t see it at all! I just felt the ball once slam into my gloves and that hurt!”

Gavaskar amplified the Thommo legend. “Once Chetan Chauhan and I were batting. Chetan slashed a four off Thommo and was grinning. Usually Thommo never sledges or swears at batsmen, he usually swears at himself for may be bowling a no-ball or not being on target. But on that day he was upset with Chetan and asked: ‘What are you smiling about? That was a stupid shot.’ Chetan snapped back: ‘I am a Rajput, I am not scared.’ I was desperately trying to calm down Chetan but the damage was done. Thommo calmly walked up to my opening partner, marked a cross on his forehead and said: ‘I am going to hit you there.’ After a few deliveries, Chetan’s thumb was broken!”

Where is the skipper?

Two days before the final Test at the Oval, Indian skipper M. S. Dhoni did the vanishing act. He was not to be seen at the Indian team nets. Later it transpired that he had gone to the London Metropolitan Police Shooting Range. According to information collated from the men in uniform, Dhoni excelled at shooting, was on target and even defeated the best of their marksmen!

Next day, Dhoni was asked about his absence and he replied: “I took a break and that is personal.” Surely, you cannot keep the skipper away from the cops or the army. He loves the forces and some of his close friends hail from the Indian troops. Unlike most players, who tend to have a sense of monotony around them, Dhoni, cut from a different cloth, is a much-rounded cricketer. Shooting and late night bike rides are an enduring passion with him.

Moeen Ali wristbands, anyone?

As you walked towards the Oval on another damp and cold day while the frisson of excitement that sweeps across when a Test is about to commence, filled the air, a shrill voice caught the ear: “Moeen Ali wrist bands, Moeen Ali wrist bands.”

It was a lady selling wrist bands that had ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ inscribed on them. With Ali having sported the same during the third Test at Southampton, an initiative that drew mild censure from the International Cricket Council, the cricketer has accidentally become the public face of a campaign that draws attention to the tragedy unfolding in West Asia.