Fun ’n games

Tourism New Zealand hosts a cricket tournament in a small field below the recreated Bagshot Row, with its own fun rules and teams led by Stephen Fleming and Sir Richard Hadlee. There is food and drink, and it’s all very merry, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works have spawned a Middle Earth tourism industry in New Zealand. The Diary goes to Hobbiton, Jackson’s movie set in the middle of a working sheep and cattle farm two hours north of Hamilton, where parts of the Hobbit films and the Lord of the Rings were shot.

The Shire has been painstakingly recreated with Bagshot Row, the Mill and the Green Dragon Inn, all majestic in their appearance. The Diary takes pictures of Bag End and looks in vain for the mark Gandalf made on the door (‘Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward’, it actually stood for).

Tourism New Zealand hosts a cricket tournament in a small field below Bagshot Row, with its own fun rules and teams led by Stephen Fleming and Sir Richard Hadlee. The Diary is asked to pose for a photograph, making a vociferous appeal in the slips cordon while Fleming bats.

“You Indian guys should know how to appeal,” Fleming says. He is badly mistaken. “That is the worst Indian appeal I’ve ever heard,” he shakes his head.

There is food and drink and it’s all very merry. Fleming retires on 15, as per the rules, while one member of the Indian media contingent even hits Hadlee for six (the great man was bowling off three paces).

The Diary is pictured in the Waikato Times the following morning, arms up in convincing appeal, proper fielder type. Any umpire would have given Fleming out.

Charmed by Indian cricketers

New Zealand is not a bad place, the Diary will admit. Everything about it seems gentle, from its temperatures and colours to its people. The afternoons are mild, with the angry heat of Perth a distant memory.

The Diary walks into a shop in the business district in cloudy, windswept Hamilton in search of a telephone connection. It is manned by Tejinder, a young man from Haryana. “Anushka nahi aayi is baar?” he enquires. “She was here last year, walking hand in hand down this very street with Virat Kohli.”

The Diary is interrupted before it can reply. “Raina was here; Shami was here. I was trying to explain this 20-dollar plan to them, but they chose something else. Sunil Gavaskar was also here; I took pictures with all of them.”

Should Kohli pay his store a visit this time, the Diary tells Tejinder, he would do well to keep his questions to himself.

Softening up to football

Hamilton is a bad place to want a late dinner. Everyone’s in bed by seven, or so it seems. The Diary realises at 10 O’clock one evening that it has not eaten anything since morning. It sets off in search of food only to find the streets miserably empty. Paasha, a Turkish kebab and sheesha cafe, swims into view, but owner and son are hurriedly dragging tables inside, eager to shut shop and leave for home. The father looks at the Diary for a second and then waves it in grudgingly, as if to say, ‘Oh, what the heck.’ The boy, presumably in his late teens, grumpily takes down the Diary’s order, and is not pleased with what he’s reading. “We had to stay back for this piffling nonsense?” he may well have asked, as he begins preparing a vegetarian roll (with no onions and no sauces), scowl permanently residing on his face. The father is watching silently from the door, fidgeting with his keys. At last, dinner is packed and ready and as the Diary pays, it makes a feeble effort to make small talk.

“You Turkish?” An unimpressed yes.

“Galatasaray fan?” A sudden flicker behind the eyes. He hates Galatasaray. “Besiktas then?” No. He hates them more. “Fenerbahce?” A warm, uncontrollable, brilliant, smile. And a sudden explosion of conversation. “We beat Galatasaray yesterday,” he grins. “Dirk Kuyt scored a late goal. It was great, man.” The Diary is relieved, for it is about to run out of names of Turkish football clubs (Bursaspor and Trabzonspor were lined up next, but darkness beyond).

“You want anything else, man? Where you from? Why you don’t like chicken? Who doesn’t like chicken? Take some ketchup, it’s free.”

Football, bloody hell!