He has the enthusiasm of a schoolboy

Sachin Tendulkar spends time with the younger boys at the nets, bats with great intensity and comes out of the session smiling. It’s remarkable how this man continues to enjoy his cricket, writes S. Dinakar.

February 9: The on-going competition is the last edition of the Australian tri-series. In private conversations, some of the cricketers have expressed relief. This is a gruelling tournament that makes severe demands on mind and body. Yo u hardly settle down in a city when it’s time to board the next flight. It is not an easy competition for the journalists to cover either. The 12-game league phase is followed by two, possibly, three finals. From the next season onwards, the three-nation series will be replaced by two separate ODI series involving Australia. Not all are pleased with Cricket Australia’s decision to terminate a popular event. “From next year it will be like any other series. The tri-series has a character of its own. It is very different,” says Alex, the man at the hotel reception. There are two sides to a coin.

Meanwhile, the Indians have a lively practice session at the MCG. It’s good to see Irfan Pathan laughing again. Last season, he had problems with his action and peered down a dark stretch. Now, he has rediscovered his rhythm and swing. The sunshine lad is well and truly back.

Sachin Tendulkar never tires of the game. Nineteen years in international cricket and he retains the enthusiasm of a schoolboy. He spends time with the younger boys at the nets, bats with great intensity and comes out of the session smiling. It’s remarkable how this man continues to enjoy his cricket.

February 10: The skies are clear and the game is on. Any match at the MCG is a special occasion and every duel adds to its proud history. The MCG highlights the past like few grounds do. As the events and protagonists from the past are recalled, they stare at you. The game does throw up cricketers who can illuminate the future. Ishant Sharma promises to be among them. The wiry lad bowls an outstanding spell of speed, cut and bounce with the new ball. In the press box, former Australian swing bowler Damien Fleming is impressed. “This lad has real ability mate,” he says. On the field of play, the Indians do the high-fives. The Men in Blue have plenty of support at the MCG. Dhoni’s men do not disappoint the fans.

February 11: It’s time to pack the bags again. Canberra is the next venue on this whistle-stop ride. The Australian capital is a serene city of great charm. The city is green and the hills form a fascinating backdrop. These are busy, rather historic times, in Canberra. The focus is on the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the Aborigines for past mistreatment. The hotels are full, so are the streets. “It will be the biggest day in Australian history,” says the cashier at the 24-hour shop.

February 12: International cricket returns to Manuka Oval after 16 years. The Manuka Oval is a lovely arena that is a throwback to an era where this great game was not about the big bucks. The spirit of the amateur rules at this charming venue even as there is much focus on the IPL and the participation of the Australian cricketers in the cash-rich competition. The Manuka Oval delights but the facilities for the media are grossly inadequate; there is no internet and little room in the media enclosure. Several journalists, such as yours truly, are forced to watch the contest from the stands. The view from the stands beyond the square-leg is ordinary. However, the atmosphere is incredible. Inclement weather cuts into cricket but the Appu Army continues to waltz. The colourfully dressed Lankan supporters blow the horn and beat the drum. The rhythm is infectious and Tillekeratne Dilshan dances to the beat. The Sri Lankans nail the chase. Soon, Mahela Jayawardene and Mahendra Singh Dhoni address the post-match press conference jointly. The two make a statement — “We Asians are united.”

February 13: It’s a long flight from Canberra to Perth. You travel to Sydney and board the aircraft to Perth. We get back to the challenges posed by the nature of the competition. The distances are long and the time is short. The journey from Sydney to Perth consumes more than five hours, and you move into a very different time zone; a lot of international journeys consume less hours. It’s also time to unpack at a different hotel at a different place.

February 14: Perth is a serene, elegant city with plenty of space and sunshine. Life moves at a leisurely pace here. But the pitch at the WACA here is still among the liveliest in the world. The West Australian capital is also a city with a distinct identity. It has hills on one side and sea on the other. It’s longer than wider and is dotted by lovely restaurants and bistros. Everything in the elegant Perth is nicely spread out. Meanwhile, the whole of Perth gears up to give Gilly a send-off.

February 15: The game against Sri Lanka is Adam Gilchrist’s last on his home ground. The contest promises to be an emotional roller-coaster. It does. Gilchrist makes a match-winning hundred and the crowd salutes a hero. The batsman-keeper bares his heart while celebrating his feat. Incidentally, this correspondent is the only journalist from the Indian print media to be covering the game. The long journey over the desert to Perth and back has been well worth the effort. Legends such as Gilchrist come rare.