Home away from home

All roads lead to Kingsmead on the afternoon of the second ODI. And there is a huge Indian contingent of supporters. Inside the arena, there are Indian flags everywhere. A diary of events by S. Dinakar.

Durban, the vibrant port city, has a buzzing community of immigrant Indians. Before the teams departed for Durban, South Africa's friendly manager Goolam Raja had told the Indian media, "Durban will be like home for you."

Well it is. Whether it is the computer engineer at the hotel, or the girl at the business centre or the man driving the taxi, there are people with Indian ancestry everywhere.

"We are proud to be South Africans, but we have not forgotten our Indian roots," says one of them.

The Indians are doing well in business too. Ajit Kanakia owns a chain of Indian restaurants in South Africa, from Durban to Cape Town. He left Mumbai 10 years ago to pursue a South African dream.

Now he is a happy man. "Business is easy here, the quality of life good."

Kanakia is surprised that the fitness conscious present-day cricketers are reluctant to consume even a mug of beer. "The Indian teams from the past used to enjoy their lives a lot more."

He knows the present chairman of the National selection panel, Dilip Vengsarkar, well. And Kanakia is delighted that Vengsarkar continues to be actively involved with Indian cricket. "I spoke to him and he told me he could be coming here for the Test series," he says.

We spot India skipper Rahul Dravid and champion leg-spinner Anil Kumble enjoying a quiet dinner. They make eager enquiries about The Hindu and their friends in the organisation. The two Bangalore champions go back a long way. Over the years, they have conducted themselves on and off the field with enormous dignity.

Photography is still Kumble's biggest passion after cricket. His eyes are eternally on the lookout for that one immortal picture.

From the team hotel we can see giant carriers drifting across the ocean. For Dravid and Kumble, cricket has been one long voyage. They have been through choppy waters but survived.

Survival is not easy too, on the streets of South Africa after 7 p.m. Here, they always talk about "being at the wrong place at the wrong time." People travel by cars, but the roads, once dusk sets in, are empty.

All roads lead to Kingsmead on the afternoon of the second MTN ODI. And there is a huge Indian contingent of supporters. Inside the arena, there are Indian flags everywhere.

The Indian bowlers put up a fighting display. Batting legend Sunil Gavaskar is asked about some of his great innings. Gavaskar's answer is stunning. He does not remember much.

"During my innings at the Oval or my last Test innings in Bangalore, I was concentrating so hard. Now I cannot recall anything. All I remember from my innings at the Oval is that Ian Botham bowled me a slower ball and I hit through covers for a four. He then, looked at me from the corner of his eyes and smiled. That is all from those two innings," the maestro concluded.

During the break between innings, popular television personality Harsha Bhogle is fuming. He is a vegetarian and there are not too many preparations of his choice on display. "I cannot be eating salads for pasta all the time," thunders Bhogle. He has a genuine symphathiser in this writer. It's a hard life, being a vegetarian.

Versatile actor Shekar Suman is enjoying a quiet meal with Pakistani batting great Zaheer Abbas, who, typically, is courteous and warm. Pehaps Suman, who has an astonishing sense of humour, is saving up his best lines for the events to unfold later in the night.

The Indians' collapse on a windy, cloudy night in Durban is a touch comical. But their capitulation leaves their flag waving supporters red-faced.

One of them says, "We risk being called traitors here for cheering for India, and our cricketers don't even put up a fight."