India becalmed in windless Wellington!

Indian cricket’s multi-million superstars fail to close out an opportunity as gaping as Wellington’s famous Victoria Tunnel that connects the centre of the city to the southern suburbs, writes S. Dinakar.

Tales about the wind in Wellington never cease. A local journalist recalls a particularly nasty day at the Basin Reserve when a member of the ground-staff is lifted with the covers close to the pitch by the sweeping gust; so much so that he appears to be flying horizontally clutching a large magic carpet!

When the Sourav Ganguly-led Indians tour here in 2002, they have their caps knocked off frequently; they spend much time and energy chasing their headgear around the park.

This is no excuse for them though to go down by a mile in Wellington and then lose 2-0 in the two-Test series. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men too have run out of excuses.

The disastrous run away from home has continued for too long. India has played 14 Tests with 10 defeats and four draws after defeating the West Indies at Sabina Park in 2011. It’s a quite a while back.

Meanwhile one catches up with former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Harris. The affable Kiwi takes a trip down memory lane, speaks about New Zealand’s inspiring run in the 1992 ODI World Cup.

“I think Martin’s (Crowe) captaincy was brilliant. The way he employed us was something quite sensational really. Compared to the pacemen New Zealand has today, our attack was a pop-gun one to be honest. Yet, it worked,” he says.

Indeed, Crowe’s captaincy in that competition is path-breaking. He complements the military medium pace of Harris, Gavin Larsen and Rod Latham with imaginative field placements. The unlikely trio is a hit.

Dipak Patel is around too, catching up with old friends during the second Test. “Those were the days,” he says.

Crowe, pro-active, has off-spinner Patel opening the attack denying the batsmen pace and momentum. The idea here is to break their rhythm as they face spin from one end and pace from the other.

The plan comes off and Crowe is hailed as a trend-setter.

Even as the years roll by, Mark Greatbatch hasn’t lost his wit. He is a popular guy, swarmed by admirers. As a pinch hitter who gives the likes of Curtly Ambrose the charge in the ’92 World Cup, this rather bulky New Zealander makes the headlines. The man behind the idea, once again, is Crowe.

A sportsman’s life is a ride and it has remained so for Ewen Chatfield. The legendary Richard Hadlee’s pace partner drives a taxi for a living.

Yes, it is the same Chatfield whose heart stops beating when he is felled by England paceman Peter Lever’s bouncer in an Auckland Test of the mid-70s.

He swallows his tongue, loses consciousness and literally comes back from the dead, revived by England physiotherapist Bernard Thomas.

Chatfield’s been on a journey ever since, frugal with the ball in tough situations at home and in different countries, and then, after retirement, taking people in his taxi.

“Sometimes they (the passengers) recognise me. Sometimes they kind of realise who I am but are hesitant to ask,” says Chatfield.

The tall Chatfield has lean features, looks a lot younger than 63 and speaks with a directness that is endearing. He is content with what life has offered him, holds no grudges.

Even as the Test hots up, the Indian cricketers enjoy their relative anonymity off the field. Rohit Sharma walks back to the hotel room after the conclusion of the second day’s play. This is a country that respects privacy.

And yours truly runs into R. Ashwin near the city centre in the morning. The all-rounder looks fresh and happy after a work-out in a local gym. He just melts into the crowd in Wellington’s busy CBD and nobody bothers him. Hard to imagine this happening in India; cricketers are treated like normal people in Kiwiland, not as demigods.

Chatfield is among those in the stands as Indian cricket’s multi-million superstars fail to close out an opportunity as gaping as Wellington’s famous Victoria Tunnel that connects the centre of the city to the southern suburbs.

Brendon McCullum comes up with an epic. The hills fill up quickly even on a Tuesday as the New Zealand captain becomes a barrier-breaker. He is the first Kiwi to make 300 in a Test. The crowd roars and McCullum is the toast.

Remarkably, the winds stay away for most part during the Test. The sun shines, but not on the Indians.

Shoddy bowling and catching hurts the side. McCullum is asked at the end whether he would gift a bottle of champagne to Virat Kohli who drops him early on!

It’s also time to pack bags one final time and head for home. The rather hectic tour is over. On way to the airport, a taxi-driver of Fiji-Indian origin says, “The Indians, you know, they are not very good tourists.” Well, that’s an understatement.