Indian Board's new policy to boost the image of the team

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

APRIL 8: The Board has embarked upon a new policy to boost the image of the cricket team. The idea is to give the team a new look off the field in order to counter the disasters on it. Before they left India, the cricketers were audience to some so-called media personalities who gave them lectures on how to interact with the media.

Interestingly, none of those so-called media stars, obviously picked by the media manager of the Board, would understand the need of the itinerant cricket writers and the players. So I am not surprised at all to gather that the cricketers have learnt nothing from the interaction with these media personalities.

The Indian team with ailing children, at the Georgetown Hospital.-V. V. KRISHNAN

As part of this image-building exercise, our cricket team embarks on a visit to the Georgetown Hospital to spend time with kids afflicted with diseases. These kids, undergoing treatment, may not have even known the significance of some cricketers coming to see them. The visit is at the request of the first lady of Guyana, Ms. Varsha Jagdeo, and the prompt response of the Indian team is a fine gesture.

It is a warm day and the team has just finished training. In the next half an hour, the players are at the School of Nations. After interacting with school kids, the team proceeds to the hospital. The cricketers mingle with the ailing children. Sachin Tendulkar spends a long time with one of the patients. He is shaken by the pain that the kid endures. "We should do a lot for such underprivileged kids," says Sachin. I know he does a lot of charity and loves the company of children.

Nothing fascinates Sachin more than spending time with kids. "After becoming father, I know the joy of being with children. It's great to be with their company," he says. Well, at the hospital, the scene is very sombre and different.

April 9: The Indian High Commission has been of great assistance to the group of mediamen. From the time Tushar Kant Uniyal receives us at the Cheddi Jagan Airport, the High Commission takes care to make us feel at home. P. S. Gusain, the second Secretary, goes out of the way to help us. It is a wonderful experience meeting such pleasant countrymen so far away from home.

The reception hosted in the honour of visiting Indian cricketers gives us an opportunity to meet the High Commissioner, P. V. Joshi. A versatile personality, Joshi is quite popular with the local populace. He has to his credit a few books on religion and his discourse on Bhagwad Gita on the local television is said to be followed by Guyanese of Indian descent.

St. George's Cathedral, which was built in 1811. It is a stunning structure in Gothic style.-V. V. KRISHNAN

As Shiv Kumar Sharma's santoor captures the essence of the occasion, the cricketers mingle with the crowd and readily oblige them with autographs and photographs. It can be irritating at times but this team has come to realise that it has a role to play in the society. "You are ambassadors of the country," the cricketers are reminded. To their credit, the cricketers earn plenty of goodwill from the gathering before they leave.

April 10: Close to our hotel is this St. George's Cathedral, a stunning structure in Gothic style. The clergy shows us around with a lot of pride and provides information which is at his fingertips really.

Built in 1811, it stands a proud symbol of Guyana's glorious past and is listed among the places most visited by tourists to Georgetown. The serene atmosphere adds to the beauty of the cathedral. We get to spend time in the cathedral before leaving for the Everest ground to watch the Indians play their tour opener. As we leave, a notice catches my attention. 'No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace." True indeed.

April 11: The Bourda has come alive. The roads to the stadium are clogged but no one minds the rush and the delay. There is no honking and no show of temper. The radio stations are full of talks revolving around cricket. There is one station playing cricket songs in praise of the West Indians and another invites past cricketers to discuss the good and the bad aspects of the game. Cricket is a passion in Georgetown.

Gavin Peter, our hotel receptionist, is plotting ways to miss work. He has already utilised his weekly off but wants to be at the ground. He has not missed a Test at the Bourda in 20 years and there is no way that he will miss watching the first ball being bowled at a Test. But how? "No problems. I know the tricks of the trade," he says with confidence. He just reports sick.

The crowd at the Bourda is excited and much discussion centres around the team selection. There is a cheer when Shivnarine Chanderpaul's name is announced and a roar at the mention of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Mahendra Nagamootoo. Then there is Adam Sanford, making his debut. The Test cap is presented to him by Wesley Hall, President of the West Indies Cricket Board, at a brief ceremony. The player is made to understand the significance of the cap. In India, it is just given away with the rest of the clothing. Some things just do not change. The Indian Board is one of them.

April 12: Our friend from Bank of Baroda, S. Swaminathan, informs there is a temple on the outskirts of Georgetown. Called the Madrasi temple, it is maintained by John Chinnapan. He does not remember where his roots lie but has not forgotten the culture. A fourth generation Tamil, happily based in Guyana, he longs to visit his mother country. His grandchildren too nurse this ambition to visit India, but presently they wait to migrate to the United States.

The temple is a revelation. Chinnapan has carved idols on the basis of pictures of various gods and goddesses. A few devotional cassettes bring alive the atmosphere even as he requests us to send him some literature on Tamil. The government has granted him land to build a school where he proposes to launch a language course. "I want the present generation to learn Tamil and keep in touch with their roots," he says. A noble thought which would need a lot of support from people all over. To start with, Swaminathan has taken upon himself the mantle by providing them all kind of support, financial and moral, to enable Chinnapan and his family achieve their dreams.

Deities at a South Indian temple, known as Madrasi temple, in Georgetown.-V. V. KRISHNAN

April 13: Gautam Bhimani of ESPN is quite a character. Always on the move to gather snippets when on tour, he has an interesting story to share with us. On the way to Georgetown, Gautam realises that the flight is overbooked because the Guyana cricket team is also on board. The Guyanese have won the Busta Shield and are on cloud nine even before the flight takes off. There are two men who stand little chance to board the flight. One is Gautam and the other is Russel, son of the legendary West Indian cricketer Rohan Kanhai. Gautam gives up all hopes but Russel is optimistic. It is the pilot who finds an exciting way out.

Gautam and Russel take turns to share the cockpit with the pilot since one passenger is accommodated in the jump seat meant for the stewardess. Russel grabs the chance when taking off while Gautam experiences the landing. "Very thrilling," he says. A pity he has not been able to film it.

April 14: Georgetown has changed a lot from the time we visited in 1997. The roads have improved considerably and the power supply is not interrupted now and then. Five years ago, we did not have power in the press box for three days. This time mercifully the arrangements have been pretty good.

It is a town which dies at five in the evening because the crime rate has remained high in this part of the world with people preferring to stay indoors after dusk. Shops down their shutters at four and most of the restaurants a little later.

Wesley Hall, President, West Indies Cricket Board, presents the Test cap to Adam Sanford.-V. V. KRISHNAN

You can move around in vehicles but then even this can be a hazardous proposition, for car thefts and hijackings are very common. During our stay, five criminals escape from jail and shoot down a senior cop. Panic grips the town.

As we drive to the Pizza Hut in the evening, the only reliable place for a vegetarian meal, the deserted streets scare us. After two trips, we conclude it is safer to have bread and butter in the room.