Instant favourite

AP

As the nets conclude and as the Indian players troop out, Ajinkya Rahane (in pic) is in demand. Photographs are snapped, bats are offered for autographs and the young opener is all smiles. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Heathrow Airport is a medley of smooth exits and the anticipation of arrival on a Sunday evening. The Indian team is in Leicester and the trip there entails hopping onto trains and easing past the English countryside. Paddington Station in London stirs up a memory of Indian railway outposts.

Despite the trappings of modernity, the internal architecture with its arched iron rafters and neo-colonial air is identical to what you might see in stations like Chennai Egmore.

The train speeds past quaint cottages and green acres and dormant images that were formed by reading Thomas Hardy and the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, spring to life.

In Leicester, taxi driver Mahmood mentions a congregation the previous night that was attended by Pakistan cricketer Abdul Razzaq. “I am from Pakistan and there are a lot of Indian restaurants in the town,” he says helpfully.

Chake-de India!

“Anywhere in the world, support from Indians is always there because there are so many of us,” Sania Mirza had said a few years ago. It is a fact that stares you in the face when Monday dawns at the Grace Road Ground in Leicester. The tri-colour is aflutter, girls practice their dance steps to the Shah Rukh Khan number ‘chaiya, chaiya', the aroma of piping hot samosas warms up a nippy air and the ‘Men in Blue' register their third successive victory though all of it came against the counties — Sussex, Kent and Leicestershire.

One of the main roads in the town is distinctly Indian. Chennai Dosa, an outlet specialising in Tamil and Sri Lankan cuisine, does roaring business and the bearers ranging from Chennai's T. Nagar to Thanjavur, are eager to speak about their food that has retained its tangy roots without toning it down for the British palate. A nearby restaurant called Sharmilee, sticks to its strength — Gujarati flavours and Shyam from Ahmedabad says: “Leicester is 45 per cent Asian. I have been here for three years and I am happy.”

Despair in Manchester and a few apologies

India loses another game, this time the Twenty20 against England in Manchester's Old Trafford on August 31 and M. S. Dhoni adroitly handles the post-match inquest by the media.

The next day, during the journey by train from Manchester to New Castle, a regular announcement pipes in: “We are sorry for this delay and we apologise for the inconvenience.” Later the driver comes on the line and says, “A fast express has to overtake us and hence the slowdown, that is the only reasonable reason I can offer you. Our apologies.” You might think that the delay stretched into hours but in reality it was just about 20 minutes.

The train cruised on and in the next row commentators Harsha Bhogle and Allan Wilkins were discussing a few young Indian players. The cricket caravan rolls on while the papers focus on next year's Olympics in London. Articles ranging from probable traffic congestion during the showpiece event to countdowns for the big day, are all part of the staple diet. The editorial pages also have reflective articles on the riots that flared up last month.

Rahane's stardom and Raina's gloves

The Riverside Ground at Chester-le-Street has now been renamed as the Durham International Cricket Ground. The change in nomenclature has no effect on its innate charm where if you peer past the Indian team's nets on a Friday afternoon, the eye will catch a distant slope with sheep grazing on it. The air is pastoral but for a group of Indian fans, it is almost a picnic to be up here and see their heroes.

Dr. Sai Eshwar, a former cricketer who has rubbed shoulders with E. A. S. Prasanna and G. R. Viswanath in Bangalore, speaks in Kannada to R. Vinay Kumar. Another turbaned gentleman with his business card that states Mr. Singh, speaks about his son Ramanpreet Singh, who plays for Durham's junior side. “He will be bowling to the Indians,” says the man from Patiala. The nets conclude and as the players troop out, Ajinkya Rahane is in demand. Photographs are snapped, bats are offered for autographs and the young opener is all smiles. Suresh Raina gives his gloves to a kid and the parents are ecstatic while R. P. Singh silently walks across, tired and grim.

Virat Kohli, a perceptive young man, refuses to take the bait in the press conference. A few scribes goad him to react against Nasser Hussain's negative remarks against the Indian fielders. “I am not aware and all we can do is perform well,” Kohli says. The team does perform well the next day in the first ODI of the NatWest series before the skies open up and the fans leave with their umbrellas, drums and bugles.