Kiwis appear keen to please their tourists

Sachin Tendulkar obliges a fan with his autograph.-AP

For all the hype about the lucre of the Indian series, the excited talk in the media of the 25 million dollars it’s raking in for NZC, New Zealand’s cricketers stay their unassuming selves, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

Monday, February 23: The first thing the diary sees in beautiful Christchurch isn’t an undulating field, a meandering sheep, or even a rolling hill — each of which is recommended highly by people who know — but Iron Maiden’s private jet on the airport runway. A monstrously cool looking thing it is too, with the band’s mascot, a vile, decaying creature called Eddie, all over the jet’s tail. Now the diary is neither a music buff nor a cele brity connoisseur, but it knows enough to shriek in delight.

The woman in the next seat is mildly concerned, and enquires if the diary is having trouble unbuckling its seat belt. The diary deplanes in a daze, which is compounded when the Immigrations officer asks (in jest) if it’s one of the rockstars. “The who?”; “You know, an Indian cricketer, are you an Indian cricketer?” It’s only later that the diary discovers that New Zealand Cricket (NZC) has advertised its Indian cricketing tourists thus: “The Rockstars are coming”.

Tuesday, February 24: For all the hype about the lucre of the Indian series, the excited talk in the media of the 25 million dollars it’s raking in for NZC, New Zealand’s cricketers stay their unassuming selves. Yesterday, coach Andy Moles and star batsman Ross Taylor arrived for the press conference in a budget rental car, which was driven, get this, by Moles. Wasn’t it Ian Chappell that said the only thing a coach is useful for is transporting the players and their kits to practice and back?

The Indians practise at Lincoln, 30 minutes by road from the city centre, and a magnificently pretty journey it is too. Here the diary finds the undulating field, the meandering sheep, and the rolling hill, not necessarily in that sequence. The Bert Sutcliffe Oval, in Lincoln University, is as attractive as they come, a velvety green field surrounded by trees and red-brick buildings. The pavilion has black-and-white photographs of some of New Zealand’s most famous cricketing sons, including a corner and side wall devoted to the great Sutcliffe, who competed with the Australian Neil Harvey for the tag of the finest left-handed batsman of his time. Sutcliffe’s most famous moment came in South Africa in 1953-54. Struck on the head by a Neil Adcock bouncer, he returned, heavily bandaged, to make 80 not out in a total of 187. He added 33 for the last wicket with fast bowler Bob Blair in an emotional partnership. Blair’s 19-year-old fiancée had been killed in a rail accident in New Zealand only a couple of days back.

M. S. Dhoni handles the pre-match briefing, allaying fears that his team was short of warm clothes (“Plenty! Each guy is carrying three or four kit bags”) and sidestepping a question on multiple-Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (“I haven’t seen it; I haven’t had time, but if you can arrange for it, I’ll be glad to”).

Wednesday, February 25: The atmosphere at the AMI Stadium for the first Twenty20 is terrific, although a lady, asked for directions to the ground, says she couldn’t care less about the game. Hard hats are handed out (at five dollars New Zealand) to guard against the sixes, and it’s a good thing too, for 24 are hit today. The diary also discovers that there’s nothing like being waved at by a bunch of drunks spilling out of a car as they pledge their alliance to the Black Caps. New Zealanders appear keen to please their tourists, playing Bollywood’s finest even as a band of boys gyrate on a raised platform. Several Indians scream as “Dhoom machale” is played. The Kiwis in the crowd appear slightly confused, and don’t share the enthusiasm. Once the game gets underway, the beer begins to flow. There’s an ice box in every aisle, there’s hardly a spectator without a can in hand, and soon the queues at the restrooms lengthen. Fortunately for these patrons, the kind souls at the AMI Stadium have installed television sets in the lavatory.

Thursday, February 26: The New Zealanders are on the diary’s flight to Wellington, and it winks at Iain O’Brien, who, besides bowling cleverly in the first Twenty20 International, writes a most entertaining blog for Cricinfo. He writes about how he carries notes in his pocket for the batsmen he’s bowling at, referring to and revising them as the game progresses. The Indians arrive an hour later. A bhangra drummer beats it up on his dhol, prompting a jig from Yuvraj Singh. “Music is always nice,” says the left-hander. Sachin Tendulkar obliges several fans in the time he takes to collect his bags. There’s banter between Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, and Munaf Patel, none of which the diary understands. But it doesn’t feel bad or left out for too long — it arrives at its place of stay and finds the view fantastic.

Friday, February 27: The disagreement between the BCCI and the ICL claims another victim: the crowd at the Westpac Stadium. A few hundred turn up expecting to see Sachin Tendulkar play in the Masters game, with and against the likes of Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash, Simon Doull, Darren Lehmann, Greg Blewett, and Ian Healy. As, by the way, is Dinesh Karthik, India’s reserve wicketkeeper. India coach Gary Kirsten is recorded to have said it’ll be a great opportunity for Tendulkar, not playing the Twenty20s, and Karthik to have a hit. But (former ICL star) Hamish Marshall’s presence severely vitiates the atmosphere, forcing Tendulkar and Karthik to be withdrawn. The diary knows little of these matters, but surely sport — grand, all encompassing sport — and politics — petty, internecine power play — don’t mix. And yes, the diary believes in unicorns and fairies.

Saturday, February 28: The weather’s miserable. It’s cold, windy, and rainy. It’s the sort of day tipplers reach fondly for their tonic, and it’s no surprise that Jesse Ryder, who’s had his trouble with alcohol addicition, is asked if he will find it hard to abstain when playing for Bangalore in the IPL. Vijay Mallya after all is the King of Good Times. “I’m not thinking about that,” says Ryder. The diary wishes the young man well. His talent enriches the game; cricket can ill-afford to lose him.