Lancelot, Lord of Spin

UMPIRES SIMON TAUFEL AND ASAD RAUF sort out the Dhoni dismissal issue in the first Test at St. John's, Antigua. Off the field, and in civilian dress, most umpires are difficult to recognise.-AP

Lance Gibbs catches a lot of cricket at home on the telly — he knew Pakistan defeated India in the U-19 World Cup. What do theorists say of legends staying away from the modern game? asks S. Ram Mahesh.

June 11: The popular theory on meeting your heroes is, simply, don't. Theorists will have us believe that the nearer we are, the easier it is to see feet of clay. Admirable as it is — and touching too — so far on tour, I've not been disillusioned. Richards still has about him an aura of power, Roberts through slit eyes and whispered voice conveyed menace, and Ambrose smiled that famous smile and scowled that famous scowl.

But, I was yet to meet my favourite. Roberts was before my time, Richards's late career barely made it to my early school years, Ambrose, I could relate to. All I had seen of my favourite hero though was old footage. And I had a name — Sir Lancelot. How could one resist the sway of that name! I didn't expect to meet Lance Gibbs, master off-spinner with 309 Test wickets from 79 Tests, on this trip. I knew that he lived in the US, and a three-quarter empty Beausejour Cricket Ground is the last place one thinks up for a hero to make his presence felt.

But, there he was. After staring at those legendary fingers for a while, I ask him about them. "Well, they were always blistered and torn and bloody with the amount of rip I used to put into it," he says, nodding a head of greying hair, twinkling his soft-boiled eyes, and displaying long, thick, tabla-worthy fingers. "Then I had a talk with Richie Benaud, who suggested a mix of calamine and boric powder to keep it soft and moist."

After taking me through how he used to bowl the straighter ball, and how Prasanna used to flight his conceptions of deceit, he leaves me with the secret of his success: "I never forgot. When I came up against a batsman once, I saw his strengths and weaknesses, and remembered. If you don't as a spin bowler, you are gone."

Gibbs catches a lot of cricket at home on the telly — he knew Pakistan defeated India in the U-19 World Cup. What do theorists say of legends staying away from the modern game?

June 12: We have a new colleague: meet intrepid reporter M. S. Dhoni. The wicketkeeper — serious and studied — was at Mohammad Kaif's press conference yesterday. He even put his hand up (a rare bit of courtesy as far as us savages are concerned) and asked a question (in Hindi): "How will you celebrate?" Kaif's considered reply was: "Wait till the match is over."

An announcement goes around the Beausejour Cricket Ground: "We are here to party. All those sober at 12 o'clock will be evicted." The same announcement yesterday brought forth laughter. Today, less than 50 are at the ground. If they are evicted...

I meet another head of State. After St. Kitts Prime Minister Denzil Douglas looked in during the ODI, it's the turn of Barbados Prime Minister Owen Seymour Arthur. Diminutive, and dressed in a casual shirt, Mr. Arthur, meets with old friends in the press box. I am told he is a huge cricket fan. "I'm enjoying St. Lucia more than the cricket," says the man, who has been at the helm for close to 12 years, and shares his birthday with Anil Kumble (October 17). "I've seen better days."

June 13: Imran Khan, media manager, announces that a new TV crew will take over. It's raining, and people are finding ways to beat boredom. A group of nine is the new crew. A funnel taped to a torch is the camera, an inflatable rubber bat is the pointer mike, a soft ball inside a cone is the microphone. They make their way to the ground, and carry out `pitch reports'. They even interview an Indian journalist. Someone says they are doing better than their predecessors.

June 14: Colin Cumberbatch, photographer par excellence, and comrade of The Hindu's V. V. Krishnan, is among the most passionate of West Indian cricket supporters. Wiry with a straggly Rasta beard and cap, Colin is also among the most helpful to those making the trip for the first time. He has strong opinions on how the game is being run. "These wickets are killing cricket, man," he tells me. "The hook is part of our culture, our instinct. No one is playing it. All the administrators want is five days of cricket and revenue. And they are destroying cricket."

June 15: I can never recognise an umpire in civvies. Perhaps it's because they — like super-heroes — lead secret lives. I walk past Asad Rauf before a double take. He's going home to Pakistan, he tells me. He's had an incident-packed trip, from that delivery, which had the other umpire Billy Doctrove at the sight-screen, to the ball-grabbing altercation with Brian Lara. A little way from him, he tells me is his mate Simon Taufel. I look around but can't for the life of me spot him. An Australian "how are ya mate?" lets me know the man in glasses is an Elite Panel Umpire. He's getting back as well.

Both are watching England v Trinidad and Tobago at the airport in St. Lucia. There are groans as Peter Crouch rises above his man to nod home. A pilot stops to catch the action; elsewhere flight 513 is delayed 20 minutes.

June 16: Sreesanth is spotted at a shoe shop. Isn't he the one that wears different sized shoes (eight and nine if memory serves me right) on each foot? I wonder how he buys them — one from each pair?

June 17: Team India makes a getaway worthy of slippery private-eyes. A mole tells me they play a spot of beach volleyball before heading for Nevis, the twin island of St. Kitts, leaving television channels in a tizzy. Nice work lads.