Guests, who are really welcome!

Press boxes are like players’ dressing rooms, outsiders are discouraged from entering. Yet when some of them do enter, they raise the tone of the place.

Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the Games song of the 1982 Asiad in New Delhi.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

I came on the scene too late to share a press box with Neville Cardus, but I suspect I might not have enjoyed the experience. I would have loved to get a coffee or something stronger for C. L. R. James had we reported together, but that wasn’t to be either.

Over the years, one did rub shoulders with the finest cricket writers and top players, but (in hindsight), on at least two occasions, I regret that the camera phone hadn’t yet been invented or the selfie become a part of daily life. The first was in the build-up to the Asian Games in 1982, when I first heard the song of the Games being played, and turned to see its composer, Pandit Ravi Shankar, sitting behind me. He wore a beatific smile and appeared thoroughly relaxed.

But I had neither the presence of mind nor the nerve to call out to a photographer nearby. The master musician did sign an autograph, though. “Do you like it?” he asked, and I was not sure if he meant his curvy handwriting or the music that was being repeated from the speakers. Embarrassed, I merely thanked him and moved on.

The second occasion was in Sydney, at the 1992 World Cup. “Do you know Donald Woods is here?” Rajdeep Sardesai, then reporting the tournament for a newspaper, asked. “I am told he will be in the press box.”

And he was.

As a strong voice against apartheid and author of powerful books on that period against South Africa, Woods had become a hero to many. I had read excerpts from his biography of Steve Biko, the Black leader (later made into a movie where Kevin Kline played Woods and Denzel Washington played Biko). His escape from his country, where as editor of a newspaper he had been critical of the government, had been dramatic. He was disguised as a priest, and was nearly discovered accidentally — the amazing details are in Asking for Trouble. His beliefs were hard on his family. There were threats, and on one occasion T-shirts sent with Biko’s image turned out to be poisoned and scalded his children. That’s when he decided to leave his country.

Woods was now in Australia to report cricket. “You have an enviable job,” he told me, “travelling the world to watch cricket. It had been my ambition.” Somewhat startled — it was a bit like hearing Che Guevera say it had been an ambition to get into fashion design — I asked if he was enjoying himself. You are living my ambition, and I am living yours, I joked.

Woods was looking forward to watching “the teenage genius” Sachin Tendulkar bat. “As I packed,” he said in a book he wrote later, “I included a copy of Wisden in the spirit of one who wouldn’t dream of setting off on a pilgrimage without the Bible.”

Press boxes are like players’ dressing rooms, outsiders are discouraged from entering. Yet when some of them do enter, they raise the tone of the place.