Mahanama has some plans

Roshan Mahanama, the former Sri Lanka Test batsman, is amazingly fit. He looks in good shape to play competitive cricket, and smiles when I make a suggestion. "I'm working on an idea to organise a unique tour for Sri Lankan cricketers,'' he says.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Filmstars Shilpa Shetty and sister Shamitha Shetty watch the India-Australia match at the SuperSport Park, Centurion.-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

February 10. Roshan Mahanama, the former Sri Lanka Test batsman, is amazingly fit. He looks in good shape to play competitive cricket, and smiles when I make a suggestion. "I'm working on an idea to organise a unique tour for Sri Lankan cricketers,'' he says.

Mahanama had to quit the game in disgust but now plans to return to it in a different role. Of course, he has been commentating quite regularly to keep in touch with the game and his stint with Set Max for the ICC Cricket World Cup is said to have been encouraging. "I'm trying my best,'' says Mahanama.

The affable Mahanama now plans to organise a tour of former Sri Lankan cricketers to their own country. "I'll tell you what it is. We have more than 20 former cricketers settled in Australia and it'll be a great idea to organise a tour to Sri Lanka and play a few matches. The boys are keen.''And Mahanama reels off the names in a jiffy as if these cricketers are all modern stars. "They all made contributions to Sri Lankan cricket and I've known them for quite a long time,'' he says.

Mahanama's team of former Sri Lankan cricketers who can now travel to their own country as an Australian team is Ravi Ratnayeke, Asanka Gurusinha, Atula Samarasekara, Sanath Kaluperuma, Chamara Dunusinge, Granville de Silva, Yohann Gunasekara, Manjula Munasinghe, Sual Fernando, Salia Ahangama, Sanjeeva Weerasinghe, Kosala Kuruppuarchi, T. L. Fernando and R. Jurampathy.

"It'll be great fun to organise such a trip,'' Mahanama can't hide his excitement. You don't have to look far for a coach-cum-manager for the team. "I've already grabbed the job,'' he laughs and returns to his commentary.

February 11. Cape Town is the soul of tourism in South Africa. With the World Cup as an added attraction, it is the most popular destination for all fun seekers. We are the odd people out with lap top bags as company. It is carnival time in Cape Town, the proud venue for the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup and the opening match of the tournament. It is another matter that the host nation begins on a sad note.

Cape Town has many grand spots. The waterfront is the most sought after place for young and old alike. But to find a place to sit in restaurants there is quite difficult. The museums and the wine yards are on the list of tours, but the most striking spot happen to be the National Botanical Garden. Named Kirstenbosch, it is the oldest and the largest botanical garden in Africa. Simply stunning. It was the imagination of Cecil Rhodes who started to work on it in more than 100 years ago. It was born in 1913 and some of the fig trees that he planted still flourish. It is a mind-blowing spot in scenic Cape Town with more than twenty thousand indigenous plants. It is known as the people's garden and is spread over 500 hectares of prime land. It is worth every moment spent in this fabulous garden which is nothing less than paradise for Capetonians.

February 12. It is a memorable day for the Dutch fans. Travelling mostly from Amsterdam they know their team has little chance of beating the formidable Indians, but an upset seems to be on the cards. The minnows of international cricket do not mind a pasting as long as they learn from the contest and here too it becomes an enjoyable experience. Most of them have saved for the trip by working extra hours. There is a young fan, who does not understand the intricacies of the game, but knows that his support matters. It is not a popular game back home but is a sport nevertheless. So, when the small group of Dutch fans see their team dominate the initial stages of the game against a team which fancies itself with a chance to win the Cup, their trip seems to have been made. Holland does not win the match but for its fans, some of them also travel with the football team, it is a memorable day.

February 13. "I won't advise you to walk,'' says the hotel receptionist. It is not even dark in Johannesburg, but a sense of insecurity grips the people. A few incidents have caused an alarm in this city that has degenerated into a crime capital of South Africa. A walk to down town is ruled out and even a short distance is better negotiated in the comforts of a taxi. The traffic lights are common spots for criminal activities and snatching incidents have been on the rise. Business has found a new base in Sandton, which is the best address to have in Johannesburg. And the enterprise is to be seen to be believed. As I said, the traffic lights, known as robots, are the attractive spots for young entrepreneurs who sell anything from cellular phone sets to phone cards. Appears interesting but not when you lose your valuables when waiting for signals at these robots.

February 14. Watching cricket can be a pleasure. If you are part of corporate hospitality it becomes all the more exciting. Of course, you have to pay to earn this grand treatment but then the game itself is so commercialised one has to accept the fact that hospitality boxes for the corporate world are a part of the set up. At most of these venues in England and South Africa, the marquee is a concept very popular with the business world. Setting up a marquee is a specialised area where the guest is treated to a sumptuous cricket party. Some of these tents, so colourfully decorated, are a treat to watch. The arrangements for the guests are impeccably organised and if the cricket gets boring, the marquee offers welcome entertainment with a wide range of foods and drinks to pick from. No wonder, the marquee often is as crowded as any corporate box inside the stadium. Some of these tents compete with each other in terms of offering variety of foods and beverages. We politely decline an invitation to be a guest at one of the marquees because the time between the two innings is not enough for us to enjoy the hospitality.

February 15. If the cricketers, like any average Indian, are fond of cine stars, Bollywood too has its share of cricket fans. Tom Alter is probably the biggest of them all. He plays cricket regularly, writes and comments on the game, and never misses an opportunity to be with the cricketers. Then there is Nasiruddin Shah, who hosts a programme on cricket, and is a die-hard cricket follower. Popular stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan, the legendary Lata Mangeshkar can be spotted at cricket matches in Mumbai. Aamir Khan chose cricket as the subject for his hit film Lagaan. In the past too, film stars and cricketers have come together on many occasions to raise funds for charity. Cricket matches involving film stars used to draw a large audience. Not any more. In fact there are few takers for such fun-filled fixtures. It is common these days for film stars to be spotted at cricket venues. Some Bollywood stars come in genuine pursuit of a game they like and some make an appearance to gain media attention. In which category do we put Shilpa Shetty, who turns up at the SuperSport Park. "I'm here to support India,'' she declares. An avid cricket fan, Shilpa returns disappointed at the miserable show put up by our cricketers but a large group of Indian supporters have no complaints - - watching the game in the company of stunning Shilpa.

February 16. Sandton Mall is the most happening place in Johannesburg. Needless to say, it offers a mind-boggling variety of wares. The food courts in this mall are the greatest attraction. It is Sunday and the place is alive with shoppers. Giant screens have been put up at strategic places for the visitors to keep an eye on the proceedings at The Wanderers where South Africa is locked in a grim struggle with New Zealand. As the game progresses crowds swell in front of these screens. Stephen Fleming is playing one of the great innings of one-day cricket and the South African fans lose their appetite at the food courts. They brush their plates aside and are engrossed in the game as New Zealand makes a strong comeback. "He's finished,'' one elderly gentleman hisses as Lance Klusener concedes one more boundary. The Kiwis are at the doorstep of victory and plates are flung into the dustbin as many South African fans storm out of the food court. There are a few composed locals around. "Ignore them,'' says a lady as some youth smash a few glasses. I am reminded of the English football supporters who can't digest a defeat. Quite similar to the Indians fans who brought disgrace with their awful behaviour during the home series against the West Indies. The South Africans can also get aggressive but nothing untoward happens at Sandton Mall barring that glass-smashing act.