Champions Trophy diary: Of Mahrez and Madjer

A football-mad taxi driver, the punctual former Pakistani all-rounder... . The time spent with them was worthwhile, recounts The Diary from the sidelines of the ICC Champions Trophy.

Attock Cricket Club didn’t have a ground to call its own for a long time, but is now based out of Moseley School. The ground, leased out for 25 years to the club, is a monument to tranquillity.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

The Diary gets talking with an Algerian taxi driver in Birmingham. Abdallah is a football fan, it turns out, and one not in favour of Riyad Mahrez staying at Leicester City. “He should have left last year,” he says. “He didn’t and now his game has suffered. Not good. He should go to Chelsea.” Abdallah likes Islam Slimani more, though. “He was born and raised in Algeria, unlike guys like Mahrez and Feghouli who are from France. He's the type of guy who is not good with the ball but he finds a way to score somehow.” That clinical approach has brought Slimani only two goals this past season, but the Diary is not one to annoy a cabbie.

Instead, the Diary brings up Rabah Madjer, and his stunning back-heel for Porto in the 1987 European Cup final. The Diary remembers Madjer from a film on the UEFA Champions League’s 'Greatest Moments' it once watched on YouTube. (Not on a working day, mind). “We call that the heel of Allah,” Abdallah says. “Madjer was a great player but today I don’t like him. He talks too much, saying ‘In my day, we did this, we did that’. Always criticising young players. That’s the problem with these legends. They retired a long time ago but they still want people to talk about them. You're gone. Your time is over. Forget about yourself.” Algerian football or Indian cricket, some things are the same everywhere.

‘Mushy Uncle’

The Diary arrives at Birmingham’s Attock Cricket Club — named after the district in Pakistan its founders came from in the seventies — one evening, in an effort to track down the former Pakistan all-rounder Mushtaq Mohammad. Ahmed, an age-group coach at the club, says he isn't in that day. Attock CC began in Parks League cricket, the “seventh or eighth tier”, according to Ahmed, and has slowly made its way up to the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League through the efforts of its members, drawn primarily from the substantial Pakistani community in the area. Moeen Ali’s club, Ahmed says, is two streets away. Attock CC didn’t have a ground to call its own for a long time, but is now based out of Moseley School. The ground, leased out for 25 years to the club, is a monument to tranquillity. The Diary calls Ahmed the next day, only to be told that ‘Mushy Uncle’ isn’t in again, which is odd for him. The Diary has lost hope when the evening before the India-Pakistan game, Ahmed calls, asking the Diary to hurry over. It is 8:45 p.m. already and Mushy uncle is in a hurry because he has to break fast at 9:23. “Sirf dus minute,” he says, and as if on cue ends the interview 15 seconds after the allotted time. But 10 minutes are more than enough.

Media entertainment

Sarfaraz Ahmed has the Edgbaston media room in splits. A day ahead of the India-Pakistan game, he is asked by an Indian reporter if Pakistan has banned newspapers in the dressing room, so as to insulate players from the pressure. “Sir, in our team, nobody reads the paper anyway,” he chuckles.

The next evening, after India's thumping win, Virat Kohli is asked if he watched the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday night and took inspiration from Cristiano Ronaldo. “Sir, you never ask cricket questions. I don’t know why,” Kohli says. “We’ve won a match so well and you...(laughs). Yes, everyone would’ve seen the Champions League final. Even I did. It was fun. But I was focusing on my game, that's all.”

Five minutes after the post-match press conference, the Diary waits in the concourse as the ICC brings the mixed zone — a concept already common in other sporting events — to cricket. Teams ‘may send up to four players’, the ICC says, and so the Diary waits. Shadab Khan and Azhar Ali come and go, but there is no sign of anyone from the winning team. “India have chosen not to send anyone,” the ICC media manager sighs. “It is not obligatory.” Not obligatory, yes, but strangely all seven other sides were willing.