On a safari with Sunny & Sherry

Published : Jul 14, 2001 00:00 IST


JUNE 28: A day out with Sunil Gavaskar. What more can one ask for? Navjot 'Sherry' Sidhu is game too and joins us on a mini safari. There is no cricket and nothing can be better than Gavaskar's company.

We drive down to the Matobo National Park in a taxi, but the security turns us back from the gate. "No private taxis allowed," we are told sternly. We drive back to the town and leave it to Gavaskar, who rings up Hitesh Patel, a good friend of Ravi Shastri, and we are off to the park in his car.

Sherry is keen on wild life. Gavaskar is an avid history fan. We do not matter. Gavaskar wins. Our first stop is the grave of Cecile John Rhodes, the man who brought the first white settlers to the country. The grave has been hewn out of the rock. It is a sombre place and yet breathtaking. Even Sherry is fascinated.

Our party now proceeds to the wild life zone. We don't spot one animal even as Sherry insists seeing a deer here and a wild boar there. Only he seems to spot the animals.

A while later, we come across a couple of hippos. Gavaskar is quick to spot them and is thrilled. "Hippos, hippos," he needles Sherry, who reels off details of the animal. Sherry sure is a wildlife freak.

Now it is our turn and V. V. Krishnan navigates the journey. The next halt is the Balancing Rocks. It is an amazing sight really. Rocks balanced precariously for countless years.

It is getting dark and Gavaskar advises we get out of the park. None of us has a map of the park but we all know that once we exit and turn left, we are on the highway to Bulawayo.

The drive back to the hotel is enjoyable. We get Gavaskar to narrate some anecdotes from his playing days. Sherry chips in with some humorous tales. The glorious sunset is an unforgettable sight and makes it a wonderful day for us.

June 29: Rahul Dravid interrupts our pre-match press conference with Carl Hooper. He plays a lofted pull and the ball lands on the jaw of Suman Chatterjee, photographer with Aajkaal, Kolkata, sending him reeling.

As Suman gasps, Colin Croft swings into action, sending one scribe scurrying for ice and shouting for the Indian physiotherapist, Andrew Leipus, who comes sprinting. It is a hard blow and Suman presents a pitiable sight.

Dravid abandons the 'nets' and rushes to the spot. I can see Dravid is rattled and worried for Suman. "Sorry, very sorry," Dravid is apologetic for no fault of his. It is certainly not his intention to hit someone and he is certainly not to blame for Suman coming in the range of the ball.

It takes time for Dravid to recover and more time for Suman, who is by now reacting to queries. After a while he even sports a smile as Dravid cracks a joke.

One by one the Indian cricketers come inquiring about Suman's well-being. The mild-mannered lensman is now aware of the situation. "Hit as hard in the match too," Suman teases Dravid, who is also relaxed by now.

Suman is lucky. Had the ball landed a mere two inches above it might have been a dreadful experience for all of us. "You're very lucky mate," remarks Croft.

It is not the first time Suman has been hit. He was once floored by a stinging drive from Dilip Vengsarkar at the Eden Gardens. That time it was his right jaw. This time it is the left.

June 30: Bulawayo is a quiet town. It may lack the busy profile of Harare but it has its own character. Wide roads dotted with trees and a lovely city centre, which brings the town to life on weekdays.

In keeping with the modern times, the only big change one has noticed in three visits to Bulawayo is the Queen's Sports Club, which has acquired a modern touch.

There is a pleasant surprise for the photographers who learnt that the Zimbabwe Cricket Union has set up a dark room for them. It is called the development room where the lensmen can carry on their professional work.

The key to the dark room has been misplaced and poses a problem for my colleague, but Tracy, representing the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, solves it in a jiffy. She orders someone to get the duplicate key and the dark room is now at our service.

Even a small venue like Bulawayo offers such excellent facilities for photographers. To expect such a response from the officials in India would be close to impossible.

In centres like Kolkata, the lensmen have to reach the ground in the wee hours of the morning. During the last Test against Australia, it was shocking to know that the photographers took turns in waking up the guards at the Eden Gardens at four in the morning. Forget dark room, the lensmen are denied even drinking water by the officials during international matches. Kolkata is the worst centre in such matters.

I am not surprised when the lensmen, at the end of the match, make it a point to thank the local officials, especially Tracy, an efficient cricket official from the ZCU.

July 1: This is a special enclosure. The cynosure of all eyes. It is a special section marked for the family members of the Zimbabwean players.

The enclosure is small but noisy. Every good shot by the batsman or a strike by the bowler is acknowledged with all the vocal might as the wives and the girlfriends of the Zimbabwean cricketers form a grand cheer brigade.

Once again one cannot imagine such an enclosure at any ground in India. In fact, the players dread bringing their families to the ground because the Board does not spare elite complimentaries for the players. Not even for Sachin Tendulkar.

July 2: They call it Mosi oa Tunya - The Smoke That Thunders. The Victoria Falls is one of the natural wonders of the world. Bereft of commercialisation, it is just the kind of spot a tourist would desire.

There are no agents to harass you. Listed as a world heritage site in 1989, the Victoria Falls is known for its wilderness value. Its 100m fall, gorges and rain forest make it an unforgettable place really.

The balloon ride is a breathtaking experience. The balloon is tethered over the 1.7 km wide Falls for you to enjoy the expanse of the Falls from overhead as 550,000 cubic metres of water drops into the Zambezi gorge. Another attraction is the Big Tree. Known locally as the Baobab, it is the biggest tree in the Falls area.

For the adventurous kind, the visit also includes white-water rafting, parachuting and the world's highest bungee jumping. And the more adventurous can take a walk along the Zambezi. As you walk, you encounter crocodiles, hippos, elephants and lions. The brochure warns you to watch out for the crocodiles who appear in a flash. It is better to avoid the walk.

July 3: There are two members missing in the West Indian team on the flight back to Harare from Bulawayo. Ridley Jacobs is said to be interested in nature and that is the reason why he takes the team coach, preferring the road journey.

But Cameron Cuffy has a very different reason for taking a six-hour drive in the bus to a 30-minute flight. There is no leg space for him in the Boeing 737 of Air Zimbabwe. It is good enough reason for the long-legged Cuffy to opt for a road journey. And also reason enough for the West Indian Board to think of granting him special sanction to fly club class, at least on the long hauls from one continent to another.

July 4: Colin Croft is a gentle giant. Polite to a fault, Croft is one of the few former cricketers who has respect for fellow scribes and for their profession and comes off a very pleasant character.

He is a hit every where - in the radio box, the television box and in the press box as he dashes off his columns and interviews. What a sight it is to see Croft request the current Indian and West Indian players and all the former cricketers gathered in Harare to sign on a bat for his collection.

And he has a splendid sense of homour too. I tease him "Crofty, you're still good enough."

"For what my friend?" he asks, eyebrows raised.

"To bowl for the West Indies."

"That's an insult," he says in mock anger and adds, "to me."

His laughter shakes his huge frame and the wooden press box. I shudder as I think how it must have been taking guard to this fast bowler.

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