Security concerns: mediamen denied access

MARCH 17: Moodley Mahalingam used to be an enthusiastic cricketer in Madras. In search of better opportunities, he travelled to South Africa, participated in the local league and was promptly banned by the cricket board in India.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

MARCH 17: Moodley Mahalingam used to be an enthusiastic cricketer in Madras. In search of better opportunities, he travelled to South Africa, participated in the local league and was promptly banned by the cricket board in India. This was before the unification of South Africa. His cricketing dreams lay shattered but he built his life around a little restaurant, which he appropriately named `Little India'. For vegetarians, it is an ideal place, and for the eight of us, starved of spicy food, it is paradise on earth. The whiff of sambar and rasam is heavenly. For young Radhakrishnan Srinivasan of ESPN-Star Sports, it is a welcome escape from frozen food. He is pampered by the chef, Palani, who is delighted to serve "fellow Indians." The trip is significant because it is the first decent meal we have had in 40 days. Obviously, we occupy the table too long but Palani is game. He even allows us to stay on until the taxi arrives at the door. "It's a dangerous place, Sir. Very risky to even wait outside for a cab." We thank him even as Palani invites us for a meal with a lot more variety the next day. We are too willing to accept the offer.

Dennis Done... the senior statesman of the South African media. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

March 18: "I don't look at the obit column in the paper. I fear my name might be there." That is Dennis Done, a freelance scribe who once made a place for himself in the history of radio commentary. At 75, he is the senior statesman of the South African media, a lively man full of endless enthusiasm. His energy to watch and report cricket is legendary. Let us travel back in time, to 1953 to be precise, when Dennis did a ball-by-ball commentary for Radio New Zealand, long before satellite and the fancy stuff, which has revolutionised communication. It was a tough task for Dennis. He did the commentary through cable, ball by ball. "I wrote the description of every over and cabled it to New Zealand. The parties at the other end, headed by the late Lance Cross, would have the cable commentary of six overs in hand, analyse the cable with sound effects making it a synthetic `live commentary'." There was a lot of imagination involved. Dennis would describe the dismissals in detail. The cable received in a post office in New Zealand would be written on a blackboard and someone would transcribe the information into a semi live broadcast. Dennis has reported on cricket since 1949 and has enjoyed the longest spell at the Natal Mercury. And he is still going strong. "If I stop doing this I would probably curl up in a corner in front of a television set and die of heart attack or something," he smiles.

March 19: The war clouds hover around Iraq and the effects are felt by us. The security around the players is increased and we are told that the `nets' sessions are closed to the media. It is strange how it is the media that always feels the brunt of security measures and not the endless autograph hunters. At the ICC Cricket World Cup, the media has faced all kinds of hardships. Denying us access to players at the `nets' has been the proud achievement of the securitymen. The worst sufferers have been our photographer colleagues. Being asked to take pictures from a distance has been a humiliating experience for the lensmen, who, otherwise too, have to take pictures from uncomfortable spots in the field. I could not understand how a member of the media, cleared by the ICC and having proper accreditation, could pose a threat to the smooth functioning of a `nets' session or a match. It was unacceptable for all of us but we were helpless. It was hilarious when we were told at one press conference that our questions should first be addressed to the International Cricket Council representative, who, in turn, would ask the same to the cricketer concerned on the dais. Mercifully, the silly move does not progress beyond that one episode at Chatsworth. But there was no respite from the silly restrictions on the media at the team `nets' and sometimes at the team hotel.

March 20: The Kingsmead is a mass of Indian supporters, the tricolour fluttering proudly. Even a few South Africans are sporting India colours. In the hospitality boxes, there is a galaxy of Bollywood stars. I run into Venkatesh, a sensation from the South. There is singer Abhijeet too, who wishes the team well for the final. Amidst the star gathering sit Shabnam Singh, mother of Yuvraj, and Fatima Agarkar, wife of Ajit Agarkar. They are sought after by the local media who want to know interesting information about the private lives of the cricketers.

March 21: We are on the final leg of our trip and there is time to catch up with some of our South African friends. Hayley Muir, a popular television producer, organises a get-together at the Roogoodoo, a sports bar with live music and some great food. The crowd is a nice mix with youngsters dominating. The changing society in South Africa is reflected in the conversation, which ranges from sport to politics, and the state of South Africa's economy is what worries the young minds. The growing corruption among the politicians is seen as a warning signal. "I hope we don't go the Zimbabwe way," remarks Jacques, who also runs a sports bar in downtown Johannesburg. The crime rate has reached frightening proportions with a robbery every 20 seconds. The police claims progress in arresting the crime rate, but the common man is not convinced. The deserted streets are a testimony to the fact that it is not safe to walk after dusk. But then it is also not safe sitting in the a car as Tapan Joshi of CricketNext.Com discovers. A hand reaches into his taxi even as the vehicle waits at a traffic signal, and Tapan battles to save his mobile phone. Well, he saves himself too as the taxi driver remarks, "Lucky he didn't carry a weapon." Tapan thanks his stars.

March 22: Johannesburg is shut. The shopping malls too have an off day on Human Rights Day. The past returns to haunt some people who lose their close ones to atrocities committed by the Apartheid Government. To honour those who lose their lives, an Apartheid Museum comes up. It records the events of those dark days and enlightens the masses of today. The South Africans are proud of their heroes and obviously Nelson Mandela occupies a special place in their hearts. The Apartheid Museum is a tribute to Mandela's crusade against the white regime.

March 23: The day of reckoning arrives and Australia crowns itself with glory in a one-sided finish to the World Cup. The Wanderers roots for India, but Sourav Ganguly and his men are a big let down. Australia is the true champion. Memories of the competition flood my mind. The affable volunteers, polite securitymen and the most helpful staff of The Rushmans, the efficient event managers of the World Cup, have been a wonderful experience. For all their efforts, The Rushmans make a mess of the presentation ceremony on the day of the final. The lensmen colleagues are not provided decent photo opportunities. But what we all shall miss is `Howzat', the popular morning television show on SABC 3 hosted by Robert Marawa. The day begins with his team of cricket analysts, Albie During and Lee Irwine, providing an interesting and pleasant debate. Not the kind on the sports channel back home where cricketers are rubbished. We shall miss the petite Kaas Naidoo. She does not hide her ignorance of cricket but is hugely popular as she grills the experts. And the star of the programme happens to be a 13-year-old, Nadine Casev. She sends 90 SMSs to convey her love for Brett Lee. As Robert says, it is hard to say good-bye. But we have to do it. It's been a wonderful Cup, a resounding success, with the best team in the world wearing the crown.