Security lapses

The EVICTION of one Rajiv Mulchandani, a British passport holder, from the Press Box in Mohali for gaining admission by false pretences has made the headlines, writes TED CORBETT.

March 13: What a sensational story! What a shock! Certainly cricket never sees anything like it before. No, silly, not the high-scoring match in Johannesburg, but the eviction of one Rajiv Mulchandani, a British passport holder, from the Press Box for gaining admission by false pretences. He sits next to me for four days and I wonder why his only interest seems to be in a betting website.

But that is also true of half the guys in the room. He does not file stories but most of British reporters have so much time on our hands that we send our articles from the hotel long after play finishes. Suddenly I realise he is gone. "He's been taken away by security," says another voice and we never see him again.

Apparently, he is thrown out of the ground where many television cameras gather. Reporters ask him questions and he turns tail and runs. Sadly, his knowledge of betting is greater than his awareness of the geography of Mohali and he turns into a dead end to be trapped by the eager news hounds.

One minute he is pretending as a reporter, the next he is being interrogated by real reporters and an hour later he is the lead story on the local news channel. He says he is travelling round the world on the proceeds of his betting successes; I really must investigate what the police call his modus operandi!

The next day he is arrested, spends the night in a cell and is arraigned before the courts the day after the Test comes to an end; even then he does not understand the bit of trickery involving a false invitation to a party that blows his cover. The police are taking the matter seriously and the BCCI wants to know what lapse in its security allows him to obtain a pass. "This story can grow and grow," says a man who manages to snap the moment of arrest with his mobile phone camera.

It is a contrast to the experience of Ms Joanne King, a scorer with some 30 series behind her, with all the proper forms and letters of authorisation.

When she hands over her photographs so that she can obtain a pass a rude man tells her: "If you want a pass, you will need to go to Mumbai for it." Happily that long journey is unnecessary since the passes come to her.

March 14: What are we to make of the huge totals in Johannesburg? These batting feats by Ricky Ponting and Herschelle Gibbs cause great excitement, but pity the poor bowlers, carted around the ground for nearly nine an over and no doubt in floods of tears long before they find sanctuary in the dressing room.

Ms King has another point of view. "Pity the poor scorer," she says, thinking that they must have repetitive strain injuries after recording 87 fours and 26 sixes as well as 872 runs in 99.5 overs.

March 15: Security is all too often a laugh. There are too many breaches in Mohali for either team to be comfortable. During the 1984-5 tour one of the photographers, on his way to collect a pass, is confronted by a gang of securitymen. "Who are you?" they ask. "I am from the IRA" — the Irish revolutionaries, who are bombing many parts of Britain at the time — "and I want a press pass." The head guard smiles. "Please come this way, sir, we'll get you one immediately" he says.

March 16: In 1984 we go to a party at the British High Commission in Bombay as it then was and meet the Assistant Commissioner Percy Norris. The next morning Pat Pocock, the off-spinner and a socially adept man, rings to thank Mr. Norris for the evening's entertainment and learns from a sobbing secretary that this hospitable man has been assassinated on his way to work. Pocock passes the news on to David Gower, the captain, who dons a photographer's bulky coat and pretends it is a flak jacket. I and an enthusiastic colleague track down the story to the street corner where Norris is shot — by two men on a motorcycle — and find the police searching for evidence.

As we approach one of the cops holds up a bullet case and shouts to an officer in a grand uniform: "Sir, I have found the weapon." My colleague gives a scream of delight. "Thank God," he says, "I have a world scoop." I often wonder if Norris is a spy and if we all miss a world scoop.

March 17: Myles Hodgson, an agency reporter, makes an unheralded appearance at Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's pre-Test briefing and announces his visit to India is "all about the book."

It seems that not content with topping the best seller list soon after the Ashes — and sending his publisher into a state of ecstasy — Flintoff has put together another book with the help of Myles. "It will be out in May and it will be mainly pictures, with a few words," says Myles who looks prosperous. Well, he deserves to since he cultivates a friendship with Freddie when they are both young lads around the Lancashire side 10 years ago.

March 18: The scene is a restaurant in the most famous hotel in Mumbai, near the Gateway of India soon after the final practice before the third Test. All the glitterati of sport are present, from BCCI officials to media men to the captains of both sides; elegant ladies in fine silks, gentlemen in suits that can only come from deep pockets, and one England bowler who thinks it is right to take his lunch wrapped in a towel and a sweaty England shirt. (Rather more, incidentally, than one ex-player wore when opening the door to his boss recently.) Over on one side of the room is Rahul Dravid, who looks nothing like the superstar who is about to play in his 100th Test. Instead he is paying full attention to Dravid Junior, a contented looking baby, while his wife eats her food. Then he hands the baby over so that he can take a little nourishment too. A very pretty family moment. An England group pass and, of course, Andrew Flintoff, the new father, has to stop and give the little one an approving nod.

As we leave there is a moment of panic as one of the England security team rushes back to his table where he has left his mobile phone. No worries about security around the England dressing room then.

March 19: In Mumbai I am watching my 272nd Test and I have never been at one so poorly organised or a stadium so badly in need of repair.

I get the impression of a poor country scraping by without being able to afford a few cleaners or a pot of paint. But don't I hear of millions of rupees in the BCCI coffers, a national Budget designed to bring 10 per cent growth and a desire to stage tournaments to attract more money to the game.

Think about it, fellas. You will not attract anyone to the Mumbai Test twice unless you bring it into the 21st century.