That’s life on the other side

The former cricketers, fast bowler Merv Hughes (left) of Australia and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff (far left) of England, are participants in a television reality show, performing unimaginable tasks. How could the two men, with a combined total of 438 Test wickets, have descended to this! By Shreedutta Chidananda.

The Diary has a positive impression of Australian TV, from that cooking reality show it enjoyed watching back home. But nothing prepares it for what it finds, flicking through the channels, on its first day in Perth. Big, moustachioed Merv Hughes is in a South African jungle and is eating unimaginable things: a chicken’s head (beak and feathers intact) stuffed with its innards, the bum of an ostrich and the guts of a guinea fowl. It turns out Hughes is a contestant on Australia’s ‘I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!’, some sort of reality show that places its famous, mollycoddled participants in situations of extreme discomfort. Hughes consumes everything placed in front of him and earns his team maximum points.

“You ate someone’s face and you’re my hero,” crows Chrissie, his ‘team-mate’, when Hughes wolfs down the chicken head without complaint. The Diary is wincing when it is greeted by another familiar face in Andrew Flintoff. His task, it appears, is to stack crates on top of one another and hold them in place while someone clambers over them and retrieves a giant key. “I’ve actually done something like this before — it was a team building exercise with England,” Flintoff says. “We didn’t win but still.”

The Diary guffaws but it cannot digest the fact that two men with a combined total of 438 Test wickets have descended to this.

Punjabi pride

The Diary finds that there is a great number of Indian immigrants of Punjabi origin in Perth. Some run restaurants, others convenience stores, while the majority drives taxis. Each time the Diary reveals its occupation to one, it is assailed by the same question: Why is Yuvraj Singh not in the team? The Diary does its best to explain what the selection committee’s rationale may have been, but its Punjabi interlocutors are never convinced.

They all show impressive knowledge of Yuvraj’s numbers and seem hurt and puzzled more than angry. “He won you the last World Cup. Why would you leave him out?” one wonders. “He scored three hundreds in the Ranji Trophy. And still you pick someone like Rayudu?” another asks, genuinely pained. “He took 15 wickets last time. At least he deserved to be in the squad as an all-rounder,” says a third. The Diary does its best to comfort them but the ground is fertile for suspicion to take hold and it is not long before conspiracy theories, of the sort floated by Yuvraj’s father Yograj Singh, are given credence. “What else is the reason, sir?” a young store-owner wants to know. “This BCCI is doing all wrong.”

The Diary can only smile. Even thousands of miles away from home, the Board is held in the same high regard.

Nature’s own spa town

The longer the Diary spends in Perth, the more it is convinced of its beauty. Where Adelaide was sleepy and Melbourne all grand and busy, Perth is quiet, yet not dull. The air has a bracing quality to it, and a jog along the Swan river, with all its ducks and egrets, is a pleasure the Diary cannot compare to anything. The mid-afternoon heat can be furious and is best avoided but at other times, Perth feels like nature’s own spa town, with the ocean, the innumerable parks, and that soothing breeze.

It is a shame, then, that the Diary shall not stay here very long, for Perth’s World Cup is over in a week. The WACA ground is not a favourite of Cricket Australia’s. It has a capacity of 20,000 or so, is at least four hours away from the eastern states, where all other cricket venues are, and is not seen to be modern. Last year, the WACA did not host a single Test match and there is talk of action shifting to a shiny, new multi-purpose stadium in nearby Burswood. It would be a tragedy, though, if the WACA, reputed to be the fastest pitch in the world, was to lose out on Test cricket altogether. It is a charming venue, with its grass banks, its open, airy feel, and the Fremantle Doctor. It is a hard place to play cricket, unlike the sanitised concrete box the MCG (less so the Adelaide Oval) is. It is a venue visiting teams will be relieved to see struck off the calendar. Not the Diary, though.