The beauty of Auckland

A lake on the highway from Auckland to Hamilton.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The scenic route from the airport, even in rush hour traffic and through the industrial area, has something about it to suggest Auckland is the City of Sails. By S. Ram Mahesh.

Sunday, March 22: The diary seeks some peace and quiet. And it chances on Hamilton’s riverside walk, a shady trail alongside the river. There are ducks and geese and children and dogs. The odd cyclist gasps “How’ya doi n’ mate?” in passing. The green water is wonderfully relaxing — not even a giant ferry, run by a waterwheel and containing several inebriated sorts, can despoil the beauty.

Monday, March 23: Ever wonder how perception is formed? Particularly perception of places — Auckland, for instance, seems entirely different when entered from the airport and when entered from the bus exchange. The scenic route from the airport, even in rush hour traffic and through the industrial area, has something about it to suggest it’s the City of Sails. From the Bus Exchange, which is at Sky City, home to the Sky Tower and the city’s casino, you can see why it’s New Zealand’s biggest, busiest city. Even the colour of the place — in how the light is diffused — seems different from the two entries. Obvious, you say, because the architecture and the tree cover influences such matters, and they differ — sure, but the same hotel, located in another part, looks different depending on how you get into the city. Curious.

Tuesday, March 24: The diary discovers to its chagrin that all the gates leading into Eden Park’s ‘B’ ground are locked, and the polite but firm grey-haired woman at the reception says India’s practice “can be watched by invitation only”. The diary’s reasoning that its media accreditation constitutes an invitation goes unheeded. But just when it seems like the detour to Auckland will become an exercise in futility, a journalist chum, already on the inside, opens a gate — an action only possible from inside because of a swank magnetically locked gate. And once the diary is in, it’s treated to the sight of Ishant Sharma and Virender Sehwag holding Gautam Gambhir down on a massage table, so they can soak the little left-handed opener’s head. Gambhir doesn’t go without a struggle, as television cameras swarm the scene.

Wednesday, March 25: The diary sits next to Brad Patton of the Central Stags on the flight from Auckland to Napier. The Stags have just chased down 448 in the fourth innings against Canterbury for a place in the State Championship final, and although Brad was 12th man, he’s had an excellent season otherwise, averaging over 60. The Stags have Jacob Oram, Ross Taylor, Mathew Sinclair, and Jamie How, so Brad doesn’t always get a start. He tells me Amit Mishra, who played for the Stags ahead of the Tests, is a funny bloke, and Jesse Ryder, who Brad grew up with, is a freak. “Don’t wind Jesse up,” says Brad, “He just bats better, and you don’t want that. He was playing against men when still in his teens, and he was hitting 250. He had a drinking problem back then, but he’s stopped now.”

Thursday, March 26: After M.S. Dhoni’s press conference yesterday when he verged on the transcendental, talking of the abstract and other such matters, the joke doing the rounds was that he’d miss the second Test for a trip to the Himalayas. Well, such jokes are often cruel, and today Dhoni pulls out with back spasms. Dhoni is still represented at the toss, however, with Virender Sehwag wearing his blazer. The diary goes in search of food at tea and meets a German pizza maker, who has settled in New Zealand. “Soccer is my game,” he says, “but I’m beginning to like cricket now. This is a nice life, very simple, no drama. All I do is make pizza. What’s the worst case scenario? I burn the pizza. I start all over again.” Hmmm… been a good two days for the quote dipped in spirituality eh? His wood-fired thin-crust pizza is excellent by the way.

Friday, March 27: The diary discovers a terrific little shop for second-hand books right across the road from McLean Park. Cardus, Fingleton, Bradman, Benaud, Arlott, Johnston — books the diary has only heard about. The only trouble is it’s too darned tempting; there’s no way one can leave without buying at least ten books, each visit, and even then there’s a great sense of loss. So the diary speed-reads as much as it can, Dennis Lillee’s treatise on fast bowling is best perused after an endearingly well-thumbed copy of the MCC coaching manual; Doris Hart’s self-effacing account of her career in tennis is in contrast to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova’s, but in a subtle way, reflective of the times each of their careers spanned. If only the diary can buy everything and ship it home.

Saturday, March 28: Bev, our scorer, in the tradition of scorers everywhere, is slightly mad — in a good way, for it’s a difficult job and only the truly obsessive take it up. She makes the diary buy her coffee because it involves two flights of stairs and a long queue, talks about the club she scores for — “(Ian) Smithy’s our patron” — and narrates how Sachin Tendulkar scored a hundred against Central Districts at McLean Park in Napier which was watched by exactly half a dozen in the stands. Today her husband and son, a police officer, are at the ground, so they can watch Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. And in the first half-hour, they see enough to last them a lifetime.