The charm of an open press box

The passion for cricket in India is unparalleled.-PTI

It was match-day at Kanpur, and it was an open press box. Open press boxes are sadly becoming obsolete in the bigger venues in the country. There’s nothing quite like watching a match from an open box, soaking in the atmosphere as part of thousands, writes Nandita Sridhar.

Sunday, November 11: The far-flung venues for the matches so far have confined the cricketers’ activities to playing matches and travelling. Very little substantial practice has happened. Spotting them on non-match days has coincided with comets. But it was match-day at Kanpur, and it was an open press box. Open press boxes are sadly becoming obsolete in the bigger venues in the country. There’s nothing quite like watching a match from an open box, soaking in t he atmosphere as part of thousands. The passion that drives people into queuing up from five in the morning and cheer till late evening has been the lifeblood of sub-continental cricket. There’s Shoaib Akhtar steaming in, Sourav Ganguly-gearing up and more than 20,000-odd screaming. How’s that for atmosphere?

Monday, November 12: The teams have had enough of us. By choosing Sahara City (Lucknow), Shah Rukh Khan and the likes, they’ve forced me into reaching Gwalior unfashionably early. But there was some compensation. There were mountains and palaces lined up to offer a spectacular landscape. For once, and only that one time, cricket was pushed to the background.

Tuesday, November 13: There is a sameness that’s creeping into one-day venues across the country. Huge advertising boards, pancake pitches, and massive chunks of concrete are slowly eroding the uniqueness of each ground. The Captain Roop Singh Stadium is set against a breathtaking backdrop, but appreciating it takes some looking around. There was more than a day to go for the match, so it was back to looking elsewhere for internet. My search took me to a shady net centre; the sort with its tables carved with cryptic messages like ‘Sonam loves Pinky’. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Wednesday, November 14: Why have pre-match press conferences for ODIs? Nothing much comes out of them. Matches are always “crucial”, players are always “professional”, team compositions are always “decided on the morning of the match looking at the conditions and the wicket”, winning teams always look to “keep the momentum going”, losing teams always promise to “bounce back”; but the clamour around could make you believe that some dark secrets were being offered on a platter. There’s a stark difference between Shoaib Malik’s press conferences at the Twenty20 Championships and the ones at the Indian Oil Cup here. The captain was more relaxed and candid in South Africa, even criticising players who hadn’t performed. But the media personnel here, the sheer numbers, can intimidate any captain. He droned on through most press meets, trying to offer buyable explanations for his team’s losses. Apparently, not playing well isn’t a good enough reason anymore.

Thursday, November 15: After being sent from one gate to another, being asked to hand over my mobile and laptop because “journalists don’t really need them”, and finding my way to a press-box table (which I suspect was used last by a Maharaja and not cleaned since), I was ready for the cricket. Denial cost Shoaib Malik the match. Dew in cricket is a philosophy by itself. You can deny its existence, but it exists. A lot of work has gone into reducing its disruptive effect, but it hasn’t been negated. Malik chose to bat and set the stage for magic. There’s a reasonably accurate way of judging the quality of a batsman’s shot. The jubilant reaction of the spectators, that fraction of a second before the cheering, is indicative of the quality. Sachin Tendulkar’s shots were followed by a fraction of silence, an awed gasp that preceded wild celebrations. It was fitting.

There’s a stark difference between Shoaib Malik’s press conferences at the Twenty20 Championships and the ones at the Indian Oil Cup here.-PTI

Friday, November 16: I’m back, dear reader, with that adventurous appendage of mine, my luggage. I’m in the Gwalior-Jaipur Inter-City Express. My luggage is precariously balancing itself on the holder a few feet above my head and I risked injury to give it the occasional laughs. My luggage needs it. It’s hard being stuffed with things and following someone around, especially someone with half its IQ but feigning intelligence. There’s a brief halt at Agra. I heard that one could spot the Taj Mahal from the station itself. It’s dark, but I give it a shot. All I could manage was a dingy building. It wasn’t marble or beautiful, and definitely not built in the memory of a dear wife.

Saturday, November 17: I rushed to the Sawai Mansingh Stadium at Jaipur. Greg Chappell was due to address a press conference on ‘Cricket Star T20’ a talent hunt programme his academy (Future Cricket Academy, Rajasthan where Chappell is an advisor) was associated with. There was a general request to keep the questions restricted to the academy. Right. “Are you using this platform to achieve what you couldn’t as a coach?” he was asked. “I know what you’re getting at, and I know what you want me to say, but I will not.” The man has dealt with the Indian media too many times to fall for such questions. A part of the academy’s training methods included an obstacle course. A young trainee jumped, climbed walls, swung, and sprinted. I could understand how jumping and running would help cricketers, but climbing walls? It was puzzling. Was it preparing young cricketers for a Gautam Gambhir Kanpur-like eventuality? If you find yourself running towards a bowler who’s standing his ground, there’s an alternative to banging into him and getting fined. Climb.