The covers were never off

The scene at the Dr. D. Y. Patil stadium on the day of the final one-dayer.-K. R. DEEPAK

Rain forces the abandonment of the seventh and final One-Day International of the Hero Honda Cup series in Mumbai. A series that reiterated Australia’s dominance concludes with a whimper. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

October 31: Altruism does exist in the world of cricket. Minutes after his 78 helped India inch past Australia’s 229 in New Delhi, Yuvraj Singh says: “M. S. Dhoni (71 not out) played well and I think he deserved the Man of the Match award.” Coming from a man who had won the award, it is selfless and hinted at the camaraderie between two key men in the Indian camp.

November 1: The Shatabdhi Express cuts across the North Indian plains of mustard and paddy fields, as it chews up the distance between Delhi and Chandigarh. The scenery flitting past reminds you of visuals from that classic hit ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.’ Historical towns like Panipat also pass by and revive memories of high school exams.

November 2: India messes up a chase as Australia wins in Mohali. The Fosters’ girls who used to strut up and offer water and other liquid replenishments to the players during the drinks breaks are conspicuous by their absence. The authorities in Mohali say that women serving water to players is not part of tradition. It is perhaps a wise decision. Cricket should draw in the crowds, not women who become objects of the male gaze.

November 3: An elderly gentleman in the flight to Delhi says: “Sad we couldn’t get past 250 in Mohali.” Some brief transit time at the Delhi airport. A Ruskin Bond book nudges in the laugh lines. A great teller of anecdotal tales and known for his simple style, Bond offers solace to grated nerves. Touch down in Hyderabad and the long trip to the hotel follows. The Cyberabad locality police station’s pamphlets on dealing with terrorists are prominently displayed at the reception counter and as you scribble in your signature, a camera attached to the desktop freezes your picture. Big brother is watching.

November 4: The pre-match press conference at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium highlights poor ‘mobile’ manners. People constantly walk in, cameramen are constantly on chat mode, cell phones with bizarre ringtones often force Australian coach Tim Nielsen to pause and the media officer Lachy Patterson is at his wit’s end. “One more phone call and we are walking out,” Patterson says.

November 5: Sachin Tendulkar, gifter of hope, miracles and dreams, is at it again inside the stadium. A 175 that is pure delight is however destined to end in grief. Australia gets away with a scare and that too after scoring 350. India falls short by three runs. A team fails the great man again. After the match, Tendulkar reluctantly turns up for the presentation function. He manages a weak smile and the strain is evident.

Sachin Tendulkar... a dejected man despite his heroics in Hyderabad.-PTI

November 6: A long haul flight to Guwahati via Delhi. Time spent in gazing at the mighty Himalayas that stretch endlessly. Perhaps an apt follow-up after watching Indian cricket’s eternal man — Tendulkar — tug at the heart strings with an epochal knock the previous night in Hyderabad.

November 7: Guwahati’s Nehru Stadium is all nervousness and bustle, typical of small venues. The reporters find it tough at the pre-match press conference. A lone bamboo pole barricades them from the two captains. No chairs. Dhoni’s reticence to use the mike makes it worse. Talk centres on sunset. It’s got nothing to do with romantic poetry and it’s all about hard facts dealing with the early sunset in North Eastern India and the need for both teams to be fresh for an early start at 8.30 a.m.

November 8: Australia defeats India and wins the series in a display of precision that might make Swiss watches proud. “When we lose matches there is too much analysis,” Dhoni says wearily as darkness descends on Guwahati’s Nehru Stadium. A beaming Ricky Ponting says: “This is as special as the World Cup and Champions Trophy victories considering the adversity we went through.” Australia lose five players through injury on the tour but yet manages to hold on to its winning spirit.

November 9: It is a day of the long wait. The United Liberation Front of Assam had called for an Assam bandh and harried journalists, who lead a double life as night owls with late hours and tinkling glasses, make a pre-dawn trip to the Guwahati airport. The waiting area is milling with people. An Australian journalist quips: “Have been here from 4 a.m. Doesn’t matter actually because I can write about this experience.” He sure believes that the glass is half full and not half empty. Cynicism, though, lingers and after delayed flights via Delhi, Mumbai beckons late at night. A trip to the hotel in a rickety car across the city that never sleeps ensues.

November 10: Young men and women in white overcoats are busy whipping out mobile phones, craning their necks through windows, leaning across balconies as Ponting’s men sweat it out ahead of the last one-dayer despite having clinched the series in Guwahati with a 4-2 verdict. The Dr. D.Y. Patil University complex at Nerul is home to a huge student population. The youngsters, pursuing courses as varied as medicine and management studies, are thrilled to see the cricketers amidst them. Near the stadium, all set to host its first ODI, student-volunteers help the media personnel. Tea and water are offered and gratefully accepted. Ponting says ominously: “5-2 sounds a lot better than 4-3.”

November 11: Mumbaikars wake up to a dull morning amidst the steady pitter-patter of rain on windowpanes. The covers are firmly on inside the stadium and the seventh and final One Day International of the Hero Honda Cup series is called off. A series that reiterated Australia’s dominance concludes with a whimper. However Mumbai will remain the fulcrum of cricket for some time. The visiting Sri Lankans are playing a rain-marred warm-up against the Board President’s XI at the Bandra Kurla Complex Stadium. The city is also geared up to host the third and final Test between India and Sri Lanka in December. Cricket never pauses.