The Ganga episode

A voluble critic at the press conference made no bones of the fact that Runako Morton would have been a better choice than Daren Ganga for the third Test. But then Ganga silenced everyone with a hundred. Finally, everything was forgotten over a handshake, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

June 18: It's been a while now since the second Test. The cricketers have had their R&R, their privacy, and even a trip to Nevis sans detection. They should resume practice tomorrow, so the ground must be cased out today. I run into Andy Atkinson: well, not literally since stronger men have rebounded awkwardly off Andy, and I like all 206 bones of mine to remain where the Good Lord or Evolution, take your pick, intended them to be.

Andy is, among other things, an expert on pitches, and he works with the ICC as a consultant. After the device of deathly sleep at Lucia, St. Kitts, holding a Test for the first time, want to ensure their playing strip passes muster. The Englishman, whose girth makes him the butt of `Look there's Andy the heavy roller' genre of jokes, knows his stuff. And he's hands-on — he looks like a kid in a sand trap. He kneads clay, pats it into a hole he has dug, and growls at intruders to stay off his wicket. Nice friendly chap.

June 19: I'm happy to see India's cricketers at Warner Park. Many psychoanalysis books that have earned the odd pound explore the relationship that develops between hijacker and hostage. I'm reliably informed it's called the Stockholm Syndrome, and master theorist that I am, the proposal to write a book on similar lines featuring the cricketers and me takes shape. I find the analogy neat, for some journalists are beginning to show classic hostage signs: an inclination to rhyme alternate sentences and adopt haggard postures.

June 20: This diary never made lofty claims of being a travelogue. Indeed the regular and alert reader would have noticed all I claimed to was pretentiousness and shameless names-dropping. But, when a man of the world roams the streets, he is apt to notice things of interest. And as I walk to the Subway three blocks from where I stay, I notice The Circus — Basseterre's version of Piccadilly. On a circular cement platform, this green roundabout has clocks on all four faces, and takes its style, I am told, from Gregorian architecture. Most places in the Caribbean are hang-out haunts — something this central is heaven.

To stay true to form, the diary insists Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, and V.R.V. Singh eat dinner at `Star of India', where I'm shacked up. They like the food so much, we have a constant stream of Team India every night.

June 21: Eat your crumpled baggy green, Steve Waugh. Stanley Johnson — a Pom — has been in more Tests than you. The wizened Mr. Johnson is in his 197th. What started in the 1970s as a passion has remained a passion for this retired chartered accountant hyphen roving cricket fan. From Sydney to Nagpur to Lahore to Colombo to Auckland, Mr. Johnson has seen it all.

He wants to know how Sachin Tendulkar did with Lashings, and administers a spot trivia quiz, which is so tough (Who is the only batsman never to have been dismissed in Test cricket? Mail it in folks if you think you know the answer), self-confessed cricket junkies surrender.

Which will be Test number 200? "It should have been one in the Ashes. I wanted to work it such that I'll do it on my birthday in January. But, if it's too much trouble, I'll just watch the Ashes on the telly in Gold Coast," before adding "oh, I don't count them of course," seeing my raised eyebrow. Mr. Johnson has even played club cricket against Tony Lock — who took one when Laker had 19 — though "I never faced him; it rained after the intermission when I was supposed to go out and bat." Did he pelt? "Hmm... yes. They had more control those days over throwing. He was sent to change his action, you know." His favourite story though is about another spinner. "I'm from Accrington and in 1991, I saw this guy there. This fat bugger — no one knew him then — who turned it a mile and was all over the shop." The fat bugger has gone on to bigger things — we call him the greatest ever.

June 22: Welcome to the Val and Ganga Show, Part 1. Some of us get our passions so high, work can turn difficult. Val Wilson (name changed) of Sugar City Radio is convinced Runako Morton should make the side ahead of Daren Ganga. He made no bones about it yesterday when he asked Lara how a man who averages 24 can cut it as a specialist batsman. The opener bats through a rain-interrupted day; Val is not convinced. At the end of the day, he asks Lara whether politics kept Ganga in the side. Imran Khan, the media manager, anticipates trouble, and cuts him off, but Lara allows the question. The skipper even takes the trouble to give a considered reply, starting with "I don't play politics," and ending on the same note. This isn't over.

June 23: No surprise. It's the sequel — the Val and Ganga Show, Part 2. Ganga goes to his first hundred in three years, but Valentine isn't around for the happy moment. He turns up later. "I didn't want to see Ganga get a hundred," he says. Ouch. In a perverse way, most are looking forward to the post-day presser. Ganga is sure to be there; Val won't go quietly. Sure enough, Ganga is asked the following: "Just for the record, who is your godfather?" I think he handles it with poise, laughing it off and allowing Sarwan to take his turn at the presser.

June 24: Final words on the Val and Ganga Show: Val is banned from press conferences. He is instructed to leave five minute before and re-enter five minutes after. An apology, a handshake, and all is well again. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. One love people, one love. "I have been unbanned," says Val.

This Test might yet grow bizarre. Soon all bowlers will start queuing up at one end, and refuse to bowl from the other. It's not the rapacious batting of Sehwag or Gayle that's the problem. Umpire Brian Jerling refuses to give a leg-before. Till yesterday, I was convinced the only time he'll raise the finger is when the ball pitches middle, and shapes to hit middle half-way. Today, I know even that won't do.