The issue of scheduling and poor floodlights

Pakistan's hero…skipper Shahid Afridi after scoring a century against Bangladesh in Dambulla. He was later adjudged the Man of the Tournament.-AP

The FIFA World Cup is a cause of concern. TV commentator and former India player Ravi Shastri raises a valid point regarding the timings of the Asia Cup matches. “We have the FIFA World Cup and it makes better sense to, may be, schedule the matches here for a 12.30 start so that when football pops up on prime time, the game here is already over,” he says. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

June 19: The morning before the Asia Cup's leading contest, pitting India against Pakistan, there is anticipation and excitement in the hotel where the television crew and a few journalists are staying. Ravi Shastri, who has played innumerable energy-sapping matches against Pakistan in Sharjah in the 1980s and 1990s, tucks into his sandwich at the breakfast table and says, “It is going to be a tight game.”

Shastri, now the voice of eminence along with Sunil Gavaskar in Indian broadcasting circles, raises a valid point regarding the timings of the Asia Cup matches. “We have the FIFA World Cup and it makes better sense to, may be, schedule the matches here for a 12.30 start so that when football pops up on prime time, the game here is already over. You also have the issue of poor floodlights here and by advancing the time and reducing the exposure of the chasing team to these lights you are reducing the impact of the toss on the game. It is another matter that the lights here need an extra band of bulbs, I guess that should solve the problem,” he says.

The television crew then indulge in some tennis ball cricket close to the Amaya Lake. It is an easy appetiser before the tournament's crunch game in which India holds its nerve and Harbhajan Singh slams the winning six. Both M.S. Dhoni and Shahid Afridi can well apply for diplomatic posts as they tactfully downplay a few stray sledging incidents.

June 20: A lazy Sunday as the tournament pauses for rest. Virender Sehwag's hamstring injury triggers a few anxious calls from the media. “Wait and watch” is the team management's reply.

A delightful evening of Tamil banter cruises ahead on humour and cricket anecdotes as a few scribes catch up with R. Ashwin, analyst Dhananjay and trainer Ramji Srinivasan. Tillakaratne Dilshan with his wife and daughter walks past while the stewards in the hotel scurry around him and exchange niceties in Sinhalese.

June 21: A sampling of channels on the television in the hotel room takes the mind's eye back to a childhood spent in Chennai (Madras then). The name ‘Roopavahini' flashes on the screen and it reminds you of those seven-spoke antennas that almost every home in Madras had, as citizens then were eager to watch high quality Tamil programmes beamed from Colombo. This is before the ethnic crisis began in Sri Lanka and the cable boom back home made the antennas redundant. The local Tamil channel Nethra beams in a mix of movies, songs and serials while the video jockeys speak Tamil with its sing-song Sinhalese intonations.

There is nothing sing-song though about the manner in which Shahid Afridi pounds a century and helps Pakistan crush Bangladesh later in the day.

June 22: The breakfast menu at the hotel is a throwback to summer vacations spent in grandmother's home in a Kerala village. It's a combination of ‘puttu', ‘appam', ‘idiyappam', green gram curry, chutneys and fish curry along with the regular bread and eggs. The delicacies suggest a link with South India in the past when people moved back and forth across the Palk Straits. “Just one difference, our food is spicier,” says the chef.

Later in the day, Sri Lanka defeats India while Dinesh Karthik, who just stepped out of a plane as a replacement for injured Sehwag, acquits himself well. The stands are awash with Sri Lankan flags and an enthusiastic bunch of fans just in front of the press box break into an impromptu jig, while the music system blares Sinhalese, Tamil and Hindi songs.

The press box though is a cramped space, and with fans sitting right in front and prone to excitedly stand up and wave their arms, journalists working against deadlines with one eye on the match and another on the clock express their irritation. The fans smile, sit down for a while and then erupt in joy again as helpless scribes get back to their laptops in resignation.

June 23: It is the day before the final and the Indian and Sri Lankan teams gear up with a mix of optional nets, fishing and a bit of retail therapy through shopping. A few journalists do speed-boating on the lake while the TV crew oscillate between a trip to the nearby Ramayana spots and relatively far Colombo.

Kalyana Ganeshan, an industrialist based in Dubai, is holidaying with his family. A man with his roots in Chennai, cricket is close to his heart. Having seen the previous night's match he says with a twinge of exasperation: “Our Indian team is the most unpredictable team in the world.”

June 24: The air of expectation ahead of the Asia Cup final is thick and there is a steady stream of fans entering the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium. For the first time in the tournament, it is a full house. It's a carnival atmosphere at the venue.

A ditty praising the Sri Lankan cricketers as brave warriors is played every second minute without any context. And even when a Sri Lankan wicket falls or a local bowler is clattered for a four, the slogan plays in the background to lend an ironic touch. Later, as Sri Lanka hurtles towards defeat, a few fans have heated exchanges. Tempers soon cool down, and with the true spirit of coastal communities like the Goans or the West Indians, the fans belt out their music and do all kinds of dance — from rap to the local folk dance.

An Indian triumph is savoured and humour reigns at the presentation podium as the master of ceremonies Rameez Raja declares that Shahid Afridi has won the Man of the Tournament award and then accepts the Indigo Manza's key on behalf of the Pakistan captain who is absent.