The nice guy

Skipper V. V. S. Laxman played the part of cricket ambassador to perfection during the launch of the IPL team, the Deccan Chargers.

He was unstoppable. And that’s how the side he leads, the Deccan Chargers, hopes to be in the Indian Premier League.

Though it was well past 11 p.m. when he had finished addressing a press conference with Robin Singh after the unveiling of the Hyderabad franchise, its logo and the flag, the Chargers’ skipper played the part of cricket ambassador to perfection.

Obliging fans seeking his autograph and wishing to be photographed with him, V. V. S. Laxman was his cheerful self. For one who is usually home by 8.30 p.m., this was an unearthly hour. He must have been famished by then, but Laxman’s move to the sprawling hall, where a sumptuous spread awaited the diners, was slow. Halting at every step, either to shake hands or exchange pleasantries with friends and acquaintances, it seemed a never-ending process.

“He’s still a real nice guy,” one associate remarked after a brief interaction with Laxman.

Amidst all this bonhomie, the classy cricketer must have been a hungry man for sure, but not angry. Though on the menu was a biriyani named in his honour, Laxman evaded it as he would a bouncer. “It is chicken biriyani,” the vegan said before heading for the south Indian counter, where crisp dosas were the speciality. Barely had he nibbled at his favourite dish when he was cornered once again by his friends and a horde of hangers-on.

Earlier, the evening’s theme dwelt on the hoof beats of the Chargers, showcased by the Mumbai Stamps’ pulsating percussion. Can-can and Latino dancers from Ibiza then kept the audience spellbound, as did Bollywood actress Sameera Reddy and her troupe who enthralled the spectators at the show, which was strung together by sports-caster Mandira Bedi.

After introducing cricket coaching under lights six months ago, former Test player Devang Gandhi has come up with a novel scheme to make professional cricket coaching available to underprivileged kids in the 11 to 13 age group. Gandhi's Balak Sangha School of Cricket, in association with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, will open the door to 70 to 80 such children with talent.

"Cricket knows no boundaries and talent is widespread. It is up to us to spot talented kids, nurture them and make sure they blossom. We are ready to launch a new initiative in this regard,'' Gandhi said.

The mass trials will attract more than 2,500 underprivileged children. The school's coaches will select and give intensive training at the academy free of cost.

Thanks to the leading captains of the industry from RPG Group, Ambuja Realty, Bengal Shriram, Peerless, Accord Capital Market and Utlra Plus Steel, such a project is feasible, said the chief coach.

"It is perhaps the first of its kind,'' said Gandhi on the initiative. "We will also seek the help of KMC which has agreed to send talented children from its 140 wards for the trials. The selection process will be completed by the third week of April.

Harsh Neotia of Ambuja Realty put the initiative in proper perspective.

"It used to be boys from affluent families from the four metropolises who dominated cricket. Then came the boys from smaller towns of the country. And this initiative will open up new opportunities for the underprivileged. I wish them well,'' he said.

The spirits were high at the unveiling of the Bangalore Royal Challengers team led by Rahul Dravid at the Taj West End, Bangalore, even though the function had suffered a four-hour delay as the franchise’s owner Vijay Mallya landed in the city late in his private jet and had to scramble through the exasperating traffic jams.

While Mallya was busy promoting the Bangalore Royal Challengers (a mix of dominant red with a tinge of yellow formed the team’s colours), the team’s Chief Cricket Officer Martin Crowe spoke about the squad’s fierce desire to win.

“We want to be the inaugural winners of the Indian Premier League. Twenty20 is about playing intelligent cricket and our experienced players have it in them to deliver,” said the former New Zealand skipper, who through Mark Greatbatch in the 1992 World Cup introduced the concept of a belligerent opener hitting over the in-field in ODIs.

The Royal Challengers, with an array of star players such as Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jacques Kallis, Anil Kumble and Dale Steyn, aim to get high on performance rather than glamour. Yet glamour and its arc lights were in full attendance on the day of the launch as well as the following day when the team’s members from Karnataka — Bharath Chipli, B. Akhil and Devraj Patil, to name a few — got busy with the ad-shoot at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. “It is easier to play cricket,” said one of the players while dabbing a few lotions on his visage before getting ready to face the camera!

Former Australia one-day specialist Michael Bevan believes that the new-found aggression in the Indian cricketers is not unexpected since the newcomers have been brought up in the modern version of the game.

"It has been quite exciting and the way the young Indians responded to the challenges was amazing," Bevan remarked. "I am not actually surprised by the very aggressive approach of the Indians, especially the young players who have been brought up in different conditions and thus have different mindsets.

"Definitely, there have been quite a few controversial statements and incidents (during India's tour of Australia). But overall, I think that it is very hard for the ICC to deliver justice consistently," Bevan said.

Bevan was in Hyderabad recently in connection with the ICL Series and had quite a few interesting things to say about the latest developments in the game. He said that the Australians were challenged after a long time by a very competitive Indian side on the tour Down Under and this had to do with the inconsistent batting of the Aussies.

Bevan, however, refused to concede that Australia have a long struggle in the transition phase in the wake of retirements of its seasoned players. "Obviously, you cannot expect any team to perform the same way they have been doing for the last 15 years. But back home there is plenty of talent and many are waiting to prove their class. And Australia will continue to be a formidable side," he said

By A. Joseph Antony, K. C. Vijaya Kumar, S. Sabanayakan and V .V. Subrahmanyam