Things are better organised this time

Vijay Lokapally

Rahul Dravid is engrossed in a newspaper. In fact, the paper he is reading on February 5 is dated February 12th and carries reports of World Cup matches! It is an imaginative issue .-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

February 3. Even as the aircraft lands in Dubai, our brief stop over, and even before the commander makes his customary announcement, countless mobile phones come alive — the timing is amazing but certainly irritating. Different tunes ringing from different directions make it a cacophony and it is amazing how fast life has become for some. They must speak to their dear ones even before stepping out of the plane. "Hello'' is a word heard from all corners and some passengers don't even respond to the smiling hostesses, breezing past them with the mobile instrument pressed hard against their ears. Communication has become part of life for some with the advent of mobile phones.

Dubai is a vibrant city and has grown on all fronts, especially economically. It is presently hosting a Shopping Festival, which has been advanced to February instead of April to attract greater number of tourists. The city is a splash of colour and lights. The weather in Dubai is great too and you don't need the air-conditioner. This is the right time to be in Dubai but we have a job to do.

The flight to Johannesburg is long but comfortable and the arrival is made enjoyable by Allan Erwee, a cricket-loving South African friend. He has volunteered to drive us around and his gesture comes as a big boon. It is a city notorious for its crime rate but has an amazing passion for sports.

The Rushmans, the event-managing company for this World Cup, is better organised than the last time in England in 1999 when it made life miserable for scribes from India. Things are better this time. The accreditation process is smooth and in a jiffy we collect our cards and are off to the airport to catch a flight to Durban, the base of the Indian cricket team. It has been a hectic day.

February 4. It is cloudy and there is forecast of rain. The Indian team dreads the idea of losing out on valuable match practice. The team reaches the venue a good two hours before the contest to make the most of it. The drive to Pietermaritzburg is enchanting. The wide roads wind past little hills, dotted with little houses, mostly inhabited by people of Indian origin. It is a breathtaking drive really. The ground is equally stunning with greenery all around. It has rich history and this is reflected in the 104-year-old pavilion. Well, cricket is secondary really. The noisy crowd expects fireworks but there is not much on display because the slow pitch is a spoilsport. Then rain brings the match to a premature halt. We visit to the railway station nearby, where Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of a railway compartment, due racial discrimination. The journey back to city is equally exciting, with rain pouring down the hills and the roads gleaming in the lights, making it a spectacular sight.

February 5. The Indians are training at the Kingsmead, a grand venue with a rich tradition. But getting to the place brings back memories of home. The Indians are yet to arrive, we are told but I spot Rahul Dravid sitting near the practice area. It is not surprising to see him engrossed in a newspaper. In fact, the paper he is reading is dated February 12th and carries full reports of World Cup matches. It is quite an imaginative issue. The conversation revolves around happenings in South Africa and he also shows keenness to catch up on things back home.

February 6. "You'll feel like in India,'' we are told as we prepare to drive to Chatsworth. The temple view was so majestic as we enter the Chatsworth Sports Complex. The township in Durban had been in the news for a long time because it demanded a World Cup match. The organising committee did not oblige and all it got was a warm-up match. It is known as an Indian area but also acknowledged as backward in terms of development. The ground, however, is adequately equipped with facilities and attracts a goodly crowd. The match, however, is marred by pitch invasion and two youngsters are arrested. The fine for such an offence is 40,000 Rands (approximately Rs. two lakh) and two years in jail. The youngsters are let off with a stern warning but no such concessions will be made once the World Cup begins. There are drunken brawls in the stands and the organisers are quite embarrassed about the happenings. There is a move to ban sale of liquor at match venues to control crowd behaviour. Thank god no such nuisance is permitted at venues in India.

February 7. Visitors, in the Marine Parade beach, in Durban, feed hundreds of pigeons. It is a very popular spot with kids having a gala time with the birds. Very close is the West Street, a lively place once for spending time in the evenings, with the open-air eateries. It is a great attraction for the westerners, but it has degenerated over the years. It is "not prime area, it's crime area. Once upon a time I could leave my car unattended. Today, if I leave it uncared for even in front of my shop, I could return to find the tyres all gone. It's so bad here,'' says a watchmaker. A police siren in the distance drives home his point.

February 8. The captains have some surprise visitors before the Opening Ceremony. Children affected with AIDS. The captains spend time with these children who wish them all the best and present them with their national flags. It is not just cricket for the players. It is cricket for the underprivileged, a dream that Dr. Ali Bacher cherished for years. The captains of the cricket world realise they have to live up to their image of being role models and the time spent with the AIDS-affected will be best remembered by the players. Some of the children are crazy followers of the game. Dr. Bacher's dream of making it a World Cup with a difference is set in motion. The captains coming together for a cause is the first sign that this indeed will be a World Cup with a difference.

February 9. At the hotel I hear the name "Eliza'' for every little thing. Nothing moves in the hotel without Eliza. You need to go to the town, Eliza shall drive you. Any complaints about the service, Eliza shall provide the solution. You don't like the food, she would change the order. She is an angel, I am told by the man at the reception. I soon discover she is.

It is Sunday and I cannot find an Internet cafe near the hotel. The receptionist does not remember the password for the internet connection. The connection does not work from my hotel room either. I am desperate when I remember the password to access all — Eliza. The front desk tells me not to worry. Eliza is on the way. She leaves home to drive down in quick time with a smile on her face.

Eliza is a young, pretty business graduate from Johannesburg and presently working in Bloemfontein. We drive to the Waterfront, only to be told the internet cafe is closed early. It is no different at the Mimosa Mall, the biggest shopping complex in Free State. Eliza suddenly swings the car to another hotel and solves my problem. I am offered the hotel e-mail facility just in time. The call from my office confirms the receipt of my report, thanks to Eliza.