Venkatesh vents his feelings

SHAJU JOHN

“I am the bowling coach and I need to be consulted when a player returning from an injury is recalled, to ensure that he bowls with the same intensity with which he bowled earlier,” booms Venkatesh Prasad about Munaf Patel’s comeback. Over to S. Dinakar.

August 26: Birmingham is a city of quiet elegance. The attendant at a local store calls the place “nice but dry.”

A cool canal ride, which eases into the heart of the city, soothes the senses. Water reflects the lights of the buildings, both new and old. Meanwhile, the teams sweat it out at Edgbaston. Andrew Flintoff bats at the nets, but does not bowl. This is good news for the Indians, but they have major concerns themselves, about their fielding.

As the evening drifts into night, Kevin Pietersen and his bunch are mobbed outside a restaurant. The star batsman is with two cricketers of Indian origin — Monty Panesar and Ravi Bopara. Pietersen is clearly the leader of the pack — he looks it.

August 27: Edgbaston is an arena of history and charm. Pictures of former accomplished cricketers from Warwickshire stare at you from the walls leading up to the press box. The past performances are respected here.

The stadium is packed and tickets are being sold at three times the actual price outside. However, in a country where technology is often state-of-the-art, common problems resurface for presspersons. The wireless internet is slower than the Indian fielders and the media, including the local correspondents, have a hard time. Among us is the former England seam bowler, an outstanding one at that, Angus Fraser. He keys into his lap-top with the same intensity with which he bowled for England. The big-built paceman is a part of the print media now and is enjoying his new job. Besides him is an old media hand, Derek Pringle, a former England all-rounder. Fraser is pleased when James Anderson gets the ball to buzz around. “You need to take wickets in any form of the game,” he explains. On the field of play, the Indians enter the self-destructive mode. The fielding is sub-standard. The Indian supporters in the stands are a disappointed lot; some of them had booked their tickets months in advance.

This does not prevent a few of them from shouting, “India will win 4-2.” Hope never dies but are the Indian cricketers listening?

August 28: Welcome to Manchester. This is a city with a heartbeat and a soul. The sprawling city centre bustles with life and activity. A shop-keeper tells this correspondent, “They have pumped money into this city.” And it shows. There is much construction work still happening. Manchester is England’s powerhouse. It, perhaps, is not as squeaky clean as some of the other English cities, and there are places which remind you of Mumbai, with less people but the same energy levels. The city also boasts of, arguably, the most popular club side in football. The Manchester United games bring in the visitors and the malls glitter. Everyone is talking about Man U’s Saturday’s premiership game. The sports shops cum clubs — betting is legal in these parts — are packed. The giant Wheel of Manchester — it gleams under the night sky — says much about sport and life. One moment you are on top, the other...

August 29: The Lancashire County ground oozes class and style. This is among England’s richer counties, and the facilities are excellent. The cricketers realise the significance of the upcoming game. It could hold the key to the series. The practice session at the Old Trafford is eventful. India’s bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad throws a bombshell replying to a harmless question — “What about Munaf?” The normally calm Prasad’s reply takes everyone by surprise. “I am the bowling coach and I need to be consulted when a player returning from an injury is recalled, to ensure that he bowls with the same intensity with which he bowled earlier,” he booms. Munaf still appears to be grappling with fitness related issues; some old injuries may have left psychological scars as well. Manager Chandu Borde parries questions on the Indian fielding. Andrew Flintoff, the home boy, is moving around with the enthusiasm of a school boy; he is going to be in the eleven on his home ground. Former Indian all-rounder Sanjay Bangar, a committed cricketer, catches up with his old mates. He is playing in the Lancashire league, several rungs below international cricket, but bears no grudges. He still is a very pleasant man. Meanwhile, Team India’s travel assistant Russell Radhakrishnan is busy arranging transport for the Indian team travelling to the cinema to watch Shah Rukh Khan’s spirit-lifting, sport-related Hindi movie ’Chak de India.’ “All the cricketers enjoyed it,” says the affable Russell. Will the movie lift the Indian performance?

August 30: The scorer makes a mistake, mistaking Robin Singh for Rudra Pratap Singh while reading the analysis. Soon comes the reply from one of the home journalists. “Well, he should be India’s permanent 12th man.” I t’s a comment on India’s fielding; Robin still appears fitter than some of the present Indian cricketers.

’Chak de India’ definitely impacts a few Indian cricketers. Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik indulge in aggressive word play. They are lucky to get away without a fine or a warning. Match Referee Roshan Mahanama later reveals that umpires Aleem Dar and Ian Gould had not lodged a formal complaint with him. India loses again even as former England opener Chris Broad watches his son Stuart produce a match-winning innings.

August 31: This is a quiet day, with the teams travelling to the County of the White Rose, Leeds. The train journey from Manchester to Leeds shows the English countryside, with picture post-card landscape, in all its splendour. Some of the scenic spots may be still unexplored by Bollywood. There is worry in the Indian camp over the fitness Zaheer Khan, picking up a sore ankle from the last game. Yorkshire is a county with a hoary past and tales of one of its foremost legends, Freddie Trueman, still abound. An aggressive and incisive paceman in his time, Trueman also had a way with words.

September 1: Leeds is a pleasing city, that moves at a relaxed pace; it is also a city of students. They say Leeds is what Manchester was 20 years back. The bistros are inviting and the side-walks long and clean. Lovely brick-topped bu ildings dot the city. Leeds is where you would want to be on a holiday. The Indians, battling for survival in the one-day series, can hardly relax though.