Warne’s territory

The people in Melbourne recognise Shane Warne’s genius but forget his faults. Till recently, Warne was turning out for St. Kilta in the local league, enchanting fans with guile and spin, writes S. Dinakar.

February 23: Melbourne’s public transport system has to be among the finest in the world. You have the trains, the buses and trams criss-crossing the city. You can buy one ticket for a couple of hours or a day and it is valid in all the three modes of transport. There are occasions when the train takes you to a particular point and then the passengers are asked to hop on to the bus that would carry them to their destinations. All with the same ticket. Of course, you also have the expensive taxis running in this charming city. Melbourne is also Shane Warne territory. The people here recognise his genius, forget his faults. Till recently, Warne was turning out for St. Kilta in the local league, enchanting fans with guile and spin. Cricket leagues flourish in Melbourne. These matches, held on Saturdays, also serve as a family get-together. You would not hear names like the Southern Districts and Churches league and the Emerald Hills in India, competitive cricket is played here.

February 24: India and Australia return to the SCG. This is the venue of the volatile second Test between the two sides earlier in the summer. The build-up to this game is huge. Fans pour in and it does appear that all the roads in the city lead to the SCG. Inside the arena, there are nearly as many Indian supporters as the Aussies. Australia clinches a high-scoring humdinger but this is another SCG game with incidents of the unwanted kind. There are words exchanged between Matthew Hayden and Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma shows Andrew Symonds the way back to the pavilion. Recent memories return to haunt the sides. In the media box, wicketkeeping great Ian Healy is unhappy with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s gloves. “There is a piece of leather supporting the webbing,” he complains.

February 25: From the SCG cauldron to the cool and serene Hobart. The Tasmanian capital is a quiet holiday resort. The climate here is very different from the rest of Australia; it can be really cold here during the winter. The roads winding up the hills, the greenery, the rivers and the bay make Tasmania a favourite tourist destination for many. In Hobart, the Salamanca market showcases art. The Indians and the Sri Lankans arrive in the city. Sri Lanka, in the context of progressing to the final, faces a perform or perish game. Things hot up on the behavioural front as well. Ishant has been fined 15 per cent of his match fee by Match Referee Jeff Crowe and the Indians are not happy. Indian team-manager Bimal Soni shoots a letter to Crowe. “The Australians have been provoking the Indians to act in a particular manner,” he says. Meanwhile, Crowe and the umpires for the SCG game conclude that Dhoni’s gloves do not conform to the norms.

February 26: Sporting tales can be astonishing. Praveen Kumar’s incredible journey has taken him from akharas in Uttar Pradesh to the international cricketing fields. He swings the game for India at the quaint Bellerive Oval. Praveen brings with him plenty of old fashioned charm. At the Indian restaurant in the evening, there are eager enquiries about Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Some cricketers, despite the mists of time, are simply not forgotten. Meanwhile, off-field trouble is brewing again. Matthew Hayden has just called Harbhajan a ‘little obnoxious weed’ in a local radio station.

February 27: The focus once again shifts from cricket to words said and unsaid. The Big Matt faces the music for his remarks on Harbhajan. He is summoned to the MCG for a hearing by Cricket Australia. He is let off without a fine. In private conversations, the Indians are not pleased. Many of the Aussie media feel India’s tour of Australia is among the most ill-tempered series down under. Both sides have contributed to the matches being remembered for the wrong reasons. They still have time to make up.

February 28: It’s a quiet day in Melbourne. The summer is drawing to a close, and it is getting increasingly nippy in these parts. The icy winds in the evening do not make life any easier. On the cricketing front, the MCG prepares to give Gilly a send-off.

February 29: Back to Melbourne and its suburban trains. From the MCG, you can seen the locomotives flashing past from the Richmond Station. At 36, and just days away from international retirement, Gilchrist bats like a speeding train. This, indeed, is a ride high on octane and low on sympathy for the bowlers. The southpaw’s astonishing effort on a difficult pitch is yet another reminder of how much the Aussies will miss this champion cricketers once he departs. The Sri Lankans, with a vibrant bunch of fans relentless in their support, manage a sensational comeback. Australia is equally sensational in its collapse. It’s a funny game... this cricket.