‘Where the rain is born'

The moment you enter Kerala, you will sight innumerable hoardings that peddle jewellery shops, wedding saris and hawai chappals. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Swaying palm trees, gurgling rivulets, Mangalore tiled houses, banana fritters and the aroma of fish being cooked, may be the standard clichéd references when the memory of Kerala pops up and though these recurrent motifs remain strong, there is a new clue that points out your presence inside ‘God's own country.' The moment you enter Kerala, through the Palghat gap or the Wayanad ghats or from Theni or through Nedumbassery airport, as sports hacks chasing the India-Australia ODI series did, you will sight innumerable hoardings that peddle jewellery shops, wedding saris and hawai chappals. It is a standard vignette across all the roads inside the State, be it the Kochi-Travancore area or the lush green Malabar. The taxi driver Ashokan meanwhile points out the overcast skies and advises that we would be better off watching Rajnikanth's ‘Endhiran' rather than hope for some cricket.

A Penguin collection of short stories and features dealing with Kerala is titled ‘Where the rain is born.' It may sound exaggerated, but when you are in Kerala and watching the rain slither down window panes, palm fronds and laterite-brick compound walls, it is a name that sounds apt. The rain keeps the players indoors and a pre-match press conference is convened with efficiency by Dr. Baba, the media in-charge, at the team hotel in Willingdon Island. Michael Clarke says: “The players are feeling sick about being stuck inside their rooms.” Reminded of some adverse remarks about his batting by Ian Chappell, the Australian captain chirpily says: “Thank you Mr. Chappell.” A sense of humour is truly Clarke's strong-point.

The Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium is a sea of blue after Nike distributed free t-shirts to the spectators. Just that the match is not happening. The players never leave their hotel and that is an ominous clue. Overnight rain and pre-dawn showers play spoilsport and the match is called off. Bleary eyed journalists yet to come to grips with last night's liquid indulgence, skip across four States — Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh — as a connecting flight sweeps across Bangalore, Chennai and finally touches down at Visakhapatnam. The players meanwhile enjoy the sun and have a hit at the nets late in the evening. The seaside city is awash with Bengali flavour as Kolkatans are making the most of their Puja holidays. High decibel levels and unflagging enthusiasm, a typical Bengali trait, is on full view while the Bay of Bengal shimmers in the sun.

The crossroads of life flicker across when M. S. Dhoni says: “Both Shikhar Dhawan and I scored a century in a Challenger series match that we played in Mumbai (five years back) and I got a chance to play for India because I was a wicketkeeper-batsman but he being a batsman, he had to perform consistently well. I think Shikhar will most likely make his debut tomorrow.”

The liquor shop bang opposite the Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy ADA-VDCA Stadium is doing brisk business. Later it turns out that even the custodians of the law failed to resist the charms of the bottle. A local television channel does a sting and catches policemen enjoying their drink while they are supposed to beef up security. Inside the venue, Michael Clarke scores a dogged hundred; Virat Kohli hobbles with a cramped leg and yet carves a ton high on finesse. The Indians triumph but for the harried journalists chasing late-city deadlines, the post-match press conference becomes a nightmare. All and sundry walk through the conference hall and the weakened security delays proceedings.

The cricket caravan moves to the Goan coast. Margao, a small town often living in the shadow of the more fashionable capital Panaji, is all set to host the third and final match of the ODI series. A mild drizzle that moistens the road leading into town from the Dabolim airport however dampens the build-up. Quaint churches, coconut groves, the iconic Mario Miranda's cartoon strips on the odd wall and the laidback Goan spirit are evident everywhere.

The arrival pictures of the Indian team members are plastered all over the local dailies besides the grim weather forecast of more rain in the coming days.

A ride in an auto takes us past country homes, down curving roads and through green vistas to the team hotel located on the beach. Dhoni and Clarke echo similar sentiments about wishing for some sun. Their silent prayers seem to be answered as the rain clouds recede and the teams train at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The return trip to the hotel to file reports, offers a glimpse of Goa's Portuguese past.

The final match of the series is abandoned due to overnight rain that leaves the outfield damp. The lone stirring in the crowd happens when the sightscreen crashes down. The organisers somehow manage to get the sightscreen back in position to a round of applause before the game is called off. The players troop back to the hotel, for a spot of fun on the beach. The strong pull of the sea is always felt in Goa.