World Cup diary: Kohli's diplomatic reply, Dhoni's military gloves and Tahir's friendliness

The International Cricket Council requested the Board of Control for Cricket in India to tell former India captain M. S. Dhoni to not violate the apparel rules that limits the number of logos and more importantly to avoid displaying any symbol that is political in nature.

Virat Kohli when asked to react to Kagiso Rabada’s caustic remarks about the Indian captain being immature, smiles and says, “I would rather talk to him man-to-man.”   -  AFP

A June 2nd dawn turns into a blur at the Chennai Airport. Check-in, immigration and security clearance, are all rushed through. The CISF guard, just as he stamps the boarding pass, asks: “Where do you live and where are you going?” He hears a mumble — “Chennai, going to London”. But it is impossible not to pause a bit and utter the next few words: “Going for the World Cup.” Reticence vanishes, vanity prevails and the security personnel are agog. “Arrey, waah, World Cup,” they utter.

The British Airways flight cruises over the southern peninsula and as the lost 40 winks make a belated appearance, the map on the mini-TV in front shows that the plane is cutting across the Arabian Sea. A large part of the flight ebbs away in sleep, except for the brief interludes of breakfast and lunch.

Daylight soon streams in and as bleary eyes blink and open, the aircraft is soaring past Eastern Europe before going over Germany. The highlight, though, is the sighting of the Alps, rugged mountains with its tips coated in snow and reflecting the sun. If there is something called a luminous white, this is it. Soon, the aircraft darts across the English Channel and the United Kingdom emerges into view.

Touchdown in London’s Heathrow Airport is smooth but it is a tale of so near and yet so far as the connecting vestibule to the exit, is as the pilot wryly says “stolen”. Passengers sit for another 20 minutes before the mess is sorted. Immigration is a breeze, then some time is lost at the Duty-Free console but the pirate’s dark drink, brewed from molasses, isn’t available.

Yuzvendra Chahal’s four-for and Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten century saw India make a comfortable start to its World Cup campaign with a six-wicket win over South Africa.   -  AFP


Another correspondent, actually a close friend, lands from Bengaluru and it is time to board the bus to Southampton. The next two hours are spent on smooth highways that shrink a wee-bit while entering towns with massive statues of past crusaders like Wilfred or symbolic busts which mention ‘glory to the dead’. England loves its history and most wayside buildings will have a coat of arms and the year pencilled in.

Cold Southampton, warm cricket

The bus grinds to a halt at the Southampton coach station. There are blustery winds and a nip in the air, fingers freeze, lips dry, a tremor courses through the body and a shot of caffeine or hot chocolate is desperately needed. But fate can be cruel, the coffee shop shuts precisely at that moment and a clumsy attempt to pry open sliding doors evokes shock and horror from the gentleman manning the counters inside. Jet-lag lingers too and a chivalrous attempt to help a grandma with her luggage is misconstrued as intrusive behaviour. The goof-ups of the evening are eventually forgotten as a cab is found and it is time to step into the first home away from home on tour — an Airbnb flat, where two other senior reporters have already sought refuge. Hugs are dispensed, a hot cup of tea appears and all seems fine with the world. Many hours later, a night ebbs away over some potent liquid, potato crisps and banter.

The next day, June 3, is all about getting to the Hampshire Bowl and do the most crucial thing that will impact the rest of the tour — picking up the ICC World Cup accreditation. The senior citizen handling the process is stumped by your correspondent’s family name, a tongue twister at that. The seconds stretch, anxiety creeps in, questions arise — “has the pass been done?” Just as palms turn sweaty despite the dip in temperature, date of birth comes to the rescue and that becomes the differentiator to generate the accreditation card. A friend whispers: “Once you get back to India, file an affidavit, change your family name and update your passport.”

M. S. Dhoni’s gloves show an extra logo reflecting an army insignia.   -  AP

A scheduled press conference gets cancelled as the Indian team offers its net bowlers and the travelling media rightly requests for any senior member from the squad. Voices are raised, a stalemate ensues and the media interaction is cancelled. What can a bunch of South Indian reporters do when in turmoil and doubt while being stuck in Southampton? Head to a restaurant named Chennai Dosa and dunk your worries in sambar and chutney besides munching the dosa while also keeping that dark tipsy fluid close in a tall glass. A few tables apart, cricketers Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar and trainer Shanker Basu tuck into their food.

Diplomat Kohli, friendly Tahir

June 4 comes with a frisson of excitement. It is match-eve with India scheduled to take on South Africa, Virat Kohli is asked to react to Kagiso Rabada’s caustic remarks about the Indian captain being immature. “I would rather talk to him man-to-man,” Kohli says and smiles and a controversy dies instantly. The night is spent at an Indian restaurant Coriander where Imran Tahir steps in with his family. Fans rush to take selfies with the unassuming South African leg-spinner and he is ever obliging and when some wish him well, he keeps saying: “Shukriya."

Match in the pocket, a glove in the news

India dominates its opening fixture and defeats South Africa by six wickets. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and opener Rohit Sharma are the heroes with their four-for and unbeaten century, respectively. But as June 5 moves into history, the next day brings with it a quixotic development. It is revealed that M. S. Dhoni had worn gloves with an extra logo reflecting an army insignia.

The International Cricket Council requests the Board of Control for Cricket in India to tell the former India captain to not violate the apparel rules that limits the number of logos and more importantly to avoid displaying any symbol that is political in nature. Twitter is ablaze, hyperventilating television anchors in India spin a nationalistic narrative but before the issue takes a turn for the worst, the ICC steps in and sternly says that Dhoni is not permitted to carry an army logo. Grudgingly, sanity prevails.