You can't hector the dolphins to come

Published : Mar 21, 2009 00:00 IST

There was an expedition to watch the Hector’s dolphin, but the being doesn’t show up. Over to S. Ram Mahesh.

Sunday, March 8: The diary confesses it’s ashamed. The dinner meeting with Mr. John Wright doesn’t materialise. But to atone, it wakes very early today so it can give you, dear reader, the account of an experience most unique. Michael Henstock, a PR dude who liaises with the Indian team for the one-dayers, sets up a spot of dolphin watching. It’s the smallest, rarest dolphin — the Hector’s — found only off the South Island coast, and to get there, the diary takes the only road in the world that’s cut into a volcano; an extinct one, in case the reader worries about the diary’s health. The bay was formed in the volcano’s crater, and the diary ventures forth in a catamaran. It sees a great number of things: the highest quality grade coal in the world; pied and spotted cormorants; barracks built to withstand a probable Soviet invasion!; a time-telling device that used to guide ships and continues to work. Unfortunately, the Hector’s dolphin doesn’t show up. But it’s wildlife, not a performer, and the diary isn’t the least bit upset.

During the break between innings, Sachin meets Sachin. Sachin Austin, a seven-year-old New Zealand boy named after the great Indian batsman, meets Sachin Tendulkar, afore-mentioned great Indian batsman. Sachin Austin doesn’t handle the media glare as well as his namesake, and looks confused about the fuss. He receives a pat on the head from Tendulkar for his troubles. Sachin’s father, Nick Anholt, says the decision to name his son after Tendulkar wasn’t difficult. “I’ve always liked the name and knew he (Tendulkar) was going to be one of the greats, and now my Sachin is a budding cricketer too.” Mother Veda Austin had no hassles with the name either. “I follow Vedic philosophies which Hinduism is based on and have been to India many times,” she says. “So I was really rapt that Sachin got an Indian name.”

Monday, March 9: The diary sees what it considers the finest balancing act since Alistair Brown on a unicycle. Brendon McCullum, as he waits to collect his attaché case at the Hamilton airport, perches himself on a trolley and proceeds to move it this way and that like a giant skateboard.

Tuesday, March 10: Peter McGlashan, who stands in for Brendon McCullum behind the sticks, is a bit of a maverick, no surprise that considering the strain of wackiness in the lineage of wicketkeepers. McGlashan uses a modified baseball mask when he keeps up to the stumps, and it is apparently a contraption he designed himself. The Northern Districts glovesman found the baseball mask too heavy, so he custom made one that is light yet ridiculously strong. McGlashan even stands on it to prove how robust it is.

Wednesday, March 11: The diary manages to climb the narrow, steep staircase to the temporary press box (which is exactly that, a box) suspended on columns of steel. It wobbles in the wind, and the diary can see why Ian Botham famously refused to get up here. Perhaps the only press enclosure in the world that has barstools to cover cricket from, for a shot of the blessed liquid is needed to survive the experience. Some leavening action out on the field: Munaf Patel wears the big gloves as the other bowlers warm up. After a couple of hilarious takes, where he claps hands on the ball, he gloves one from Harbhajan superbly.

Thursday, March 12: The diary, being the social animal it is, makes it to a genial gathering at Eden Park. The Eastern Districts Cricket Association (EDCA) decides to felicitate V.V.S. Laxman for completing the milestone of a 100 Test appearances. V. Manohar, former Hyderabad cricketer and Laxman’s childhood coach, moved to Auckland seven years ago, and the fact that an Andhra youth team is in New Zealand (an endeavour Mr. Manohar helped organise) confers the propinquity needed for such occasions. Dipak Patel, former New Zealand off-spinner known for opening the bowling in the 1992 World Cup, is the emcee, and although he fluffs his lines, the occasion is such that nobody is fussed. Laxman makes a lovely impromptu speech and felicitates Mr. Manohar, saying “I honoured all my childhood coaches after playing 100 Tests; only Manohar sir was left out.” It’s a touching gesture, and compels the parent of one EDCA youth cricketer to say, “It’s not just his batting that’s Very Very Special”.

Friday, March 13: It’s Friday the 13th, so fate must be tempted. Michael Henstock, who has figured already in this week’s entries and has fast become one of the diary’s favourite people, offers just the opportunity: bungee jumping off the Harbour Bridge. It’s what M.S. Dhoni, Indian captain, was challenged to do — he had to decline because of contractual trouble. It’s a 40-metre drop suspended by what’s no more than an overthick rubber band. The diary isn’t scared of heights; heights it can handle. But the giant rubber band that looks like a python sunning itself after a meal is another matter. By the time it gets to the bungee pod, having walked 15 minutes along the bridge’s underside, it’s quaking. But news that David Beckham and Maroon Five have done this stiffens its resolve. If those sissies could, it can’t be that difficult. The resolve lasts till it reaches the edge of the platform and endures a nervous wait as Sammy and Timmy, the guys running the show, check if boats are passing under. The diary gets the go-ahead. Three. Two. One. “It’s a bungee jump mate, not a bungee stand,” says Sammy or Timmy, the diary doesn’t know who. “Jump for Christ’s sake.” Just as the diary thinks up a withering reply and turns to deliver it, it trips on the rope, overbalances, and falls. For a very long time. It has to be experienced by anybody even remotely interested in flying, adventure, and — err — spirituality.

Saturday, March 14: That’s all for this week folks. No high promises this time.

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