March 21, 2006


At the Wankhede to watch Day 3 of Test 3 between England and India, and the first impression I have on entering the surroundings of the stadium is not crowds or roars over fours or snacks ... it is the powerful smell of urine. I realize the pressure on toilets at a place like this, a time like this, but why are clean toilets such a distant goal, always?

On our seats inside, it is a noisy, colourful time. Kevin Pietersen fields on the fence near where we sit, and is constantly bantering and playing with the crowds, smile on his face. Then he races after a ball, dives to save it and throws from a semi-crouch, all one long fluid motion. The ball rockets through the air and lands safely in Geraint Jones's gloves just above the stumps -- it's as if he hasn't had to move those gloves an inch to receive the throw. Later, James Anderson shows the same swift precision with a stunning runout of Dhoni: from where he throws, he could see just one stump. Yet one bounce and down it goes. This runout is shrouded in controversy, but at the time, the body language of all on the field, Dhoni included, told the tale: they all knew Anderson had got his man. And how!

The grace and the precision, the whites on these fielders, reminds me of an American friend I once took to see a cricket match. He wrote home to his wife, especially about the fielders and their throws, that it was like watching a ballet. And it is.

When he's not running, Matthew Hoggard sort of lumbers about, almost with a slight limp. But on his runup, he is the smoothest and most gazelle-like of the England bowlers. His leans forward at the start, a stutter step or two as he breaks into a run, his torso straightens in the middle, and almost coils back on itself as he gets ready to deliver the ball, and then it's a blur of motion at the crease and the ball is past the batsman and into Jones's gloves before you can quite see what it did. That might describe all the fast bowlers on view, but Hoggard is easily the most elegant of them. The Stefan Edberg of fast bowlers, certainly. And come to think of it, Edberg had that same hint of a limp.

Speaking of blurs, that might describe Mahender Dhoni's bat. Most other batsmen, you can see them use their bodies to put weight behind a stroke. But Dhoni, unique among batsmen I've seen, seems to use only his arms. He pretty much punches the ball, and it's the muscles that send it hurtling to the boundary. The bat, it's a whirl of blurred vision.

Except when he goes forward in defence, when it's almost as if he's ashamed to be executing such a stroke. ("Defence? I have to defend?" you can almost hear him thinking). Most other batsmen, they'll hold that forward defensive post for an instant, then raise their bats. Dhoni, he steps forward, head down, puts his bat there and straightens almost immediately. Sometimes he runs forward a few steps, as if he's going to take a huge whack at the ball, then does that curious crouched defensive shot and scurries back to the crease. A full-scale joy to watch, this man. Not because of the extravagant shots he has in his quiver, but because of his inventiveness.

Waiting for the decision on the Dhoni runout, the seconds ticking past, the crowd near us breaks into Ganpati Bappa Morya. Clearly, the good Lord Ganesh is in no mood to help Dhoni, because he (Dhoni) walks back as soon as the chant is done. At a drinks interval, one whole section of the crowd to our left stands suddenly and sings the national anthem. Why during drinks? Why the anthem? Who knows?

The papers had front page photographs of the Bra-me Army, sorry the Bra-mein Army, sorry the Barmy Army. For whatever reason, the Army is considerably more male this day. Never mind, Dhoni is entertainment enough.

Damn, what am I saying?


Live cricket quota done for ... well, a long time, I'm headed for a blissfully Web-free few days out of town.


zap said...

you lucky man! Cricket live and then a few days off from the city. You lucky man, you!

Have fun.

Arunima said...


Gautam Ghosh said...

some people have all the luck !

Anonymous said...

It was sad that India lost but if truth be told, I've fallen in love with the English team. Lovely bunch of guys.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you, all! Truly did enjoy the time away from the city, no Web, no phone, just jungle and animals. Quite a contrast to cricket live! Though we did get to hear the result of the match and were startled, it somehow seemed very far away and unimportant.

Ani, I think the English team is a bunch of tough, no-nonsense guys that we seriously underestimated. I mean, a winning team loses its captain and vice-captain (Vaughan and Trescothick, those two arguably their two best batsmen too), its strike bowler and a startlingly effective seamer (Harmison and Jones) and their first-choice spinner (Giles) -- and still manages to win handsomely, it says something.