A desperate New Zealand fan trying for a ticket outside the Lord’s stadium
A desperate New Zealand fan trying for a ticket outside the Lord’s stadium in London. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

It’s my seventh World Cup as a journalist, but the level of excitement is still no less. Throughout the showpiece, I will be crisscrossing the length and breadth of England to catch the action live for Gulf News readers and bring the sights and sounds around the event with videos, social media - all the works. Follow my daily World Cup Diary here.

- K.R. Nayar, Chief Cricket Writer, Gulf News

Sunday, July 14

Clamour for tickets at the Lord's final

London: I write this diary from seat No. 82 of the majestic press box at the Lord’s, the home of cricket. I have been fortunate to be able to report the World Cup final from right behind the bowler’s arm and this will be another great memory of a final for me.

The main press box has only around 140 seats, and I feel privileged to be given a seat in a packed press box, next to some of the legendary cricket writers like Scyld Berry and Derek Pringle.

England is undoubtedly a great place to report cricket, but for the relatively small press boxes when compared with those in other parts of the world. The aura of a World Cup final is something special. Even the walk to the venue from the tube station today with fans bubbling in excitement and about to witness history is a different feeling.

Welcome dance in front of Lord’s stadium in London
Welcome dance in front of Lord’s stadium in London. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The England and Wales Cricket Board has marketed the final very well. A free postcard is handed over to everyone with a picture of the World Cup and the words: “I was at the Men’s Cricket World Cup final 2019.” A fresh apple carrying the World Cup logo from England and Wales Cricket Board’s was also given to every fan. Just outside the venue, many New Zealand fans were seen looking out for tickets. One of them stood with a huge placard saying “Flew from New Zealand - need ticket”.

As a member of the media reporting the final, I escaped standing in the long queue to enter the stadium but had to undergo security checks. The security officers at the Lord’s are trained to be courteous. Every time they finish with one bag, they make sure to pass some comment. “Nothing interesting in your bag,” said the security lady, who searched my bag that had only a laptop and a few cricket related papers. Of course, they always wish you a enjoyable game of cricket.

Entry to the Lord’s was smooth when compared to how I entered for the 2011 World Cup final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. That day I had to walk past machine-gun trotting army men and the security personnel had asked me to switch on my laptop as well!

Majority of the tickets for the final had been bought by the Indians as they were confident that their team would be in the final. This got many England fans angry. A desperate England fan, who was hoping that he could buy a ticket, remarked that tickets for finals should be sold only after the semi-final.

A debate on the England fans not getting tickets became a point of discussion in the press box too, to which an Indian journalist had a prompt answer: “Fans who hope to buy a ticket only if their team reaches the final, do not deserve to get tickets.”

The day began with rains as if to serve a gentle reminder that the English weather is as unpredictable as cricket!

Saturday, July 13

It's a Super Sunday for sport in Britain

London: The excitement before a final is special in many ways. Everyone knows that they will be witnessing one of the moments in cricket history which will be recalled time and again.

This final will see a new World Cup champion and the first triumph for any country will remain etched forever in the minds of all cricket livers of the world.

In a country where passion for sport runs deep, reaching the final of a world-class tournament can be prestigious. Like in England, the encouragement they provide for sport is laudable.

Sunday, which is the day of the final, has been labelled as Super Sunday for sports lovers here as it will be not only the ICC World Cup cricket final but also the men’s final at Wimbledon and the Formula 1 British Grand Prix, and all of them will be happening here.

The UK has thus attracted attention of almost all sports lovers around the world.

When compared with football, cricket is played by only a few countries. But according to the ICC, the semi-final between India and New Zealand set a new world record by delivering the highest ever concurrent views on Hotstar with a peak of 25.3 million.

The previous record was at 18.6 million!

England fans are hoping that they finally win a World Cup after three attempts, and they will surely outnumber the New Zealand fans at the ground on Sunday. Interestingly, there are many people here who are New Zealand fans, especially those living here from other countries.

The varied reasons for which they want New Zealand to win were interesting. The Sri Lankan lady at a fast food kiosk near my hotel, spotting my World Cup accreditation card around my neck, remarked that she will back New Zealand. Here’s her reason- Kane Williamson is a handsome man!

This was not the first time I heard this comment here. Some men too hope for New Zealand to win because they believe the New Zealand cricketers are humble and down- to-earth players.

It was interesting to hear that the good attitude of cricketers, both on and off the field, and their looks also helps win fans. It also shows that winning through sledging and unsporting means cannot win fans.

Strangely, even though New Zealand had ousted India, there was no anger or resentment towards them from the Indian fans. In fact, majority of the Indians here now want New Zealand to win. They were all in praise for not only the way they play, but also the manner in which their players conduct themselves on and off the field.

That was one of reasons why England skipper Eoin Morgan introduced the idea of playing with a smile and embracing the moment.

During the press conferences, Williamson won a lot of admiration as he always answered with a smile. When a reporter asked him as to what was going through his mind when he was positioning himself for the high catch from Jadeja, as that was the turning point of the match, he actually demonstrated how he had looked up at the ball and said to himself: “Just watch the ball and catch it nice so that it sticks.”

Thursday, July 11

Through tears and sadness of Indian fans to Birmingham

New Zealand’s calm and composed approach enabled them to surpass India

India fans react
India fans react at the end of World Cup semi final between India and New Zealand at Old Trafford, Manchester. Image Credit: Reuters

Birmingham: India’s defeat in the semi-final to New Zealand made the fans literally cry. It all began after Mahendra Singh Dhoni, known for his ability to keep emotions and calmness under control, walked back to the pavilion in tears.

Most Indian fans were so confident that India will win the World Cup this time that they could not believe what they were seeing on Wednesday at the Old Trafford.

Stunned and numbed, many refused to leave their seats, some used the flag they had wrapped around themselves to wipe their tears. Since the majority of the spectators were Indians, even the New Zealand players were reluctant to celebrate their victory in front of a totally depressed crowd.

After nearly every loss, someone or other taunts the defeated team with funny remarks. After India’s defeat, there weren’t many, except a few like that the one that said, ‘India is the best in One-day cricket, but they lost this match since it was a two-day cricket!’

A few Indian reporters even struggled to write their copies since most of them had tuned themselves to writing about India reaching the final. Many had even planned the start lines for their report stating that ‘India is off to the final to prove they are the Lord’s of cricket’.

Many of the New Zealand fans living in England hadn’t even bothered to try and get tickets for the final as their team had only sneaked through into the semi-final on better run rate than Pakistan.

Many unexpected things had happened right from the start at Old Trafford, and hence the result was also seen as being part of the trend. The rain forecast was only for a slight rain on the first day but it rained so much that play had to be extended to reserve day. Rain was forecast for second day too. Some of the shops in and around Old Trafford made some money by offering fans and journalists space to store luggage for seven pounds a bag till 6pm since everyone had to check out from their hotels by noon.

After every match, discussions go on for some time as to why the team lost. But after India’s exit, it never stopped. It started from the Press Box among journalists, and continued even in the train to Birmingham among the fans.

Most journalists felt it was the calm and composed approach that gave New Zealand victory, and that skipper Kane Williamson had imbibed Dhoni’s trait of being cool and getting his players focus on the job. My taxi driver turned philosopher and noted that the Indian team did not realise that ‘an opponent not expected to win is always most dangerous and will do everything to win’.

I couldn’t agree with him more as New Zealand threw themselves at every ball. There was an interesting observation made by a fan in response to a comment that New Zealand did expose India’s middle order.

He said India had no middle order to be exposed since all their middle-order specialists were in India, including Ambati Rayudu, who had just retired.

An interesting conversation in the train summed up India’s loss perfectly. Unable to accept India’s loss, a dejected fan was asking his friend as to what India would now since they will not be playing the final?

The reply was quick: “Be in the present, like Rohit Sharma said, and take the flight from Manchester to India!”

Wednesday, July 10

Hassles of One Day cricket turning into a two day event

Manchester: Most journalists had hit out at International Cricket Council (ICC) for not having a reserve day during the round-robin stage of the World Cup.

When the India-New Zealand semi-final had to be played on the reserve day, everyone realised the difficulties one has to face if the match goes on to a reserve day.

Since rain had stopped playing truant for a while, everyone assumed that the semi-final would finish on Tuesday itself. Hence most hotel bookings were done just for the match day with checkout for early next day. Many had also done their train and bus bookings for the next venue that being for the second semi-final.

New Zealand's Colin de Grandhomme
New Zealand's Colin de Grandhomme, left, celebrates the run-out of India's MS Dhoni, right, during the World Cup semi-final match between at Old Trafford in Manchester, on July 10, 2019. Image Credit: AP

All of us had planned to take the early morning train to Birmingham. Everyone had meticulously studied the off-peak rates for cheap bookings, only to lose money on the non-refundable ticket that had to be cancelled due to the rescheduling of the match.

Fearing that many journalists might turn up with their luggage to the stadium after checking out from hotels, the ICC announced after the match to please refrain from doing so as media room does not have any extra space to accommodate luggage.

One has witnessed many edge-of-the seat thrillers during this World Cup, but rain played the role of a thriller at Old Trafford. At one point it would stop raining totally making the groundsmen remove the covers.

Then by the time they reached the boundary, it would drizzle again making them rush back to cover the ground again. Every time the covers were folded, the press box would start calculating the number of overs possible and what would be India’s target.

As journalists turned more and more tense, the organisers decided to distribute samosas to ease their nerves. Discussions then began by munching samosas and hot coffee. The hard work the groundsmen had to do with rain teasing everyone made me wonder how easy it would have been if there existed technology that could cover the whole ground in seconds instead of them manually pull away the heavy sheets each time.

The message that rain gave on Wednesday to everyone is that never reserve anything for a reserve day, but reserve your plans for another day.

It took some time for people to accept that a one-day match can continue the next day with the overnight batsmen like in a Test match. Then someone wanted to know how it could be called a one-day match when it extended into the second day? So would Latham, who was batting, be called the night watchman.

Since all writers and commentators had nothing to do but stare at the sky, it was a good time to catch up with many of them. It was interesting to share a few moments with Clive Lloyd, the first captain to lift the World Cup twice.

He was the chairman of the ICC Voting Academy that picked outstanding international cricketers for the LG ICC Awards in 2011 and 2012 in which I was a member as a media representative.

A few minutes later, Kapil Dev too joined followed by Steve Waugh. It was a heady feeling to be with all the three captains who had lifted the World Cup when England had hosted it before.

Tuesday, July 9

Old Trafford: A venue which has seen Laker’s perfect 10

Manchester: The magnificence of the cricket venues in England lies in the history attached to each of them. They respect history and every ground tells a story with pride. A keen student of cricket could well get the feeling of walking into one of the pages in the history of the game every time he or she enters a ground.

The venue for first semi-final should always remain Old Trafford and should never be changed to ‘New Trafford.’ It will never happen too because people here feel proud of the history of this place. They have spent millions on it’s redevelopment, but ensured the historic pavilion is preserved.

The scene outside Old Trafford before the start of semi final between India and New Zealand. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The current generation will remember India’s leg spinner Anil Kumble as the man who took 10 wickets in an innings in February, 1999 against Pakistan, but the first man to do it was Jim Laker and he did it on this ground in July, 1956. Ardent cricket fans talk about feats in the game and some preserve pictures of those memorable moments.

During my school days, I was fortunate to get a picture of Laker holding the ball with which he had taken those 10 wickets. Those who talk about great deliveries in cricket speak about Shane Warne’s vicious leg break that stunned Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes series, and that happened here. That delivery is known as the ‘ball of the century’, and it feels great that it happened on the pitch that is just in front of me as I write this diary.

Though nearly everyone is focused on who will win the semi-final, many may not even be aware that the match is being played at a venue that hosted England’s second Test match and the historic first-ever Ashes Test in 1884.

It’s Virat Kohli flags and banners
It’s Virat Kohli flags and banners everywhere for sale outside the Old Trafford stadium. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Cricketers create history and walk away. It is their feats on venues like these that are remembered and recalled again and again.... just like Warne’s ‘ball of the century’. While listening to Virat Kohli and Kane Willamson recalling their Under-19 days, one realises how fast a cricketer’s career travels. As a reporter too, it feels like yesterday when I recall attending India’s pre-match semi-final press conference in Mohali, Chandigarh, for their match against Pakistan in 2011.

Memories of the 2015 semi-final match against Australia at Sydney are still so fresh in my mind. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as Team India’s captain, had addressed the media. Kohli played in both those matches and got only single digit scores in both (nine versus Pakistan) and (one vs Australia). None would have believed then that Kohli will go on to become the superstar of Indian cricket and the next captain too!

New Zealand batsmen build their innings
New Zealand batsmen build their innings during the World Cup first semi-final against India at Old Trafford in Manchester, on July 9, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

This ground’s majestic press box is packed to the brim and orgainsers welcomed all reporters with and Indian dish - Channa Masala and Parathas. New Zealand reporters were also seen enjoying it. Seeing the large turnout of Indians at the stadium, a New Zealand fan commented that even if he brings all those people in their country who know cricket here, they will still not outnumber Indian fans.

At that point, I recalled ex-New Zealand star Daniel Vettori mentioning to me that he gets mobbed in India but not in his country!

Monday, July 8

Journalists hit cricket balls instead of keyboard

Manchester: It has been all work and no play for the journalists all these days. The schedule for the round-robin stage tired everyone, especially reporters like yours truely who trailed all the teams. It was hence a break when on Sunday, the International Cricket Council staged a media match between journalists from Rest of the World and England at the South West Manchester Cricket Club.

As I was at Leeds for the India-Sri Lanka match, I was not able to reach in time to play but it was good to watch all journalists unwind by playing the game that they have been writing on all along. It’s rare to find journalists hitting a cricket ball since all they do is hit the keyboard for the most part of the day. Since there were too many journalists, two Rest of the World teams were formed and like the World Cup format, all teams played each other once.

England media team
England media team celebrate their victory over Rest of World media. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

All top ICC officials were present, including the outgoing ICC Chief Executive and former South African Test star David Richardson, to cheer the media. Rajshekhar Rao, ICC Media & Communication Manager, officiated as the umpire, and it was interesting to see journalists demand the DRS review for leg before or caught behind decisions and they were dropping dolly catches. Although a white ball and white sightscreen was used, batsmen in whites asked for the sightscreen to be adjusted like professional players do.

Since the sun sets late here, the match was played till 8.30 pm. The England Media team, which included journalists from other countries too, lifted the trophy. A Rest of the World journalist promptly taunted them by saying that this will be the only trophy that England will lift in this World Cup.

The winner's trophy.
The winner's trophy. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Kamal Sharma, a much travelled cricket photographer, was seen taking portraits of journalists and transforming them into celebrities. He got everyone to pose in sunglasses. “All of you focus on cricketers constantly; so I wanted to focus on those who focus on the cricketers and make them look good,” remarked Sharma. Sharma and I had travelled together to many venues during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, and I had seen many Indian cricketers requesting him to take their portraits.

The New Zealand bowling coach Shane Jurgensen’s comment that his team will expose India’s middle order came up for discussion, and someone commented that maybe Jurgensen thinks that for the semifinal, India will flip the batting line-up and start from their tail-enders for their (New Zealand) bowlers to reach the middle order quickly!!

With India playing the semi-final, the demand for tickets is soaring and those who managed to get one are feeling privileged. The ICC has announced that people who are not wanting to watch the semi-final, can put their tickets up for sale on their resale platform and many are hoping that they will be able to get hold of those tickets.

The 87-year-old Charulata Patel, whom Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma had met at Birmingham, is extremely thrilled since Kohli has arranged tickets for her for semi-inal and final as well.

Sunday, July 7

For a reporter from neutral venue, all are home teams

Leeds: It was a race from one venue to another during the round robin stage of the World Cup. Having reached the semi-final stage, there are only three more trips to make - from Leeds to Manchester, and then to Birmingham and London. I took the noon bus from Leeds to Manchester.

While most journalists only report matches featuring their country, as a journalist from the UAE that has the reputation of the world’s best neutral venue, I was reporting matches played by all the participating countries. It’s satisfying to note that when all countries played each other in this tournament, I did not miss reporting any of the 10 countries.

I am often asked by journalists which is my home team, and my response has been that for a neutral venue reporter all teams are home teams. Pakistan uses the UAE as home venue for their international matches, the Sharjah Cricket Stadium is Afghanistan’s home ground, and India has huge fan following all over the UAE, followed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

It is disappointing that except for India, none of the other sub-continent teams that make the World Cup noisy and colourful, will be playing the semifinal. India’s cricket fans from different part of the world have already arrived here.

Some have managed to get tickets in advance and there are those who, after seeing that India is in the last four, have arrived here without tickets for the semifinals, hoping to buy tickets even if it means paying a higher price. So the mad chase for tickets is on, and even as I was getting out of Leeds I could hear the buzz of people selling tickets for the semi-final.

For Indian fans, who have flown in from Australia and United States, their whole trip will be a waste if they do not manage to get tickets, and hence they are willing to play any price for the tickets. It looks like the warning by the ICC not to buy tickets from unauthorised sellers have been ignored like smokers who ignore the statutory warning on a cigarette pack that ‘smoking is injurious to health’!

While travelling to Leeds after the Lord’s match between Pakistan and Bangladesh, I met a Pakistan couple based in in Australia who had bought tickets for both the semi-finals hoping their team would be in the last four. Since that did not happen, they were wondering how to sell those tickets and then go to Scotland for a holiday.

After the match, Virat Kohli was seen interviewing Rohit Sharma on the field with a dictaphone. A journalist spotted that and was heard saying whether Kohli would share the quotes so they could make a story using that. Given the trend these days, many cricketers, after their playing days are over, are seen in the press or commentators box. Hence it is always a good idea to sharpen those skills at any given opportunity.

India's captain Virat Kohli, left, interviews teammate Rohit Sharma
India's captain Virat Kohli, left, interviews teammate Rohit Sharma after their win in the World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Headingley in Leeds, on Saturday, July 6, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Team India’s coach Ravi Shastri used to regularly listen to the radio commentary during his playing days and had been a respected commentator before he took up his current role. Sunil Gavaskar is one of the best columnists - and he is known to be a voracious reader.

On the walls of the Headingley stadium is a statement by the famous writer and broadcaster, John Arlott, on the legendary pacer Fred Trueman who had wrecked many a team on this very ground, which says: “Trueman was not merely a fast bowler in achievements, he was a fast bowler in mind and in heart.”

Saturday, July 6

Retirement talks fill the air as World Cup nears end

Leeds: It had been a hat-trick of match reporting for me over the past three days.

After I had reported the Afghanistan-West Indies match on Thursday at Headingley, I rushed to Lord’s the next day for the Pakistan-Bangladesh one and am now back again at Headingley for the India-Sri Lanka match.

Headingley is the home of Yorkshire County team, and as soon as India’s Jasprit Bumrah, who is known for his mastery over yorkers, began to strike, one felt that Bumrah must be feeling at home here since what better place can he display his yorkers than in Yorkshire!

Cricket fans are known to quickly forget their team’s failure and cheer their stars for the very next match.

I was witness to this at the Lord’s on Friday where the Pakistan fans had come for the match against Bangladesh — disappointed that their team faces an impossible task to qualify for the semifinal.

They had come into the stadium with their heads down and without their usual vociferous cheering for the team.

No sign of disappointment

However, when Babar Azam and Imam Ul Haq started hitting, there was no sign of their disappointment even though their team would be out of the World Cup in a few hours.

On the other hand, the attitude among the Bangladesh fans was totally different from the start. They sang and danced all the way while entering the stadium, cheering for their team.

With sub-continent teams, cricket is always the winner even though fans can be harsh at times, especially when their team loses.

Though Pakistan beat Bangladesh, the Pakistan fans did not celebrate that success on their way out of the stadium too. To add to the gloom came the news of Shoaib Malik’s retirement.

The underground train journey back to King’s Cross station in London, from where I had to catch the train back to Leeds, had many Pakistan fans.

Some were discussing Malik’s retirement and hailing his skills. Only a few days ago, he was being criticised as an irresponsible senior player for partying with his wife late into the night at a sheesha joint here.

Talk about players’ retirement reaches it’s peak as the World Cup nears its end. After Malik, everyone is wondering whether Mahendra Singh Dhoni too will announce his retirement here. But then would it be after the semi-finals if India loses, or after the final, one will need to wait and watch. A TV journalist was heard calling his office in India to keep all clips on Dhoni ready!

Right after the toss, 35-year-old Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza had remarked that this would definitely be his last World Cup. This evoked comments from a journalist that he need not say that since most cricketers are unlikely to play a World Cup beyond that age unless he happened to be an Imran Tahir, who was the oldest player of this World Cup at 40.

Friday, July 5

Dashing to Lord’s from Leeds before the toss

The cheers when Sarfaraz won the toss were as if a batsman had hit a ton

London: The London North Eastern Railway train brought me from Leeds to London in just two hours and ten minutes. It was so fast that I reached Lord’s in time to witness the crucial toss ahead of the Pakistan v Bangladesh Cricket World Cup clash. If Bangladesh won, then Pakistan would be out before a ball was tossed. At the gate, many fans were discussing whether Bangladesh would sportingly opt to field if they won the toss.

The cheers of the Pakistan fans over their skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad winning the toss were as if a batsman had completed a century. Never before had a toss have received so loud a cheer. It merely indicated the blind faith of the Pakistan fans despite being aware that it was near impossible for their team to reach the semi-finals due to New Zealand’s superior run-rate. However, stranger things have happened in sports and cricket is known for its ‘glorious uncertainties’.

Bangladesh fans cheer the team despite knowing that they are out of the World Cup K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The legendary Pakistan pacer Wasim Akram enjoys spending time in the press box during breaks from commentary and was sitting next to me for a while during the match. A thought flashed through my mind at that point that he is the one person who could have bowled out Bangladesh for a score that would help them qualify for the semi-finals. I then showed him a picture of him on the walls of Old Trafford stadium, which is the home of the Lancashire County team for whom he had played between 1980 and 1990. Surprisingly, he had never seen it and requested me to share it with him. That’s when I realised that journalists experience and see more of the outside than these legends because if they are seen wandering around in a stadium, they could be mobbed by fans.

A drawing of Wasim Akram
A drawing of Wasim Akram on the walls of Old Trafford which the legendary pacer hadn’t seen.

The toss became an interesting topic of discussion in the press box with a journalist commenting that Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Mortaza should have called heads instead of tails. In response to this, another journalist noted that since Bangladesh calls themselves Tigers, the tail is vital for them.

It’s rare to see Pakistan fans enter the stadium without making any noise. But at Lord’s, surprisingly they entered without any celebration outside the stadium, much like how England and Australian fans behave. On the other hand, although the Bangladesh fans knew they were out of the World Cup, they celebrated with a placard saying “Proud of you Tigers. We are happy.”

There was also an instance where some Pakistan fans proclaimed that they would score 500 runs, to which Bangladeshi fans responded saying that would not be possible even against their Under-12 team.

Someone was also heard asking if there was any chance of rain interrupting the match and whether the Duckworth-Lewis method, that has come up with some vague calculations, could help Pakistan through to the last four?

While watching the crowd soaking in the atmosphere of the stadium, I felt a little bad that the fans of these two nations who really enjoy watching every moment of the game will not be there to witness the final clashes of the World Cup.

For today’s match, the Lord’s ground broke a 232-year-old tradition by letting in 250 schoolchildren from 14 schools around Westminster to watch the game from the iconic Lord’s pavilion. It was part of MCC’s community outreach programme that these children were given the opportunity to watch an international match from the white benches of the pavilion.

Thursday, July 4

A Bishop hits the heights at Headingley

A bus-load of journalists make their way down to Leeds

Leeds: It’s normal that a tall man ahead of you who is nearly 6ft, 5ins catches your attention. But what can be more pleasing if that man happened to be a former West Indies pacer? Well, it was a pleasant surprise for me to meet Ian Bishop while entering the stadium to report the West Indies-Afghanistan match at Headingley.

Bishop, one of the tallest pacers who terrorised batsmen during his playing days, is a commentator here and he was walking into the ground where he made his ODI debut in 1988. It was also on this ground that he had destroyed England with a deadly spell in 1995.

Instantly I asked him for a selfie on a ground that has been special to him in many ways, and he kindly obliged. It was interesting to see him smile as I adjusted my mobile to fit with him in the frame!

His career is an example for cricketers who often say that academics and sport cannot go together. During his stint as a commentator after his playing days, he decided to do a Masters in Business Administration degree.

Ian bishop
A selfie with the 6ft 5inch tall former West Indies pacer Ian bishop while entering his special Headingley ground. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

After the India-Bangladesh match at Birmingham, most journalists opted for the 11am National Express bus to Leeds on Wednesday.

The coach station at Birmingham looked like a media lounge with many of the scribes, including myself, sitting down to file their stories before taking the three-hour ride to Leeds.

Unlike on a train, it is difficult to work on a bus given the lack of space. But surely bus travel is cheaper and comfortable as well. So it was a good ride trying to catch up on World Cup tales from many of my fellow passengers.

A hot debate ensued on the retirement of India’s Ambati Rayudu who was disappointed at being repeatedly ignored by the selectors.

Some felt that Rayudu deserved a place in the team, while a few others felt that if cricketers follow Rayudu’s path then it would make the selectors’ job easy since many would not be in contention for a place like it is today.

Ambati Rayudu 7
Ambati Rayudu Image Credit: AFP

Former cricketer Gautam Gambhir had hit out at the selectors saying that the current five selectors together would not have made the runs Rayudu has scored in his career. This statement resulted in a suggestion that hereafter it is better to appoint the highest run-getters like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tenudlkar and Rahul Dravid as selectors.

Another chipped in that since Ravichandran Ashwin, who has now been repeatedly ignored, may also call it a day, it is better to pick a selector who has taken more wickets than Ashwin to avoid Gambhir’s attack again.

The Twitter war between commentator Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravindra Jadeja culminated in Jadeja questioning Manjrekar’s number of matches as a player.

Jadeja had hit out at Manjrekar’s commentary stating that he has ‘verbal diarrhoea’. Manjrekar reacted to Jadeja’s comment calling him a bits-and-pieces cricketer. Jadeja then retorted saying that Jadeja has played twice the number of matches than Manjrekar, and is still playing.

However, many fans are unhappy over Manjrekar’s commentary and there are trolls requesting him to retire from commentary as well at the end of the World Cup.

Wednesday, July 4

Sharma’s sporting gestures as young and old cheer on India

Autographed hats and plastic trumpets celebrate semi-final spot for India

Birmingham: Rohit Sharma was aggressive when batting against Bangladesh at Edgbaston on Tuesday, but at the end of the day he was in a cool and sporting mood. During the course of his fourth century in this World Cup, one of his sixes hit a girl named Meena. After the match, Sharma met Meena and presented her with an autographed hat. The image of this sporting gesture was immediately shared by the BCCI with journalists.

Meena was extremely thrilled to meet and talk to Sharma.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma presents an autographed hat to the fan Meena who was hit by his sixer during the match. Image Credit: BCCI

Sharma also met an 87-year-old lady who had come for the match in a wheelchair and was seen cheering Sharma’s knock with a plastic trumpet and the India flag painted on her cheek.

Her cheering attracted the attention of the television cameramen who then interviewed her. She identified herself as Charulatha Patel and said that she makes sure to watch all cricket matches. Even Indian skipper Virat Kohli met her.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma meets an 87-year-old fan Charulatha Patel after the match. Image Credit: BCCI

What livens up the atmosphere in a stadium is the enthusiasm of the fans. In order to encourage a sporting atmosphere in the crowd, some journalists were heard suggesting that the ICC should consider giving a ‘fan of the match’ award in addition to the ‘man of the match’ after every game.

Sharma has some great qualities in him that can be a valuable lesson for youngsters. Despite all the success over the years and being one of the best ODI cricketers, he still believes that every day is a new day for him. “My mantra is very simple - to keep away whatever has happened in the past and enjoy the present. I don’t like to brood over the past,” he said.

Sharma also believes that being in a positive state of mind can also bring him luck. That could have been the reason that he escaped getting caught when was on nine. As they say, fortune favours the brave.

Former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s slow batting rate has contiunued to surface despite India’s successand a few fans are questioning if MS now stands for ‘Mustn’t Score’.

Like Sachin Tendulkar, who was called ‘Endulkar’ following his unimpressive scores towards the end of his career and when he delayed his retirement, Dhoni’s name is also being twisted.

After Bangladesh’s defeat, some Indian fans teased the opposing supporters by singing ‘Tiger by the Tail’ a song by Sara Evans, an American country music singer. The song starts with the line “I’ve got a tiger by the tail, it’s plain to see. I won’t be much when you get through with me.”

At the press conference, Jasprit Bumrah was asked if he would consider taking some much-needed rest from the game against Sri Lanka since India have already qualified for the semi-finals?

A stunned Bumrah said that this is his first World Cup and that he has not yet become an experienced player to pick and choose if he does not want to play some games.

Tuesday, July 2

Cricket fans turn tigers and snake charmers

Bangladesh fans show their true colours

Birmingham: Despite being outclassed on the field, Bangladesh fans won all the points as they claimed a small victory outside Edgbaston.

Dressed as tigers, they screamed and shouted for their team in the build-up to the clash against India. The taxi driver who dropped me off, far away from the crowded stadium, told me jokingly that seeing the number of Bangladesh fans dressed in their stripes made him wonder if humans or animals were coming to watch the match.

Bangladesh fans with toy tigers
Bangladesh fans with toy tigers before their group match against India at Edgbaston on Tuesday. Image Credit: Reuters

Before dropping me off, he also mentioned that he was stopped by Bangladesh fans for a ride but he had refused to take them since most of them had painted their body in the tiger colours, and he feared his car seats may get tainted with the paint.

As I made my way to Edgbaston, I met a young Indian boy holding a placard saying “I bleed Blue”, and soon a Bangladesh fan joined him.

Soon they were indulged in a screaming contest shouting out their team’s name. I took a video of the kids and one observer commented: “I hope the boy’s parents don’t see this. They will be scared to see their boy screaming at a tiger and scaring it away.”

Bangladesh fans outnumbered Indians outside the Edgbaston stadium. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

After the tiger show from the Bangladesh fans, I found a few others doing the ‘nagin’ snake dance. Some Bangladesh cricketers have been celebrating their success on the field through a sort of serpent dance.

Among the snake dancers was a fan sporting a Lasith Malinga wig — and he was taunted by the India faithful.

Another consoled a Bangladesh fan that tigers are now an endangered species. An Indian fan tied his flag on his head and acted like a snake charmer playing the flute in front of the Bangladesh fans who were performing the nagin dance.

But the best part of all this was that fans of both teams were in such cordial mood that many were seen hugging each other.

Bangladeshi cricket fans cheer
Bangladeshi cricket fans cheer for their team during the World Cup match against India at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Image Credit: AP

A few Bangladesh and Indian players were seen hanging out the night before the match.

However, inside the ground, when Rohit Sharma began to hit, only the Indian flags fluttered. Artists painting flags on people’s faces were asked by a few to paint the flag of both countries.

Monday, July 1

Loss to England has India at a low point

Defeat can transform heroes into zeroes in a flash

Birmingham: The transformation in attitude of the fans when their country loses a match is amazing. At Edgbaston, the Indian fans came in cheering for their team.

They carried placards in praise of Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They had posters calling the Indian skipper as ‘King Kohli’ and Dhoni as ‘Cool Dhoni’. But the moment India lost the match, their coolness vanished into thin air with the breeze. If defeat is inevitable for the team, fans do not even wait for the match to end, and leave the ground quickly.

When Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav began to bat slowly, an Indian journalist remarked that the Indians fans have started behaving like the opposition members in Parliament in India who often stage a blackout to mark their protest. I often go and mix with fans to listen to their remarks.

Some of them can be hilarious, but the most ardent fans get very serious if their team loses. Since Kohli is addressed as King Kohli and so is New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson as King Kane, it seems like the days when star players were addressed as ‘Master’ ended with Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, and Sachin Tendulkar.

India's captain Virat Kohli ((L) speaks with MS Dhoni
India's captain Virat Kohli ((L) speaks with Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the match against England at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Image Credit: AFP

The toughest phase in a cricketer’s career is when his performance dips with age and he is not able to live up to the expectations of his fans. Even the legendary Tendulkar was not spared by fans despite his tremendous contribution to Indian cricket.

Now Dhoni is facing the same situation where they do not even hesitate to comment that with age, Dhoni probably forgets whether he is playing One-day cricket or Test cricket.

There are Twitter comments ridiculing him and saying that he seems to have forgotten that he has retired from Test cricket. Defeat can transform heroes into zeroes in a flash.

There were also a group of fans who blamed India’s defeat to their new orange coloured team jersey. A fan even remarked that since all Indian fans wore the blue jersey, it looked like they were all cheering for England!

When cricket is not a contact sport like football, was there a need to change the team jersey, was the common question around. Some commented that the Indian team looked like attendees at a gas station since their outfit looked similar to that of the attendees at the Indian Oil petrol station in India.

Some said they looked like a bottle of the chocolate drink, Bournvita. Ultimately, in their chase to reach England’s target, India seemed to run out of petrol, while Dhoni and Jadeja seemed to lack energy that the Bournvita drink claims to provide.

After Ravindra Jadeja pulled off a brilliant diving catch from Jason Roy, the fielder, whom Dhoni refers to Sir Jadeja, was almost deserving of the official knighthood from the Queen of England.

England skipper Michael Vaughan is like Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar when it comes to taking a U-turn on his comments. The former English captain, who was critical of England, now remarked that his team has got back their swagger after they defeated India. To which an Indian supporter taunted that the swagger will soon affect their footwork against the spinners.

Everyone hailed the Edgbaston pitch as a batting paradise on Sunday, but it is on this very ground that in 1924 England once bowled out South Africa for 30 runs, which is the second lowest score in Test cricket.

Sunday, June 30

Violent cricket fans and memories of Warner's punch on Root

Birmingham: The clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan fans at Headingley have left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Cricket fans here had a reputation of being friendly and sporting. Clashes between soccer fans are very common here, but rarely has it happened between cricket fans.

Even during the India-Pakistan match, though there is a huge rivalry between the two teams, there has never been any instance of violence on and off the ground. Even taunts were accepted sportingly by the fans.

The rivalry between soccer fans is so common here that an Indian cricket writer who went to a pub in Birmingham wearing a Manchester United team jersey was asked to leave or wear something to cover his jersey.

When the journalist asked whether he would be permitted if it was a cricket team jersey, the bar attendant said that he has instructions only to not serve drinks to any fan wearing a soccer team jersey!

Though cricket fans haven’t had big clashes in Birmingham, two famous cricketers have clashed in a bar here a few years back. It was at the same Walkabout bar that Australian opener David Warner had punched Joe Root during the 2013 Champions Trophy.

Interestingly, in 2013 as well as now, the hotel where I am put up is located very close to this bar, and while walking past it I remembered this incident that had created a huge furor.

Despite the risk fans buy tickets from the street ticket sellers. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

With the number of Indians flags outnumbering England’s, an Indian fan remarked that although it was England that ruled India years ago, on this day it looks like the Indians have conquered England and hoisted their own flag.

The mad race for tickets continued till the start of the game with fans willing to take all risks to buy the tickets, some of them could have been fake, from the street-side sellers.

The organisers have put up boards on the gates of the stadium saying that tickets with these sellers on the street may have been the cancelled ones, and may prevent them from entering the ground. It is understood that these tickets are being sold at triple the actual price.

In fact, though the clash at Headingley has been attributed to political differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan over Balochistan, some say that the clash began following a street ticket seller trying to sell a fake ticket and getting caught.

Former England captain Kevin Pietersen's tweet before the match asking Indian skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri not to drop Vijay Shankar, and that Shankar will win the match for them, went unheard.

An Indian journalist seated next to me, on reading the tweet said: “Will anyone listen to a former England captain before an England match? This tweet could be the reason that prompted Kohli to drop Shankar; or why should Pietersen be a Shankar supporter?”

Walkabout bar where Australian opener David Warner punched England batsman Joe Root during the 2013 Champions Trophy Image Credit: K.R. Nayar

Most of the Indian fans from the Sikh community wore orange coloured turbans following the colour of Team India's new jersey.

After noticing that most of the stadium was filled with Indians, former England captain Michael Vaughan jokingly remarked that so far he has counted 86 England fans at the ground including the England team and coaching staff!

England skipper Eoin Morgan during the pre-match press conference had even remarked that his team may not get the feeling of playing in England tomorrow. ‘The noise that the Indian fans make with their horns and different things makes it that much louder. So tomorrow is going to feel like an away game.”

Saturday, June 29

Indian fans want England to be good hosts and lose matches

India's Virat Kohli holds up the new India shirt during the press conference at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England. Image Credit: AP

Birmingham: Why haven’t England ever won the World Cup despite hosting it three times before, and is now doing it for the fourth time?

After their unimpressive show so far in the tournament, Indian fans feel that it is because they do not want to be seen as bad hosts who defeat teams that have come to their country to play. They hope their attitude does not change in their match against India tomorrow, too!

The Edgbaston ground looked really majestic and is considered a ground which has always favoured England. Though many English fans would like to come to cheer for their team, almost all tickets have been purchased by the Indians.

Indian skipper unveils the team’s jersey after the pre-match press conference K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The receptionist at my hotel felt that ticket sales to Indians should have been closed to enable England fans to get it too.

“Isn’t it strange that the home country fans cannot get tickets? he asked. Indians are transforming all grounds to look like matches being played in their country by occupying nearly 80 percent of the seats.

As team India will play England sporting the new orange coloured team jersey, that has created a lot of debate. Some believe that India’s ruling political party, the BJP, has played a role in it and managed to influence the team as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to saffronise the entire country.

India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun had a tough time explaining that there was no political motive behind the colour. Indian fans have now made a joke out of it saying that all Pakistan fans will now avoid buying oranges in England!.

Virat Kohli on how when pitches did not go the team’s way one has to adapt K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Amidst all the drama, Virat Kohli, after the pre-match press conference, posed for photographers with the new T-shirt in different angles and stood like a boy receiving his first team jersey.

When the photographers requested him to continue to hold it, he said, “You are making me look like I am taking it out of water and rinsing it.”

As the tournament nears the semifinal stage, it is also the time for team’s that could not make it to the last four to return home. All teams had come with hope, and some were labelled as likely to be the champions.

The phase after they know that they are out of the tournament is the toughest as they play with the feeling of letting down their fans.

Teams like South Africa and the West Indies have not allowed themselves to sink into sorrow.

In the match against Sri Lanka, the South African players played with a smile on their face.

When their skipper Faf Du Plessis was asked during the post-match press conference as to how his team could play enjoying themselves despite their poor performance in the tournament, he said: “it's difficult to enjoy it all the time when you are not getting the performances that you want. So then we try and get away from the game and make sure that there is still a bit of fun away from the game.”

This reveals that Indian coach Ravi Shastri’s approach of playing with enjoyment, both on and off the field has been effective.

During the match, players had to duck to avoid a swarm of bees that invaded the ground. Du Plessis even joked “It was very funny. Looked like someone had just run a machine-gun through all the players on the field, and everyone is down on the ground.”

A leading English newspaper had the headline: “Sri Lanka stung by South Africa after bees stop play.”

Friday, June 28

‘Chake De India’ song silences Bravo’s Champions melody

India have Bravo’s West Indies singing different tune

India and West Indies played hard cricket at Old Trafford on Thursday, but their fans sat and enjoyed the match in a cordial manner. Though the West Indies fans were outnumbered by the Indians, it was difficult to identify who the West Indies fans were supporting. They cheered for India too, despite losing by a mammoth 125 runs!

Almost all the West Indian fans wore their team’s jersey and made sure to carry their flags. Since many of them are of Indian origin, televisions reporters looking to spot West Indies fans for comments had a tough time. However, their flags and T-shirts helped in identifying them.

A West Indies fan who has his origins from Gujarat, a western state in India, and now lives in Trinidad, said: “I’ve never been to India nor do I know their language, but I love the Indian team because they are playing like us. A few years ago we used to dominate the world, and when we win matches we crush our opponents. Now that happens only sometimes.”

From the moment I entered the stadium, I could hear the famous Bollywood song ‘Chake De India’ being played out on the loudspeakers. The same number was also played out whenever there was a gap during play, and it gave me the feeling that it was Team India’s official song. A journalist who was tired of with listening to it repeatedly said: “I should have given them some other Hindi songs too. It looks like the organisers have just this one.”

190628 gopal
UAE-based coach Gopal Jasapara, who is well known to the West Indies team, with batsman Chris Gayle at the team’s hotel after the match. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

But for the Caribbean fans, it did not matter whether the song was in praise of India. They danced to the tune along with the Indian fans. Win or lose, their responses are the same.

So in the end one wondered whether they were really the supporters of a team that had just been thrashed out of the World Cup! This was in sharp contrast to the England fans who were all gloomy after their defeat to Australia at the Lord’s.

What matters to West Indies' fans is exciting cricket, and if any of their batsmen hit sixes, they celebrate on the field for a long time. An Indian fan compared West Indies to electricity in the Indian states.

“West Indies is a very powerful team with power hitters, but sometimes they turn worthless like when the Indian states are hit with power-cuts. Their shots just don't go all the way out of the ground like a power-cut day.”

A few West Indian fans had started singing Dwayne Bravo’s popular number 'Champions' at the start of the match. The lyrics names every West Indies cricketer as a champion, but at the end of the day at Old Trafford, they realised that they cannot be champions this time.

190628 gopal jaspara
UAE based coach Gopal Jasapara with West Indies legend Chris Gayle Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

UAE based coach Gopal Jasapara, who is well known to the West Indies team, was invited to their team hotel after the match. He was managing Chris Gayle during the T10 tournament and pacer Fabian Allen, with whom he has a very close relationship. They posed for a picture with him putting their arm around him.

190628 jasapara
Jasapara with West Indies player Fabian Allen after the match Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

India’s former opening batsman Krishnamachari Srikkanth got a loud cheer when he was noticed by a few fans. An elderly volunteer was heard telling a young Indian volunteer, who had never seen Srikkanth, that he was the top scorer in the 1983 final when India beat the West Indies.

Thursday, June 27

‘Brylcreem Boy’ Engineer, Lloyd and Akram are Lancashire’s pride

Pakistan show how to let criticism pass you by

Manchester: The Pakistan players may soon be a guide for how to not let critics affect you, and resist chasing after them like a batsman chases an outswinger to get caught behind. They could also turn experts in handling scathing remarks that fly their way like deadly yorkers.

Their former pacer Shoaib Akhtar, known for his yorkers, has been going after the team’s confidence, but after their win over New Zealand, he seemed to have changed like the English weather and lauded the players as tigers.

Akhtar, who had referred to Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad as brainless, seems to have had a brainwave of his own after the triumph over the Black Caps at Edgbaston.

However, sarcastic comments about Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur, who had stated that he wanted to suicide after his team’s defeat to India, continued. A journalist remarked that it was good of Arthur not to have done what he had said as Pakistan may have had to play in the semi-final without a coach.

England skipper Eoin Morgan had remarked that his team were not affected by the defeat to Australia, and New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson too has insisted the defeat to Pakistan hasn’t upset them.

So then the question remains that is it only the fans who are affected?

Old Trafford is the home of the Lancashire county team. As I entered the stadium I met India’s former wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer and ex-West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd below the press box.

Just before the start of the match, the two were given the honour of carrying the World Cup trophy into the ground. Both of them have won many matches for this county during their playing days.

Engineer, who used to have jet black hair in his playing days, was the first Indian cricketer to endorse the hair product Brylcreem. He was even known as ‘Brylcreem Boy’.

Today that black hair has turned into a nice grey. After the trophy presentation, 81-year-old Engineer walked slowly past the pitch on which he has played some superb knocks and taken breathtaking catches as wicketkeeper.

Clive Lloyd Image Credit: AP

For any Indian cricketer who wishes to be inspired on how to handle a West Indies attack, it is him. Fifty-two-years-ago, in 1967, on a hot day in the Madras (now Chennai) Test, Engineer played one of the greatest knocks in Test cricket, playing it like an ODI. Facing the hostile pace of two of the greatest West Indies pacers, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, he smashed a century without a helmet. He cracked 94 before lunch and completed his century with a six.

What is notable about the grounds in England and the county teams is their continued reverence to those who have contributed to their team. A sketch of Pakistan pacer Wasim Akram, who had played for them for 10 seasons, can be seen on the walls of the stadium describing his contribution for the team.

A drawing of Wasim Akram
A drawing of Wasim Akram who played ten seasons for Lancashire on the walls of the stadium. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Among the fans present today was UAE’s G Force Cricket Academy coach Gopal Jasapara. His academy will play in the ninth edition of the Epsom Cricket Festival from July 5.

UAE’s G Force Cricket Academy coach Gopal Jasapar
UAE’s G Force Cricket Academy coach Gopal Jasapara (extreme right) with friends enter the ground. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Since this was an India match, both the breakfast and lunch menus had Indian dishes such as Amristari Chole and Palak Ki Daal. Strangely, a kiosk inside the ground was called ‘The Press Club Wraps and Kebabs’.

Menu for media
Menu for media had Indian dishes like Amristari Chole and Palak Ki Daal. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
 The Press Club wraps and kebabs
A kiosk inside the ground was called The Press Club wraps and kebabs. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Wednesday, June 26

French Open champion Barty pops up at Lord’s

London: The disappointment among England fans after their team crashed to their third defeat seemed to have shattered them. Many came out of the Lord’s ground and sat down on the street for some time, unable to take in the loss.

With only a few Australians in the stadium, there wasn’t the usual celebrations by fans of the winning team. It was nothing but a gloomy, silent walk to the St John’s Wood tube station to take my train back to Manchester.

Aaron Finch met World No.1 Ashleigh Barty
Aaron Finch met World No.1 Ashleigh Barty after Australia beat England in the Cricket World Cup. Image Credit: Cricket Australia Twitter

Rain has stopped affecting matches in England but after this defeat, England is in deep waters. England’s former cricketers, who had hailed them till before the World Cup, have now begun to hit back at them. Former England captain Michael Vaughan did a near Shoaib Akhtar, who had called Pakistan skipper Safaraz Ahmad as brainless but in a decent manner, saying that England has had a brain freeze.

The media lounge is an interesting meeting place. One gets to interact with different sections of the media while the commentators gather there for their breakfast, lunch and tea. It gives an opportunity to catch up with the greats of the game - many of whom I have followed over the years.

To the thrill of everyone on Tuesday, Sachin Tendulkar walked in and suddenly I found myself positioned between Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. A kind television reporter quickly clicked a picture and gave me - saying that rarely does one get the opportunity to be standing between two great cricket legends, one who broke all records and one who is the current holder of all records in world cricket.

Me with Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Sunil Gavaskar (right) at Lord’s
Me with Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Sunil Gavaskar (right) at Lord’s. Image Credit: Courtesy: A journalist

After interacting with media for a while, Tendulkar tweeted a picture posing with Gavaskar, saying: “Feels good to be at a place where a dream started 36 years ago on this very day, at the very ground, with a person (Gavaskar) whom I emulated and considered my idol.”

Meanwhile, comments on England like ‘Team is fragile - so handle with care’ are doing the rounds now. Many subcontinent fans are upset that Ben Stokes kicked his bat after he got yorked by Mitchell Starc. This is because in the sub-continent, anything that is used to earn your living is always treated with respect and revered.

Australian tennis star and reigning French Open champion Ashleigh Barty was at Lord’s to cheer for her country. In 2014, she had switched from tennis to play cricket as she wanted to get the feel of playing a team sport before returning to tennis again. Cricket Australia immediately put out a picture of her with Australian skipper Aaron Finch. After winning the French Open, she had thanked cricket for getting the chance to play in the women’s Big Bash cricket event.

At Manchester, West Indies are gearing up with a hope to shock the Indians. Among them is West Indies pacer Sheldon Cottrell, who has a unique way of celebration after taking a wicket. He salutes at the dismissed batsman like an army officer giving marching orders.

All ardent Virat Kohli fans believe that if the Indian captain gets into form, Cottrell may be forced to pray looking skywards in the end. Though fans also enjoy watching Gayle in full form, the Indian fans want Gayle to fail here.

Tuesday, June 25

Sunny days are here again at Lord’s

London: It is back to Lord’s again after a day’s gap and it turned out to be a unique experience. On Sunday, it was the Pakistan-South Africa match and the Pakistan fans showed their solidarity with the team by cheering for their team all the way from St John’s Wood tube station to the Lord’s stadium.

Fans had carried things like small trumpets and drums, or rather anything and everything that could make noise, including a steel plate and spoon, into the ground.

Tuesday was a totally different experience when I came out of the St John’s Wood station as the England and Australians fans were quietly walking to the stadium like disciplined school children. After reporting matches of the sub-continent teams, it seemed to me like these fans were walking towards a place of worship than for a World Cup match. However, for cricket lovers, Lord’s is their place of worship, as it is known as the ‘Home of Cricket.’

To be present at the Lord’s on June 25, where 36 years back on this historic day in 1983 India had lifted the World Cup, was nostalgic. It took me a trip down memory lane, and from the modern media box, I kept staring at the balcony from where Kapil Dev had received the World Cup. That victory changed the history of the World Cup and showed the way to sub-continent teams that they too can aspire to win the prestigious trophy.

Further joy awaited me as I was fortunate to have breakfast in the media lounge with none other than the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, who was a part of ‘Kapil’s Devils.’ While enjoying the burger and hot croissant with him, one of the famous pictures of Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath walking on a tight boundary rope just before the first Test of the 1979 series at Edgbaston flashed through my mind.

Breakfast with legendary batsman Sunil Gavaskar
Breakfast with legendary batsman Sunil Gavaskar (right) at Lord’s on the day India lifted the World Cup here 36 years ago in 1983. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

In 15 days on July 10, Gavaskar will be celebrating his 70th birthday, and earlier in the year on February 12, Viswanath had turned 70. Gavaskar is aware that I have been reporting Pakistan’s World Cup matches and commented on the criticism levelled on Haris Sohail’s innings against South Africa that he was puffing and panting after his half-century. “Everyone puffs and pants while running between the wickets these days since everyone now needs to run very quick for their runs,” he noted.

I have always observed that the behaviour of fans at the Lord’s is very different from the other venues. They clap for every good ball or every good shot only after the action is completed, unlike other places where fans cheer the bowler all the way till the batsman plays the ball or if the batsman plays a good shot then the cheers never end even after the next ball is bowled.

Since Steve Smith and David Warner were booed at in some centres, Australian skipper Aaron Finch ‘warned’ the crowd that they could boo them again at their team’s peril as the pair have the tendency to respond to boos with big scores!

Monday, June 24

Lording it up with hat-trick hero Jalal-ud-Din

Imran Tahir deserves a running ovation in his last match

London: After watching Mohammad Shami’s hat-trick in Southampton and writing about Shami all the way while travelling to London by train from Southampton, I couldn’t believe my luck when at the Lord’s Cricket Ground I was allotted a seat next to former Pakistan pacer Jalal-ud-Din. He was the first man to take a hat-trick in One Day Internationals and is now a columnist for Pakistan newspaper Dawn.

Former Pakistan pacer Jalal-ud-Din
Former Pakistan pacer Jalal-ud-Din, the first man to bag a hat-trick in One Day Internationals. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Jalal has often visited the UAE, and had once given away prizes for coach Shahzad Altaf’s Young Talents Cricket Academy during the Ramadan cricket tournament in Ajman. He recalled that I had once interviewed him in the UAE. At a time when everyone is glorifying those who have taken a hat-trick, very few know that he is the man who did it first in 1982 against Australia at the Niaz Stadium in Hyderabad.

Jalal, who is now 60, took the wickets of Rodney Marsh, Bruce Yardley and Geoff Lawson. He revealed that he got to play in that match since Imran Khan was unfit, and he then went on to play in six Tests and eight one-dayers.

Yuvraj Singh has ended all speculations that he may play in the Pakistan Super League in UAE when he announced that he had actually sought permission from the Indian cricket board to play in the Global T20 tournament that is set to begin from July 25. UAE opener Chirag Suri, who is here to watch the World Cup, has been selected to play in Singh’s team, Toronto Nationals. Suri, after managing to take a selfie with Brian Lara here, said he is delighted that he will be with Singh, Kieron Pollard and Brendon McCullum, who are also in same the team, for a few days in Canada.

There are a number of billboards outside many railway stations that have the England cricketers saying ‘Express Yourself’. At the entrance of Southampton Central was the a picture of Johnny Bairstow. At a time when England team is a little low following the loss to Sri Lanka, it is important that their players express themselves on the field and lift the morale of their disappointed fans. With the sun coming out to play over the past few days, my travel through the green country side was very refreshing. It wiped away the tiredness of waking early to catch the train.

Billboards outside Southampton Central Railway station
Billboards outside Southampton Central Railway station in support of England team. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

After arriving at Lord’s, I was treated to a cup of hot cappuccino that had the symbol of love created on the creamy top layer. England’s famous strawberries and cream were part of the mini-bites.

At Lord’s where cappuccino is served
At Lord’s where cappuccino is served with symbol of love with milk. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

As soon as I entered the press box, I met with the legendary pacer Waqar Younis. He noted that if Pakistan win over South Africa, they would be able to regain their lost confidence. I was seated with all the journalists from Pakistan in one row, and it felt like we are all back in the UAE reporting on the Pakistan Super League.

It was Pakistan’s day on Sunday at Lord’s, and a volunteer pointed out that was why Pakistan-born Imran Tahir too sparkled for South Africa. Tahir is known to celebrate his wickets sprinting across the field. Since he is playing his last World Cup, he should be allowed to run all the way out of the field in his last match. He deserves a running ovation rather than a standing one for his remarkable spirit at the age of 40, and as the oldest player of the tournament.

South Africa's Imran Tahir
South Africa's Imran Tahir bowls to Pakistan's Imam-ul-Haq during their World Cup match at Lord's cricket ground in London. Image Credit: AP

Sunday, June 23

‘Checking’ into the Lord’s, with luggage in tow

London: Whenever I enter the Lord’s cricket ground, I am always in awe of this place. Memories of some of the great matches held here come flooding back to my mind. In the 1999 World Cup, the first match of that edition was held here and even now I can feel the excitement of reporting that match between Sri Lanka and England from the old press box of this venue.

When I find myself sitting on the benches of that Press box from where some of the legendary cricket writers produced their stories, some of those that I’ve only read in books, I consider myself lucky to be there. Twenty years have passed since that match, and I have been fortunate to report many more matches from this historic venue over the years - now from the new-look media centre.

Spectators cheer after Pakistan's Haris Sohail hit a six
Spectators cheer after Pakistan's Haris Sohail hit a six during the World Cup group stage match against South Africa at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on June 23, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Since the India-Afghanistan match was held in Southampton and I need to move to Manchester next, I had no option but to carry my luggage all the way to Lord’s. Thanks to the International Cricket Council (ICC), they permitted me to enter the stadium with my suitcase, like I was checking into a hotel.

To sit right behind the bowler’s arm and see the famous pavilion from where captains like Clive Lloyd and Kapil Dev received the World Cup trophies many years ago is a special feeling. Who will lift the World Cup on July 14 from that pavilion this time is anybody’s guess.

On the way to the Lord’s, three Pakistan fans sat dangerously on the wall of a hospital. As I walked away taking their picture, a South African supporter remarked: “Even if they fall, they fall into the hospital and hence there is no danger!”

Three Pakistan supporters
Three Pakistan supporters sitting on the wall of a hospital on the way to Lord’s. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The scenes in Southampton after the India-Afghanistan match were extremely heartening. Indian fans were seen consoling their Afghanistan counterparts who were on the edge of their seats hoping to witness history. They had screamed all day - hoping that their team would do the impossible.

In the end, the whole stadium stood up and applauded the Afghanistan team for their courageous performance. When Mohammad Nabi fell after a fighting knock, he received a standing ovation from the Indian fans. After the match, an Indian fan remarked: “Afghans are bhai’s (brothers) to us. They are nice people and they cook lovely food.” The joke around after Mohammad Shami’s hat-trick is that Afghanistan restaurants in London have stopped making ‘Shammi Kebab,’ a popular meat dish among them.

Afghanistan players spend most of their time in UAE and train at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium and hence, they have many friends in Dubai. Cricket enthusiast Shyam Bhatia, who once sent cricket kits to Afghanistan 10 years ago, received a letter thanking him by saying: “Our boys have played with guns, now they will play with cricket bats.”

Many believe that cricketers are paving the way for peace in their country with most youngsters focusing on cricket. Aman Haider, a Dubai based poet who is a close friend of Mohammad Nabi, tweeted: “You live in the heart of every Indian. There is no win or loss between us.”

Saturday, June 22

Malinga adds another feather to his popular wig

Southampton: England fans are in gloom after their team, touted as favourites, crashed to their second defeat of the World Cup to Sri Lanka.

Following the defeat, many journalists in the Press box felt that if a sub-continent team was to host the World Cup and their team lost like the way England did, it could have been a national disaster.

Lasith Malinga
Lasith Malinga Image Credit: Reuters

England had earlier lost to Pakistan, too, and now — to Sri Lanka. If England lose to India as well, then the message will be loud and clear that only countries where the majority of the people love the game and are mad about this sport, can go on to win big matches.

Local newspapers have given predominance to soccer even when the World Cup is on, and this has irritated sub-continent journalists who had gone on to remark that such secondary treatment to the game is a snub for the World Cup.

It is a fact that the stadiums are full mainly due to fans from the sub-continent who outnumber other fans, including host England. Interestingly, even before the World Cup has ended, England players were making comments on winning the Ashes!

Pakistan fans are having the last laugh as they were called the most ‘unpredictable team’ and now England seems to be another favourite to take that title. Lasith Malinga’s spell will further boost the sale of wigs that copy his hairstyle and they are also sold in venues where Sri Lanka does not have a match. His performance at the age of 35 is indeed another feather to his ‘wig.’

Once India’s legendary batsman Sachin Tendular was asked during a talk show on how he negotiates the dangerous Malinga yorkers. He had jokingly replied: “I tell them don’t look at his hair but look at the ball.”

After Malinga emerged as the hero, the discussion was on whether the curls on his hair are real or fake. On Friday, England players found his deliveries as mysterious as his hair. Despite his age, neither has his hair greyed nor have his deliveries lost the pace. He will continue to remain the ‘master of the round-arm fling deliveries’.

It is not all work and no play for journalists this Friday. At the Hampshire Bowl, the India-Afghanistan pre-match press conference was held at their indoor cricket facility. Since there were a bat, ball and stumps, many journalists decided to practice like the two teams. With no pads and the quick surface, many were hit on their leg but their enthusiasm to emulate the teams kept them going.

Incidentally, the ICC has organsied a cricket match for the media on July 7 in Manchester, two days before the first semi-final. This match will be played between journalists from England and the Rest of the World.

Afghanistan fans came to Hampshire Bowl ground cheering all the way despite knowing that it would be tough for their team to beat India.

Almost every fan had their face painted with their country’s flag. When I reminded journalists that Afghanistan was my ‘home team,’ only then did they realise that Sharjah is considered Afghanistan’s home ground and that the UAE is the venue for their home international matches.

Friday, June 21

Dhoni’s guiding hand is like that of Amit Shah for India cricket team

Prime ministers following cricket boosts the game and players

Southampton: Isn’t it remarkable for cricket that even national leaders around the world are now following the performance of their country in the World Cup? It is well known that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is not only following the fortunes of his team but also offering them advice. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has tweeted on Shikhar Dhawan’s injury saying that the “pitch will miss him”.

MS Dhoni, right, and Hardik Pandya
MS Dhoni, right, and Hardik Pandya share a light moment in the nets. Image Credit: AP

When cricket is the most popular game in subcontinent countries, it is now important for leaders of the countries to keep a tab on events around the game. Thus a sporting tweet goes a long way. One can well imagine the pressure on every India player when the whole country is focused on their performance. For many in the team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is like the BJP’s Amit Shah, who schemed Modi’s return to power. Dhoni was seen bowling to some batsmen to help them improve their technique. In fact, after his playing days, Dhoni is likely to be regularly visiting his Cricket Academy he has set up in Dubai. Most Team India players look up to him not only as a guide, but also for a morale boost.

When the whole country’s focus is on the team, it is no wonder they toil hard under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri and the trainers. To remain as fit as possible, they work out every part of their body through arm, leg and shoulder strengthening exercises before sharpening their skills.

Watching them work so hard and the pain they endure, one tends to feel bad for them when they are criticised heavily after a failure. They train to take catches in this chilly weather when even lifting your luggage hurts the palm. Hand-warmers are used by all, but it still hurts when the catches are hit hard and when they train for slip catches. The good part about it is that they make sure they laugh and enjoy the process. Rohit Sharma was seen cracking jokes whenever he missed throwing the ball to a single stump.

Some of the budding cricketers training at the Rose Bowl were thrilled when Indian skipper Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Lokesh Rahul conducted a short clinic for them on request from the ICC. The Bowl, home for the Hampshire County team, shows great respect for cricketers, cricket commentators, and writers. That tradition of admiring and adoring great players was displayed by the children when they mixed with Kohli. They were thrilled to listen to him and be close to him.

Right in front of the press conference room there is a pictorial tribute to John Arlott, the legendary commentator who was known as the ‘Voice of English cricket.’ Gordon Ross, a journalist who was associate editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, lauds Arlott saying: “John Arlott’s writing is an embellishment of the game of cricket with a style indelibly established in character.”

One also spots on the wall a list of Hampshire cricketers who became Wisden Cricketers of the year from 1900, the last being Kevin Pietersen. The value attributed to Wisden Almanack made me feel proud that as writer I too got the opportunity to contribute to this historic book this year.

At venues where cricket is revered, it feels like the game spontaneously blossoms to it full beauty.

Thursday, June 20

On the rails to Southampton as 'Men in blue' keep in trim

UAE the topic of discussion among journalists once again

Southampton: Be it a cricketer, reporter or an official, all are on the road during the World Cup. Since trains are a convenient way to get around the UK, one can also say that most of them are on the rails. Unlike the 2015 World Cup in Australia, here one does not have to fly for long hours to reach the next venue. The race from one venue to another in about three or four days and living out of suitcase seems to make time fly as fast as South African pacer Kagiso Rabada’s delivery.

India's Hardik Pandya, left, MS Dhoni, centre, and Ravindra Jadeja
India's Hardik Pandya, left, MS Dhoni, centre, and Ravindra Jadeja prepare to bowl in the nets during a training session at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, on Thursday. Image Credit: AP

After a cricketer plays a brilliant knock in a match, he is sometimes given a title by writers as well as fans. Kane Williamson, after his stupendous match-winning unbeaten century against South Africa, is being addressed as King Kane. When England skipper Eoin Morgan hit his aggressive century, he was called Superman. However, whether West Indies Chris Gayle plays a breezy knock or goes for a duck, he will remain the Universe Boss for everyone.

India team warming up ahead of the match against Afghanistan. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Is it a coincidence that teams that do not have players with such titles are not doing well? There was a time when Pakistan and Sri Lanka had players with nicknames such as Shahid ‘Boom Boom’ Afridi for Pakistan and Sanath ‘Matara Marauder’ Jayasuriya for Sri Lanka. The absence of players with such fear-evoking monikers is showing in their performances too.

Some teams have performed so badly that headlines like ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Fear is the Key’ are being given by newspapers back home. Afghanistan team players who got involved in a restaurant brawl are now being criticised for showing their aggressive traits off the field rather than in it.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni in conversation with bowling coach Bharat Arun. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Once again the UAE became the topic of discussion among journalists as soon as news came out that the BCCI has turned down Afghanistan Cricket Board’s request to host their T20 league in India. Many wanted to know whether the league would go back to Sharjah again. Similarly, when news that Yuvraj Singh, who had recently retired from cricket, had sought permission from the BCCI to play in a league abroad, many thought that Yuvraj may have requested to play in the PSL next year, which is also likely to be held in UAE.

At Southampton, when the Indian players came out for practice, many onlookers spotted that Hardik Pandya, leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, captain Virat Kohli, and wicketkeeper MS Dhoni had all had a haircut. Comments went around that Kohli was groomed as his wife, Bollywood star Anushka Sharma, arrived ahead of India’s match against Afghanistan.

Rishabh Pant doing arm strengthening exercise. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

This diary was being written right next to where the India team is training but a slight drizzle has forced me to run for the cover to protect my laptop. While on one side Bhuvneshwar Kumar is being attended by the Indian team physiotherapist for his hamstring injury by making him run up and down the steps, on the ground Rishabh Pant, who recently joined the team, was seen doing arm strengthening exercises. The way the team warmed up with a football game made one wonder whether these guys would be good enough to carve out a career in football if they never made it as cricketers.

Wednesday, June 19

For Eoin Morgan, UAE’s T-10 league is the best!

Southampton: After Pakistan was asked to score an impossible 136 runs in five overs against India at Old Trafford as per the Duckworth Lewis calculation because of rain, UAE’s T10 League has suddenly become a topic of discussion. Many journalists in the Press Box commented that only players who would have played in the UAE’s T10 League could at least come close to scoring at that impossible rate.

Regular occurrence of the D/L calculation, which has often demanded impossible targets from teams, could lead more cricketers to play in UAE’s T10 League if another World Cup is hosted in a country where there could be a potential threat.

England's captain Eoin Morgan acknowledges the crowd
England's captain Eoin Morgan acknowledges the crowd as he walks back the pavilion after losing his wicket during the match against Afghanistan at Old Trafford in Manchester. Image Credit: AFP

Eoin Morgan, who captains Kerala Knights in the T10 League, drew the attention of many to this UAE-borne tournament on the eve of his match against Afghanistan when asked about his numerous likes on Instagram. To a query on whether he likes the IPL or the Big Bash league, he surprised the questioner by naming UAE’s T10 league!

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Is his love for the T10 format which helped him hit that breezy century against Afghanistan? Some of the English dailies have described Morgan as ‘superhuman’ after hitting 17 sixes in his 77-ball knock of 144 and that Duckworth and Lewis can relax with the hope that someday someone would match their impossible calculation which has sunk many teams in the rain.

The top revenue earner during this rain-affected World Cup must surely be the restaurants, since nearly all of them seem to be doing brisk business. There are a number of Indian restaurants all over, but the surprising thing is that not all of them working there are Indians. A journalist committed the mistake of telling the waiter at an Indian restaurant that Bangladesh will be made to feel like a cat and not a ‘Tiger’ (as they are addressed) when they play against India. After listening to the entire conversation, the waiter informed him that he was a Bangladeshi! Most of the waiters in Indian restaurants are from Bangladesh.

In Birmingham, when the New Zealand and South African cricketers peeped out of their dressing room window to look at the skies, a fan remarked that they looked like chickens peeping out to find out whether the sun was out so that they could search for their food. “Please send your rain to some of the places in India where there is a near-drought,” remarked an Indian fan to an English volunteer.

Tuesday, June 18

The great Sarfaraz yawn cover-up theory

The big sleep follows the noise of Old Trafford

Southampton: Cricketers could soon come to the conclusion that yawning without covering their mouth could impact their career. Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad has realised that a yawn could end up putting his captaincy in danger since the image of him yawning during Cricket World Cup defeat to India on Sunday, that too while keeping wickets, has gone viral.

Though many angry fans have said that he should head home and get enough sleep, there is also a group who support him. According to them, he was about to sneeze and his critics have converted it into a yawn. However, had he followed the etiquette of covering his mouth while yawning — or sneezing, for that matter — it would have been helpful.

Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmad yawns
Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmad yawns during India’s innings on Sunday. Image Credit: Twitter

An India-Pakistan match is emotionally draining for most. The pressure and tension affects cricketers, the volunteers, who had a tough time, and journalists too. On the train back from Manchester to London, there were many fans and journalists and most of them were not just yawning, but sleeping. On the journey was Virendra Sehwag with his family and Indian team selector Sarandeep Singh. Sehwag, who had given many bowlers sleepless nights, preferred not to take a nap. A Pakistan journalist wanted to know about Sarandeep, whom they haven’t heard about at all. Very few know that this Amritsar-born cricketer had once hit an unbeaten 39 on a fast Georgetown wicket to help Rahul Dravid complete his century and go on to score 144 runs in 2002. Though he played only three Test matches, he took six wickets in his debut match against Zimbabwe in 2000.

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After listening to hours of screaming fans in Manchester and reaching a quiet Southampton, I feel like my ears have opened up after a block. All matches between subcontinental teams can be very noisy, and in some stadiums even the window panes rattle. A volunteer from England remarked that one day these fans would literally bring the roof of a stadium down. An Indian journalist has found a way to keep away the noise as he always puts on headphones, and many think he works for the television since his ears are always covered. He discovered this method when he was once seated in the overflow area of the press box with the crowd.

Shoaib Akhtar’s scathing attack on the Pakistan players has made his official YouTube channel popular, especially after calling Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz “brainless”. His remarks have proved that Akhtar is brainy enough to ensure good viewership for his channel. The Pakistan team would surely have included watching Akhtar’s channel as one of things they should not be doing during a World Cup because any cricketer who watches it can end up feeling that all his skills have drained off.

Casual comments from fans are always imaginative. After watching Lokesh Rahul and Hardik Pandya’s form, one supporter feels that the only way they can be stopped is by organising another spot on Johar Karan’s ‘Koffee With Karan’ talk show.

Afghanistan’s batting has been so poor in this tournament that a fan said that they have forgotten the basics and that after their next match against the strong Indian batsmen, their bowlers too would forget their basics.

Monday, June 17

Spirit of cricket rides over political differences

Manchester: India and Pakistan fans came to the ground taunting each other. Fans from both countries cheered with fierce enthusiasm for their team right from the start. When India began to dominate proceedings, Pakistan fans were silenced. And when in the end India recorded a crushing victory, many of their fans, though they celebrated the victory, did not go about mocking Pakistan fans.

India had dominated the match throughout, except for the phase when Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman threatened to steer their team to the target. So there wasn’t really any phase that the Pakistan fans could really express their joy and wave their flags. The Bharat Army, the noisy cheerleaders of the India fans, had a huge flag and the faithful made sure that it fluttered throughout the match, while Pakistan had only a few occasions to wave their flags. In the end, when Pakistan were asked to score 136 runs in five overs, it seemed as if even the rain rule was mocking at them.

Shoaib Malik, who has often been the star performer against India, was targeted by the fans following his duck. Some even pointed out that he had wrapped his fingers with tape to avoid feeling the pain while fielding, and was snubbed saying he had four kilos of plaster to every finger and his hands resembled like a boxer.

A Pakistan journalist seated near me remarked: “The bane of Pakistan team is the batsmen’s shot selection and team selection.” Fans were hollering so much during the start that an English volunteer noted: “A screaming competition should be organised for India and Pakistan fans.”

A video of Indian wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s four-year-old daughter and reserve wicketkeeper Rishabh sharing a funny moment with both shouting on the top of their voices has now gone viral.

Rain tried to show its importance time and again and announced that the match was being held at its mercy. However fans were very happy that at least 90 overs could be played. Dubai’s cricket enthusiast Shyam Bhatia, who never misses an India-Pakistan match, was also there. Despite his wife recovering from a knee surgery and on crutches, he flew in with her for the match. “Most of the India-Pakistan matches in the World Cup have been one-sided. I love intense competition but never will ever miss an India-Pakistan match and my best so far has been the 2003 World Cup India-Pakistan match at Centurion where Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag went berserk,” said Bhatia.

Dubai cricket enthusiast Shyam Bhatia
Dubai cricket enthusiast Shyam Bhatia who has watched all India Pakistan World Cup matches with his wife. Image Credit: K.R. Nair/Gulf News

Most of the Pakistan fans left immediately after their skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad’s wicket fell. “Please remember you have seen many lasts in this match. It will be the last match for Malik, this will be the last time Sarfaraz will lead, last for coach Mickey Arthur and selector Inzamam-ul-Haq,” remarked a Pakistan fan.

While there is huge animosity between the two countries politically and outside the field, on the field there wasn’t any. Pakistan pacer Wahab Riaz slipped and fell on his follow through, and Indian skipper Virat Kohli walked up to him and checked if he was fine. There were many fans who had stitched the India and Pakistan team jersey together and worn them as one. So could we then say that the spirit of cricket overrides all political differences between the two countries?

Sunday, June 16

'Pow' Bhaji and gunpowder fries spice up fans

Where Pav Bhaji is Pow Bhaji
Where Pav Bhaji is Pow Bhaji Image Credit: KR Nair/Gulf News

The first thing almost every cricket fan in Manchester is likely to have done on waking up would be to look at the sky for any sign of clouds. A number of fans are in the same hotel as mine, from where one can get a good view of the Old Trafford ground. Many fans, especially Indian fans, actually came out of the hotel building to see whether the colour of the sky was as blue as the colour of their team’s jersey.

If you have a ticket for an India-Pakistan match, then you can consider yourself a rich man because there are people willing to give you any money to get it. When the ticket sales were opened, they were sold out in minutes and over 700,000 people had applied for them. The seating capacity is only 19,000.

Restaurants here today have opened earlier than usual to cater to the demands from the Indian and Pakistan fans with dishes that cater to their taste. Keeping in mind the likelihood of rain, many fried items were listed on the menu displayed outside. Pav Bhaji, which is popular in both countries, was misspelt as Pow Bhaji. Since cricket is a war without any armed ammunition, was it deliberately misspelt to remind people of the Prisoners of War (POW)? One really does not know. But interestingly, they also had Gunpowder Fries on their menu!

The ICC has always served English breakfast to journalists, but today they included items that catered to the large number of journalists who are here from India and Pakistan. Channa Masala and Paratha was just one among the many. There was also a special mention that all chicken would be Halal. Lunch included Chicken Makhani and Daal tarka. The menu for the big day was displayed during the pre-match press conference and hence a few journalists were heard saying that they would come in earlier than usual since they had been getting only English breakfast at all their hotels.

Black-marketeers looking for potential buyers are like mosquitoes buzzing around your ear. The demand for tickets is so high that even the Indian captain hasn’t been able to help his friends, something that he revealed at the pre-match press conference. “I have been given only a limited number of tickets, and hopefully I will be able to accommodate some family members with it. Hopefully not many more people will ask me for tickets.”

To all his friends who have asked him whether they should come for the match, he is said to have told them: “Ghar me ache ache TV hai, aaram se dekho (you have a nice TV at home; relax and watch on it).

India’s die-hard fans group called Bharat Army does a number of things besides cricket. On the eve of the match they organised a concert in Manchester called ‘Bharat Ke Saath’. Posters inviting every fan was stuck on the walls outside Old Trafford.

Considering the possibility of arguments taking place between fans, the ICC has prominently displayed at the entrance items that are banned from being taken into the ground. These include knives and large flags with protruding poles - those longer than a hand width.

When a tense Kohli could not sleep until 6am

Although Virat Kohli is hailed as one of the finest batsmen in the game today, after failing against Pakistan once, he is said to have had a sleepless night. He has been a part of many tense matches between the two arch rivals, he revealed how tense he was during a Champions Trophy match in 2009.

"Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) had fractured a finger, and I was literally flown in right away and in two days’ time I was playing against Pakistan at Centurion. I hadn't experienced anything like that before, and I played a very bad shot,. After that I couldn't sleep until six in the morning. I was looking at the ceiling and thinking to myself...this is it...I've been flown in, and now I'm finished. So that was the most tense moment I've experienced,” he revealed.

The Indian captain was then dismissed by Shahid Afridi for 16 in that match and India lost to Pakistan by 54 runs.

Then when he was queried on which was his funniest moment during an India-Pakistan match, he could not explain, but laughed recalling it. “There have been many funny moments over the years. I can't explain the incident clearly, but it happened during the World Cup. In Mohali there was a small incident that I witnessed from the opposition side...but I cant really elaborate it here (laughs). But that was quite funny.”

When prodded further and asked if he could point out the the people involved in it, Kohli said: “It was involving Shahid Afridi and Wahab (Riaz). I was standing with the strikers, and I heard a conversation, which as I said, I can't elaborate here. But its a high pressure game...so that made me laugh is all I can say.”

Saturday, June 15

Abhinandan moustache and India-Pakistan fans’ taunts

Manchester Piccadilly Railway station
Manchester Piccadilly Railway station Image Credit: K.R. Nair/Gulf News

Manchester: For the first time in England, I have felt that I have arrived in a city where World Cup is being held. As soon as you come out of the majestic Manchester Piccadilly Railway station, there is a huge billboard welcoming everyone saying: “Manchester, the proud host city of the World Cup.”

World Cup flags flutter on either sides of the street. My taxi driver to the hotel was Naveed Anjum, a Pakistani, who quickly realised that I have come for the India-Pakistan match.

He said that he has been taking Indian and Pakistan fans around the city for the last two days. The sense of excitement around is palpable, something that was missing all these days during the World Cup.

The first person I met as soon as I got out of the train to was Rajshekhar Rao, the ICC Media Manager, who was with a big group of journalists from India.

There were many cricket fans in the train too, almost all of them sporting Team India’s blue jersey. All of them had just one wish... that it should not rain on Sunday.

Outside the railway station is the very touching bronze sculpture of seven blind figures guiding each other and walking together.

It has been built in memory of the 3,000 military veterans who lost their sight during their service in the First World War.

Pakistan fans and journalists had arrived a day earlier, and many were already at the Old Trafford watching them train at the indoor stadium.

Hotels and apartments in and around Old Trafford are filled with fans. Once again, from the window of my apartment, I can see the stadium and it was disappointing to see the rain soaking it on Friday night.

I have always enjoyed listening to talks among Indian and Pakistan fans, be it in the train, hotel or in supermarkets.

An Indian, who sports a moustache similar to India’s famous wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was held captive for 60 hours in Pakistan after his aircraft was shot down in Pakistan, had a tough time explaining to a few people that he had not shaped his moustache for this match but has always had one even before Abhinandan flew into Pakistan.

A visit to the supermarket nearby was as if I was in Dubai since most customers there were either Pakistanis and Indians.

“I have heard of cloud seeding for rain, are there procedures for rain to stop?” a fan was heard asking and having a hearty laugh. It is hard to make out who is an Indian or a Pakistan fan unless they are seen sporting something on them in support of their team.

An Indian fan taunted a Pakistan fan telling him to pray for the blue, which is Team India’s outfit. When he replied in negative, he asked: “Don’t you want a blue sky tomorrow?”

Restaurants here are busy displaying Indian and Pakistan food on the menu board.

A group of journalists while entering a supermarket were stopped by three young Pakistan boys who requested them to visit their supermarket saying they had better prices for cricket fans. “Is it ambush marketing?” asked one of the journalists to the boys.

Some fans have arrived with banners carrying pictures of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan.

Modi, known for his travels around the world, should have made a trip to Old Trafford too since Imran Khan had already played on this ground!

Friday, June 14

Staring at the sky from seat No. 1

Rain puts a dampener on things at Trent Bridge

Nottingham: The patient wait by cricket fans at Trent Bridge hoping that the India-New Zealand match may commence was a display of their intense passion for the game.

By the scheduled start time, most fans were seated as it wasn’t raining. Then began the slight drizzle and a few opted to look for cover.

But most of them sat through the shower staring at the skies for the dark clouds to move away.

Fans singing in the rain coming out of their seats K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

It was nice to see the groundsmen, who are otherwise never applauded, being cheered each time they rolled the covers. They rolled them up three times but the rain refused to be sporting.

I was allotted seat No. 1 in the warm press box. This is the first time that I have been allotted the first seat in a press box and I had really wished that I would be able to report the match from there.

To get a feel of what was going on among the fans, I walked out and realised that they were braving the windy and chilly weather hoping for at least a 20-over match.

There were many Indian team supporters from different parts of the world who had come for this match.

Some of them were those who had not been able to manage a ticket for the India-Pakistan match and had then opted to watch this contest instead.

Like many fans Anis Sajan and family sing rain rain go away K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

I spotted Anis Sajan, UAE cricket enthusiast and team mentor of Bengal Tigers in the UAE’s T10 tournament with his family at the Derek Randall suite balcony.

“It is a shame that every second game is getting washed out. The World Cup should have been held in July, but they wanted to hold the Ashes then. Is Ashes more important than the World Cup?” he asked.

A similar view was expressed by many others in the stadium. Although these fans will be refunded the ticket money, they stand to lose out on what they have spent on travel and hotel stay here.

Now fans also fear that if the India-Pakistan clash also gets washed out then the charm of the World Cup would be lost. Many from the stands tried to cheer themselves by singing some songs outside the stadium.

Two people played the guitar and a saxophone standing on a spot that was labelled ‘hot spot’. A fan who stood watching them remarked that there was not a single ‘hot spot’ in this cold stadium.

Another fan who danced to the tune of the music being played was heard telling onlookers that it was a ‘rain dance’.

Playing guitar and saxophone from ICC’s hot spot in a cold stadium K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The World Cup standings table is now began circulated with ‘Rain’ as the top team with eight points, followed by New Zealand in second place. New Zealand, known as the ‘Land of Long White Cloud’, found themselves in a Land of Long Dark Clouds that refused to leave the stadium. In the press box, I met Sundar Raman, former Chief Operating Officer of the Indian Premier League, with whom I had once shared a stage during a talk show in Dubai. Recognising me, Raman said: “If only the UAE had more grounds, it would have been the ideal place for a World Cup with hardly any rain threat.”

A journalist standing near me wondered if I could explain to him why the umpires were holding umbrellas over their heads while walking out to inspect the pitch when the rain had subsided. “Do they want to show off their colourful umbrellas or is it that that the organisers knew it would rain and hence had got these World Cup umbrellas made in advance?” he quipped.

Thursday, June 13

Trent Bridge where everything is tweaked to cricket

Nottingham: Trent Bridge ground is one of the most magnificent cricket grounds in England. It has a mix of modern style and tradition attached to it. The facilities are modern but at the same time they have ensured that the rich tradition of the ground, which was opened in 1890, is maintained. Everything in and around the ground is tweaked to cricket.

Even a request to discard the chewing gum into the dust bin is shown as a message board on the walls of the ground with the title ‘sticky wicket’. Even though almost everyone is aware that India play New Zealand here, they have made it a point to display on the board as to who is playing whom and what time will the game start.

Scenes from Trent Bridge prior to the World Cup group stage match between India and New Zealand. Video by: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Trent Bridge takes its name from the river just to the east of the ground. The story behind the naming of the ground is that one William Clarke acquired a field behind the Trent Bridge Inn in 1838, which his wife used to manage. This inn still exists, and is adjacent to the ground. Being an entrepreneur, Clarke first made it as a pay-to-enter cricket ground. Years later it went on to become the home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.

The press box is beautifully designed. Anyone who wishes to enter must key in a password for the door to open. It is right above the sightscreen, and hence when bowlers run up to bowl from the press box end, no one is allowed to move. The positioning of the view point shows the respect the ground’s administration has for journalists. This venue also has a Cricket Writers’ Club that was founded in 1946.

There is big board inside the press box that displays names of all those who had held top positions in this club, and it was good to see the names of great cricket writers such as Neville Cardus, EW Swanton, John Woodcock and Christopher Martin-Jenkins among them.

The ground also gives a lot of respect to former cricketers, and that is something special. For example, some waiting areas are named after Richard Hadlee and Gary Sobers.

The total ambience in and around the ground is everything related to cricket, and is surely a model that could be followed by other cricket stadiums around the world. Despite the rains, fans began to arrive way before the gates were opened. In and around the venue are many restaurants named after Indian cities like Bombay and Delhi. A kiosk inside the ground sells vegetarian burgers called the ‘Bombay Bad Boy’. One wondered whether it was named so because the majority of the crowd here are non-vegetarians.

All tickets have been sold out for this match, and while I was walking to the ground I heard people ask whether I was looking to buy a ticket. Despite the rain threat, tickets are being sold on the black market at a very high price. It was interesting to see the innovation of some touts. A man stands holding a placard saying: “I don’t have tickets for this match,” and when you go near him he offers you tickets at a hiked price.

Wednesday, June 12

Indian team unwind by watching Salman Khan flick

Nottingham: Ever since the troll in social media saying ‘Sri Lanka wins the toss and elected to swim first’ was posted, fans are busy coining jokes on the rain that has washed away some important matches of this ICC World Cup. Never before have fans valued the appearance of umpires so much like they did during this tournament when a number of matches have been hit repeatedly by rain.

In Bristol, when the sun appeared briefly and the umpires walked out to inspect the ground, they were cheered all the way and given a standing ovation. They were hoping for the umpires to instruct the ground staff to remove the covers over the pitch for match to begin. Unfortunately that did not happen in all the three matches.

Again in Bristol, the sun appeared so bright after the rains that Wasim Akram had to put on his sunglasses, looking as dashing as ever. The colourful World Cup umbrella that the umpires carry has the Emirates logo printed on it, and it is surely getting great mileage since as umpires are often seen on the ground inspecting the pitch during a rain-hit day.

Umpires inspect the pitch
Umpires inspect the pitch after rain delayed the start of the match between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at Bristol County Ground, on June 11, 2019. Match was abandoned later. Image Credit: AFP

As soon as the World Cup commenced, many had predicted that most matches would be highscoring to the tune of around 500 runs in an innings. But now the situation is that not a single run is being recorded, clearly revealing the other side of the mighty uncertainty of cricket and the English weather. The chances of a few matches turning into Twenty20 contests are also looming large.

Meanwhile, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s army logo on his gloves had kept many journalists busy since many of them were churning out a number of stories about his gesture. Talk about this incident continued in the Press box, and one of the suggestions in zest was that since Dhoni is so devoted to the army he should be made the Defence Minister of India after his retirement. Since Dhoni was responsible for the Indian team sporting the army’s camouflage cap before, will he now urge the whole team to march onto the field with any other experiment for the match against Pakistan?

190611 dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s gloves with the military insignia logo has caught the attention of the world with mixed reactions coming in from the experts. Image Credit: AFP

Bharat Army is the global supporters group of the Indian cricket team. They are likely to very pleased with the name of their group since their group’s name had the word Army much before Dhoni had shown his support. A look at their website reveals that their values are ‘Loyalty, Passion and Respect.’ Loyalty to be the 12th man/woman whether win, lose or draw; Passion for Team India - home and away and respect all players, teams and fans, both on and off the field.

After the win against Australia, some Team India players took time off to watch the latest Bollywood movie ‘Bharat’. It seems Kedar Jadhav is a Salman Khan fan since he has posted a picture with all those who went for movie on his twitter with senior member Dhoni among them.

Tuesday, June 11

It’s a cold, cold Nottingham as rains refuse to go away

Nottingham: It rained all the way from London to Nottingham on Monday. The taxi driver who drove me to the Victoria Coach station from where I would catch the bus to Nottingham was from Somalia. Strangely, as soon as I entered the car, he greeted me in Hindi.

He kept speaking in Hindi all the way to show off his knowledge of the language that he had picked up from his Indian friend with whom he lives. When he learnt that I live in Dubai, he told me he had come there when he was doing a cargo business.

People in rain coats
People in rain coats walk past the ground. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

As we passed the Oval Stadium, he remarked that Indians and Pakistanis are cricket ‘pagal’ (crazy). The bus journey took nearly five hours due to the rain. It also got very chilly and my fingers went numb - making it nearly impossible for me to lift my luggage. That was when I realised that I should have carried a handwarmer like Adam Zampa did during the match against India, and which is now being alleged as an attempt to tamper the ball.

However, whether the temperature at the Oval was so cold that he needed one is debatable, but it would have definitely helped me here. The joke after the Zampa incident is that Australia’s clothing supplier should, from now on, sew up their players’ pant pockets since they have the habit of carrying anything into the ground. A security check of the clothing, as they do before entering a flight, wouldn’t be a bad idea rather than have some of their best players get caught and banned.

My co-passenger on the bus was amused that I was travelling all the way from London to Nottingham in the rain to report cricket. “I don’t like cricket. I enjoy football, and you know, it can even be played in the rain,” he remarked.

Trent Bridge Stadium
The rain drenched Trent Bridge Stadium in Nottingham seen from my room. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The hotel I am staying in Nottingham is very close to the Trent Bridge Stadium and I get a very good view of the ground from my room. I am writing this diary looking at the rain-soaked ground from my room. Despite being soaked in rain, the World Cup flags seem to be still fluttering indicating it is very windy too, and that I would need all my warm clothes to go there.

Some fans here blame the Indian Premier League for the ICC having to schedule the World Cup in June during the rain, and also England who do not want to postpone the dates for the popular Ashes series. An Indian fan at Nottingham announced with confidence that India will beat New Zealand here. According to him, the ‘Black Caps’ as the New Zealand team is known, will have to return with black faces.

The rain has always been a spoiler for South Africa during the World Cup, but this time it seems like all the points that they may collect will be from the rain abandoned matches only. As the rain kept pouring in many venues, people wondered why the bails alone do not fall off. It seems the super glue used to fix the lights on the bails has made it heavy.

The Ageas Bowl in Southampton
Rain covers on the pitch after play was stopped due to rain during the World Cup cricket match between South Africa and the West Indies at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton, on Monday, June 10, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Meanwhile, Afghanistan player Mohammad Shahzad’s statement that he has been ruled unfit to play when he claims to be fit to play has become a laughing matter. Many feel that with a bulging stomach he never ever looked fit and all that Afghanistan cricket board did was to confirm it this time!

Monday, June 10

AR Rahman's hit songs boost victory celebrations

The celebrations after India’s impressive win over reigning World Champions Australia was like they have already won the ICC 2019 World Cup! Indian fans left stadium premises only after they were satisfied with celebrating their team’s triumph.

The Oval tube station is just at the entrance of the Oval stadium, so fans who wish to prolong their victory celebration prefer to use the Vauxhall tube station that is about a 15-minute walk from the stadium. The victory celebrations began from the moment Australia’s Glenn Maxwell got out since they know that he can single-handedly win a match.

And the organisers set the mood by playing the song ‘We Will Rock You’ between overs, thereby further exciting fans to go beserk dancing to the tune. When Australian batsman Usman Khawaja was at the crease, a section of the crowd was heard singing the popular sufi song ‘ Khwaja mere khwaja’, composed by Oscar award-winning music director A R Rahman in the hit Bollywood film 'Jodha Akbar'.

Indian supporters cheer
Indian supporters cheer during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between India and Australia at The Oval in London on June 9, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Outside the ground, most preferred to march with Rahman’s another hit number ‘Jai Ho’ from the Slumdog Millionaire . “We steamrollered Australia,” screamed a fan loudly, almost into my ears.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that nearly every seat in the stadium was occupied by Indian fans. When I wondered about the absence of Australian fans, I was told that three-fourths of the tickets were bought by the Indians. An English supporter then added that whoever brought the rest must have sold it, also to Indians, for triple the price!

India fans celebrate during the match
India fans celebrate during the match. Image Credit: Reuters

Shikhar Dhawan, the hero of Indian win, has a special connection with Australia since he is married to Melbourne-based Ayesh Mukherjee of British-Bengali origin. Dhawan’s nickname is Gabbar since he can play the role of a villain well. He enjoys twirling his moustache, and at the same time laughs a lot. Once on a flight, I was seated next to Dhawan and Harbhajan Singh, and the number of jokes they cracked and laughed made many passengers turn their heads to find out what was going on. Incidentally, his wife was introduced to Dhawan by Harbhajan. In the 2015 World Cup at the Melbourne ground, Dhawan had cracked 137 against South Africa, which is considered one of the finest knocks in the World Cup.

World Cup young people
Enthusiastic youngsters pose before a World Cup billboard for Gulf News Image Credit: Gulf News

Very few know that Dhawan’s best comes during big tournaments. He has been India’s top scorer in all three 50-over world tournaments since his debut - in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup and the 2017 Champions Trophy. Has he started off well this time too to become the top scorer in this World Cup as well?

A few enthusiastic youngsters posed before a World Cup billboard to take pictures, and it looked like as if they were carrying the World Cup on their head. Among the boys was a Dhruv Kanwar Singh, a former student of St Mary’s school, Dubai. He captains the Kingstonian Cricket Club third XI team here, and had managed to get tickets for India’s matches. A few other Indian boys, referring to the next match against New Zealand, shouted “Kiwis, here we come. Run for cover!’

A kiosk inside the Oval ground was selling the famous Gray Nicolls bat. A bat-maker was seen creating his masterpieces, and a few youngsters inspired by India’s batting, were seen checking out the bats.

K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Sunday, June 9

Indian fans outnumber Australians at The Oval


London: The scenes outside The Oval were unbelievable on Sunday. Indian fans outnumbered the Australians and marched all the way - raising slogans in support of their team. All fans were in for a pleasant surprise when they were welcomed at the entrance of the Oval with a Bollywood dance routine by English women. Many of the Indian fans cheered the dancers. Most were dressed in the Indian team outfit, and some were seen sporting a turban in tricolours.

English women dancing to the tune of Bollywood songs at the entrance of the Oval stadium. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

A three-wheeler autorickshaw was transformed into a temporary kiosk by two English men who were painting flags on fans’ faces.

An auto rickshaw turned into temporary face painting kiosk. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Which team do you support? This is a question I’ve always been asked and my reply was that I support the team that plays best cricket. Most journalists at the stadium here follow their country’s team, but since I represent the UAE, they wonder which team would I be following in this tournament. And because my response is that I will be going to all those venues that is humanly possible, all they do is laugh!

Vociferous Indian fans at The Oval. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
A fan carrying banner on Virat Kohli made by his father. K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

I have raced from one venue to another during all the seven World Cups that I have reported so far. I always believed that if one can keep away the feeling of ‘having a favourite team’ and just focus on cricket that the players produce, one is not only able to enjoy writing about the game but also savour the beauty of this game.

The Oval ground

As a reporter, walking into venues like the Oval gives goosebumps since this is where cricket has been played from 1845 when a food market was transformed into a cricket ground. A fan is able to enjoy good cricket only if the pitch is created in a manner that it helps produce an even contest that challenges the batsman and bowler alike. No one really bothers about who made that pitch, and it is only criticised when it does not turn in favour of their team’s strength.

Oval Cricket stadium
View at the Oval Cricket stadium during the Cricket World Cup match between India and Australia. Image Credit: AP

The Oval ground has a board that has names of the head groundsman from 1845 put up. It is with so much reverence that a groundsman is appreciated for his hard work, and I believe all grounds around the world should follow this norm. Every match played enters the cricket record books mentioning the exploits of the cricketers, but it is the groundsman who has set the stage for that and he is never mentioned. Having a wall recognising these unsung heroes, and that to on a historic ground, goes a long way.

Names of all head groundmen
Names of all head groundmen from 1845 displayed at The Oval. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

The World Cup is only 11 days old but there have been upsets, controversies, breath-taking catches and debates between journalists on why some teams have done well and some not. When the tournament began, did anyone ever think that South Africa would reach the brink of being pushed out of the World Cup? It is these uncertanities of the World Cup that glorifies the game too!

Saturday, June 8

Round table with legends on a rainy day in Bristol

Just below the press box, the organisers had placed tables with chairs for refreshments. Sipping hot coffee and enjoying the pastries while sitting with Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Rameez Raja on a table wiped away the gloom that rain had brought into the ground.

Sri Lanka’s legend Kumar Sangakkara too dropped in for a while. Along with the variety of sweets, the ICC also had kept healthy snacks like digestive biscuits and fruits, as well as green tea.

Dessert was the famous ‘strawberries and cream’. When matches between Asian countries are held, the ICC makes sure there is rice served along with a few vegetarian dishes similar to those available in these countries.

Cricket fans huddle under umbrellas as rain delays start of play at the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Bristol County Ground in Bristol, southwest England. Image Credit: AFP

All these legends, though retired, looked in great shape. Sangakkara, like AB De Villiers, looked fit enough to offer himself to play for Sri Lanka again if their batting fails.

It was a delight for the crowd when Akram and Waqar stood in the balcony close to each other and waved at the crowd. Having reported many of their matches over the years, I’ve always wondered whether Pakistan will ever produce the likes of these two ever again.

I’ve travelled with them to numerous venues over the years and the warmth with which they greet whenever we meet gives a special feeling. They express their personal views freely since they have the confidence that their private views will never be reported as a ‘scoop.’

However, former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar is on a spree to antagonise everyone with his blunt statements.

After his tirade on Safaraz Ahmad’s fitness, following which he had to swallow his own words when the Pakistan skipper went on to hit a half century against England, he has now hit out at AB De Villiers for choosing money over his nation and opting to play in T20 leagues instead of the World Cup.

It seems like by the time the World Cup is over, Akhtar will have enough material to write a book on ‘how to make enemies with cricketers.’

The Bristol ground is located in a residential area and the approach road turns into a one way street when cars are parked on one side.

190608 Three Wise Monkeys
Three Wise Monkeys Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

One has to walk a long way to the main street to get a bus or a taxi, and on the way there are many fruit and vegetable shops, and one of them was called Three Wise Monkeys. Was it named to convey the message - speak no evil, hear no evil and eat no evil - and remain healthy?

Orchestra at London’s Paddington station K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

On arrival at the London’s Paddington station after close to a two hour journey from Bristol, there was an orchestra group performing at the station. Listening to their soothing music wiped away the disappointment of a fully washed-out match and the tiredness of a long journey.

Friday, June 7

In rain soaked Bristol with Waqar and memories of Tendulkar

Legendary Pakistan pacer poses for Gulf News while seated with the Gulf News at the Bristol ground press box Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Bristol: It’s always exciting being with cricket-crazy fans. They come up with some strange observations and their comments are often hilarious. On the train from London’s Paddington station to Bristol, there were a few supporters from Pakistan.

A fellow passenger asked one of them about Pakistan’s chances against Sri Lanka, and he remarked with a smile: “To predict about my unpredictable team is like predicting the English weather correctly in the morning.”

Strangely as the train approached Bristol, it began to rain heavily. The station before Bristol is called Bath Spa and many fans got onboard soaked in the rain. “Looks like this station gives everyone a free bath to live up to its name,” remarked one treveller.

It wasn’t easy to get or a bus or taxi from Bristol station. Many journalists were waiting in the long queue for a cab, and everyone quickly formed groups to share a ride, as most are used to doing in the subcontinent.

The heavy rain kept me away from shooting videos. Close to the gates of the stadium, a group of children cheered for Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A short distance away, some fans decided to play cricket in the parking lot since they were unable to sit on the seats soaked in rainwater.

All leading the cricket journalists from Pakistan, who regularly report their home side’s series in UAE, are here. Legendary pacer Waqar Younis, who is one of the commentators for Ten Sports, came out and sat with us in the press box. He enthralled everyone, especially the Pakistan journalists, with interesting tales from the past.

A group of youngsters walk in wanting Sri Lanka to win

Bristol is the home to the Gloucestershire county team. A Pakistan fan at the entrance was someone who has watched all the matches played at this venue. When he realised I was from India, he went on to praise Sachin Tendulkar. He told me that he was from Bristol and has witnessed Tendulkar’s two centuries here. Bristol was one of Tendulkar’s favourite grounds, testimony to that is his average of 176 from 352 runs in three innings. It was at this very venue that Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar put on a 237-run unbeaten partnership against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup.

Soon after, another fan turned up, and he had a question for me. “Do you know that in the 1983 World Cup Sir Richard Hadlee destroyed Sri Lanka with a spell of 5-25 on this ground?” When I asked how he managed to remember so much about the ground, he said: “It’s there on the walls on the stadium; I wasn’t even born in 1983. But Pakistan waited for me to be born to win the World Cup in 1992,” he remarked and laughed loudly.

Close by a few fans were singing the age-old nursery rhyme ‘Rain, rain. go away ...’ but with a slight twist saying “... Pakistan wants to play.” It was followed by the famous chorus in Urdu” ‘Jeetegha bhai Jeetega, Pakistan Jeetega (Pakistan will continue to win)”.

Thursday, June 6

Down 3-0, it’s all doom and gloom in South African camp

Southampton: The plight of the South African team after their third successive defeat was shattering. They are all down and out as if going through a nightmare. The team is put up at the Hilton Hotel located in the stadium itself, and their rooms are just behind the press box. One could closely see them all returning to their rooms utterly disappointed.

There were no fans waiting to meet them near their dressing room and very few of them even turned up to watch the match live. After their defeat to India, the team walked through the ground from their dressing room to their rooms, heads down and drooping shoulders. While it is a fact that their team has been hit by injuries, especially their bowlers, the unfortunate part is that their top batsmen are also not performing to their potential.

So low is the team’s morale that their fielding too turned sloppy. When David Miller dropped an easy catch off Rahul Sharma, an English journalist commented: “They are now not only chokers, but catch droppers and losers as well. It’s back to school time for everyone.”

Read more

An Indian fan, reacting to a South African pacer calling Indian team captain Virat Kohli as immature in a recent interview, said the World Cup has proved that the whole South African team is immature.

Rahane at the press box

I was surprised to see India’s star batsman Ajinkya Rahane, who is not part of the World Cup team, with me in the lift to the press box. Rahane is playing for the Hampshire County team and was returning from the hotel gym. The unfortunate part is that if one is not part of the team, he cannot go anywhere near the Indian dressing room, although he had been sharing rooms with all of them only recently. Rahane had to introduce himself to get access to the gym, unlike in India, where all doors open for all top cricketers!

Ajinkya Rahane

Except in and around the stadium, one finds it hard to believe that you are in a country where a World Cup is being held. Unlike in sub-continent countries where the whole city gets dressed up with World Cup banners, only a few could be seen around here. Due to cost issues, even televisions in the hotels do not show cricket. However, the BBC radio commentary is always available, and once inside the stadium, there is the Dubai based Channel 2 Group’s Cricket Radio that one could choose to listen to.

Former Indian Test star Sanjay Manjrekar even tweeted: “100 TV channels in our hotels in England, but no WC cricket on any of the channels! Strange land this...England.”

Wednesday, June 5

Walk with fans and Eid prayers for Tahir and Amla

Southampton: There is nothing more exciting than walking with cricket fans to the ground. The slogans they raise and their songs can often be very creative.

Many had coined lyrics in praise of Indian captain Virat Kohli - some even addressing him as ‘sexy’. While most of them were Kohli fans, those from South India named Mahendra Singh Dhoni as their favourite, especially those from Chennai. Dhoni captains the Chennai Super Kings team in the Indian Premier League.

Video by: K.R. Nayar/Gulf fNews

The Uber taxi charged me nearly four times the usual fare from the hotel to the stadium for Wednesday’s game. The driver, who was from Kottayam in Kerala, revealed that trips to any place in demand will be costlier. However, if one is willing to be patient, there are other modes of transport to reach the ground that is located on the outskirts of Southampton on the south coast of England.

Trains run regularly from London to Southampton Airport Parkway rail station and so it is easy for fans from different parts of England to reach the venue. There is also a Funnel ferry terminal. Shuttle buses were filled with fans and most of them were seen carrying huge Indian flags.

South African star Imran Tahir (right) with a fan at a restaurant.
South African star Imran Tahir (right) with a fan at a restaurant. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

A British lady was busy painting flags on the cheeks of the fans and most of the fans who alighted from the buses had lined up near her to have their faces painted. Hampshire Bowl is the home to the Hampshire County Cricket Club and was opened only in 2001.

On Monday night, I had met some Indian cricketers at an Indian restaurant and on Tuesday, it was the South African players at another Indian food joint. Since many of the South Africans play in the Indian Premier League regularly, they seem to like Indian food now. When I walked into the Coriander Lounge, another restaurant serving Indian food to order a takeaway, there was a big crowd at one end of the restaurant. Imran Tahir was there with his friends and family and customers were rushing up to him for selfies. Tahir willingly obliged them all.

South African star Imran Tahir mobbed by fans at a restaurant
South African star Imran Tahir mobbed by fans at a restaurant. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Tahir had played for Hampshire second XI and made an impression and went on to play for the Hampshire County team. This explains his familiarity with the restaurants here that cater to his team members’ taste.

Tahir and Hashim Amla had attended Eid Prayers at the Southampton mosque before coming for training on Tuesday. Some locals channels flashed the news of both the cricketers being mobbed by worshipers. Pakistan umpire Aleem Dar, who is the reserve umpire for this match, also joined the two cricketers to the mosque.

Read more

The entrance to the Press Box at this stadium is through the upscale Hilton Hotel. The South African team stays in this hotel and their rooms are close to the Press Box. Since this hotel is away from the city, the Indian team preferred to stay in a hotel in the city.

There is a huge stand named after the Australian leg spinner Shane Warne on the left of the entrance of the stadium. He had played for Hampshire from 2000 to 2008 and is said to have also played a huge role in transforming this County team into a successful one.

Tuesday, June 4

Chennai Dosa with Indian cricketers in Southampton

Team India coach Ravi Shastri follows a policy of enjoying and playing cricket. While on the ground, he expects everyone to train hard. The team practiced from 9 am on most days and their work out was really intense. After the warm-up, they had a long session of fielding practice taking running catches from various angles, especially running backward. It was evident from the efforts being put in that everyone wanted to give their best. Since the weather was cold, that helped to put in as much effort as they wanted.

Watch: Team India train under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri

After Pakistan staged a comeback following a huge defeat, the Indian camp knows that South Africa too may try to bounce back from their two defeats to England and Bangladesh. All batsmen did mock running between the wickets before going to bat at the nets since it was meant to sharpen their reflexes and speed. Virat Kohli has shown how his fitness has made him a quick runner between the wickets; so everyone is looking to emulate his fitness and agility. During the training session, media were allowed in the stadium. So journalists got the opportunity to interact with the players. Mahendra Singh Dhoni posed for photographers while Kohli obliged with his autograph on his pictures. Mohammad Shami was particular that photographers give him a copy of the picture they had taken of him.

The Indian team is put up at a hotel not far away from where I stay. So when I came out for dinner, I spotted a few of them on the street. With over a hundred Indian restaurants in Southampton, Team India players preferred these restaurants for dinner.

Chennai Dosa Restaurant
Indian cricketers Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar at Chennai Dosa Restaurant for dinner. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Chennai Dosa is a popular eating joint in Southampton. A few journalists from India and I decided to have our dinner there. The restaurant boasts of serving authentic South Indian cuisine, including a variety of dosas. While we waited for our food to arrive, suddenly there was a commotion around. Indian cricketers Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar had walked in, and since I was with journalists from some leading dailies in South India, they stopped to shake hands with all of us. And as soon as they sat down to place their order, almost everyone in the restaurant rushed to them for selfies. They patiently obliged each one of them. Also, since both the cricketers were from Chennai and many of those in the restaurant were from this state, they conversed in Tamil.

Chennai Dosa Restaurant
Chennai Dosa Restaurant in Southampton.

A teenage girl who managed to get a close selfie with them was so thrilled that she gave a thumbs up sign to everyone in the restaurant while her parents kept urging her to come back and finish her food. Most customers were seen eating with their eyes fixed on the two stars whom they otherwise get to see only on their TV screens. The two then left quickly before 9.45pm, maybe to ensure they do not break the curfew time for returning to their hotel rooms.

Monday, June 3

With the Indian team at Southampton

The Indian team is gearing up for their match against South Africa at Southampton. The team came in as early as 9am and trained hard. After the initial warm up in the cold weather, all of them indulged in fielding practice, especially slip catching.

With the ball moving a lot, a more focus was given for slip catching. All of them also practised running between the wickets before going into the nets.

Watch: Team India train under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri

Watch: Skipper Virat Kohli leaves after a long net practice 

Watch: Mahendra Singh Dhoni comes out to practice

Watch: Star all rounder Hardik Pandya goes out for training

Watch: Dhawan doing running between wickets training with pads on

Watch: Slip catching training in progress

Watch: Mohammad Shami wants his photos taken

Watch: Dhawan obliges a fan

Sunday, June 2

When cricket acts as soothing balm for sorrows back home

Southampton: Sri Lankan fans who came for the Cardiff match were disappointed by the poor show from their team against New Zealand. They had come with drums and guitars, expecting their team to put up a good fight against the Kiwis. Though they could not get enough opportunities to use them during the match, they decided to wipe away their sorrow by beating the drums and playing the guitar outside the stadium after the match. It gave the impression that it was Sri Lankans who had won the match as even many New Zealand fans stood around them and seemed to be enjoying the songs and dance. In fact, a few of them even joined the group.

Sri Lanka lost the match but their fans decided to remove their gloom outside.

Since both countries had just experienced terror attacks in their countries, it was pleasant to see cricket act as a soothing balm to their sorrows back home.

Attracting more youngsters to the game can be considered as one of the more successful methods of keeping them away from being lured by the terror groups. The Afghan taxi driver who drove me to the hotel in Southampton was delighted to learn that I was reporting the cricket World Cup. He expressed his joy over Afghanistan’s rise in cricket. “I had left my country when Taliban was taking control. But I am very happy that more and more youngsters in my country want to be cricketers and are idolising players like Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi instead of following the wrong people and taking a dangerous path.”

It is only when one travels to different venues that you realise the big role that cricket plays in bringing people together. While in the stadium they may cheer for their own teams, but they travel and return to their homes together using public transport. The train from Cardiff to Southampton was packed with fans from both countries and it was good to see them all sharing seating space for everyone to travel together. In the Oval, it was interesting to see England and South African fans eat, drink and cheer cricket throughout the match.

While it is no secret that there is a huge rivalry between India and Pakistan, as well as between England and Australia, but personally cricketers have no animosity between them, and many of them are actually friends. It is here that Twenty20 cricket leagues like the Indian Premier League have played a huge role. Almost all players were playing, staying and travelling together for nearly 50 days before the World Cup.

After Sri Lanka and Pakistan were all out for scores around 100, it felt like I was reporting UAE’s popular T10 tournament since the scores were similar to what teams had posted in that tournament. The 10.30 am start for some of the matches has been a boon for many players who had played the sleep-deprived IPL matches where they finished very late. Advertisers are hoping that players post big scores and matches go the full length. Shorter matches have resulted in major loss of revenue for them as air time for their products have nearly got wiped away.

Saturday, June 1

Sarfaraz’s stomach, lovely Cardiff and the ordeal of being a Pakistani fan

The distance that one needs to cover to reach the different World Cup venues is amazing. But what makes it comfortable in England is the well-connected transport network making travel less difficult, but yet one needs to put in the effort to cover the long distances.

I write this diary on the train to Cardiff from Southampton for the New Zealand-Sri Lanka match. I left the hotel at 6am to catch the first train, and the journey through the mist covered countryside is stunning. Sipping hot coffee and munching a hot croissant, watching the beautiful landscape makes one forget the strain of the journey. It was a similar experience while travelling by bus from London to Southampton on Friday. I was so engrossed enjoying the countryside view that I hardly realised it had taken me two and half hours to reach my destination, and that too after having reported till late evening from the Oval ground on Thursday.

World cup cardiff
On the way to the Cardiff! Image Credit: K.R. Nair/Gulf News

Pakistan’s huge defeat to West Indies has shaken the Pakistan fans here. My taxi driver at Southampton happened to be a Pathan from Peshawar. When he realised that I was a journalist reporting the World Cup, he began, “Leave Pakistan alone, don’t bother about them. They've always played this way. We feel happy when they win, but on most occasions, they disappoint us.”

He introduced himself as Bakht Nawab Khan and continued: “I never like to discuss my team with anyone and I never tell anyone that my team will win; but when they win I feel proud.” He answered a call on his phone through the speaker, and I heard him say that he was driving a cricket journalist to Hedge, near Rose Bowl ground. The person on the other side immediately wanted to know how one could get tickets for the Pakistan matches.

The fan following for the Pakistan team is big here, and many journalists have yet not been able to get their passes for Pakistan's matches. A journalist jokingly remarked: “Our getting a seat in the press box is as unpredictable as the Pakistan team.”

Here's a look at what fans had to say.

A number of jokes on Pakistan are now being shared by everyone here. Fans have coined different adjectives to describe them - some calling them gutless, clueless and hopeless. Former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar’s hard hitting comment on Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad that Sarfaraz’s stomach was sticking out and his face was all puffed when he came out to bat, and that he is the first unfit Pakistan captain, is being supported by many. Safaraz’s stomach did show, but whether that was because he had taken brunch or a heavy breakfast due to the late 10.30am start, one would not know.

The official programme booklet had an interesting piece of information on the state of the Sri Lankan cricket, especially their bowlers. As of April 2019, no Sri Lankan bowler who has made his ODI debut since 2013 had taken 25 wickets, whereas 55 players from other countries who had debuted in 2013 had reached the 25-wicket mark!

Thursday, May 31:

The day England forgot Brexit crisis to enjoy cricket

England's Ben Stokes
England's Ben Stokes (2R) celebrates with teammates after taking a catch to dismiss South Africa's Andile Phehlukwayo during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London on May 30, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

The first match of the Cricket World Cup 2019 went England's way, and all English fans were only too happy to savour the win and forget all that was happening outside cricket. Though the country is going through a crisis with Prime Minister Theresa May having resigned over the Brexit debacle, this was the day many refused to think about anything but cricket and soak in the joy of a victory for their country.

The home team fans had filled the stadium and it was visual treat to see a packed Oval stadium. They began dancing with joy from the moment England inched towards victory over South Africa.

England's Ben Stokes celebrates
England's Ben Stokes celebrates the catch of South Africa's Andile Phehlukwayo during the ICC Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval, London, Thursday, May 30, 2019. Image Credit: AP

For the post-match press conference, all journalists were taken by the organisers through the ground. Walking close to the boundary line, I got a spectacular view of the celebrations by England fans. Many simply refused to leave the ground as they wanted to soak in the victory atmosphere as much as possible. It was bright and sunny despite being well past 6 pm.

I wondered what the atmosphere would have been had the result gone in South Africa’s favour. It would have surely turned out to be a gloomy start to the tournament since the home team fans had all come prepared to celebrate England’s win. After watching their reactions and the hopes they carry with them of lifting the World Cup for the first time, it will be shattering for them if they don’t emerge as the champions.

Many believe that English cricket is now at the pink of its health and is set to conquer the world by proving to be the best team. A group of fans could be heard singing “We will win the World Cup and it is here for us to win.”

England cricketers celebrate victory
England cricketers celebrate victory during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London on May 30, 2019. England won by 104 runs. Image Credit: AFP

While walking through the ground, which takes about ten minutes to the press conference room, a journalist asked: “Would it have been easier if the two captains came to the press box rather than over a hundred journalists walk all the way through the crowd to the press conference room?" I was happy for the walk because I would not have been able to soak in the response of the fans otherwise.

Some of the cricket fans here fear that if England, who have been playing good cricket in the last few years, does not win the World Cup this time around, it could lead to a huge dip in the game's popularity in the already soccer-mad country. This was very evident because even though the Cricket World Cup is happening in the country, most of the leading dailies continue to carry soccer stories as their lead sports news.

A disappointed South African fan when asked about the defeat said: “Our team played the match accepting that England was a strong team and we had no chance to win.” Even after the press conference, food stalls in the stadium seemed to continue doing brisk business. A picnic-like atmosphere prevailed all around with fans failing to stop cheering for the home team.

Thursday, May 30:

Cricket World Cup begins amid much fanfare from South Africa and England

London: The walk from Vauxhall Tube station to the famous Oval ground for the opening match of the ICC Cricket World between hosts England and South Africa was enjoyable with volunteers guiding fans all the way and wishing everyone an exciting match.

South Africans made the biggest noise announcing that they will beat the favourites — England. Posters displaying an interesting quote from legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar saying “When people throw stones at you, turn them into milestones” could be seen along with the World Cup logo along the way. An apple with the World Cup emblem was distributed free to every fan. An English fan who was distributing the apple jokingly told Gulf News: “It is only given to the South Africans to poison them.”

Although many fans from the subcontinent, especially India and Pakistan, did not turn up for the match, all food stalls selling Indian food were seen to be doing brisk business. Eating a samosa, a South African fan said: “I enjoy samosas and I love to munch them, just like how my team will chew England today.”

Indian flavours on high demand

A packed stadium watched the action at the Oval. An Australian, who had turned up for the match, remarked: “I have come for this match just to tell my grandchildren that I’d witnessed the opening match of the 2019 Cricket World Cup I also want to see how England play today ... just to gauge our chances of retaining the World Cup.”

The press box at the Oval was packed and my seat was next to the official scorer. He told me: “You have the best seat in the stadium as you can get details from me all the time.”

When leg-spinner Imran Tahir picked the wicket of opener Jonny Bairstow with the second ball of the match and ran all the way towards the crowd spreading his arms, it looked like he could run out of the ground. None of his colleagues were able to reach him for a long time to give him a pat since he had almost reached long-off. So quick was the first wicket to fall that many fans actually missed it.

South Africa's Imran Tahir
South Africa's Imran Tahir celebrates taking England's Jonny Bairstow wicket for a duck during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London. Image Credit: AFP

I asked one attendee whether he was supporting England. “I am Irish but am here to support England skipper Eoin Morgan as he is Irish. I want to see an Irish captain lift the World Cup for England,” he said proudly.

England and South Africa
A general view is pictured during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London on May 30, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Some of the Indian fans were excited that Virat Kohli was well dressed when he went to meet the Queen on Wednesday evening. In the group picture with all captains, he was seen seated without wearing socks! A fan jokingly remarked: “Kohli seems to have forgotten to pack his socks for the World Cup. Hope he buys a few and pulls them up, and performs well during the matches.”

Watch: Free apples with the World Cup emblem are served for fans 

Music band welcoming fans

Fans get ready for opening match

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 has commenced from the Oval Cricket Ground. Gulf News takes you on a trip with the fans into the stadium. The excitement to watch the opening match was unprecedented. The fans, making a lot of noise, walked into their seats. Almost everyone carried food on to the ground to watch the action munching and drinking.

The queue to buy World Cup memorabilia

At the Oval memorabilia store
At the Oval memorabilia store. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

An Indian Sikh man with his friends at the Oval

The volunteers did their best by guiding the fans from the railway station. Long queues for food as well as to enter could be seen. It wasn’t only England and South African fans that turned up but from other cricket playing nations too.

World Cup journey begins: On way to Oval with volunteers guiding all the way

As a cricket fan told Gulf News: “I can tell my grandchildren that I had watched the opening match of the Cricket World Cup 2019.”

190530 volunteers
On way to Oval with volunteers guiding all the way Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

Wednesday, May 29:

The Oval all dressed up to usher in the showpiece

Walking into the Oval Cricket Ground also evokes a special feeling - it is like diving into a book on cricket history. In every nook and corner of this stadium, there is a feel of the history of the game and stadium authorities have ensured that the history of this ground is projected well.

There was a long queue to collect my accreditation badge for this World Cup. It was a special moment for me being my seventh World Cup that I will be reporting. When I reached the collection window, the lady at the counter said that my accreditation had already been collected!

K.R. Nayar
At Oval, with the accreditation for my seventh World Cup.

It felt similar to those who may have turned up to vote in the election in India and were told that their vote had already been cast. However, the lady quickly solved the problem stating that it was a slip of the eye and then presented me with a lovely World Cup bag that has the World Cup 2019 cap.

Cricketers feel special when they receive their Test cap or the One Day International Cap; the same applies to journalists when they get the souvenir cap. I had carried with me the 2015 World Cup cap that I received in Australia, and it was exciting to have both the caps on and take a selfie.

Today, the Oval looked even more beautiful than before since it has been dressed up for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019’s first match between England and South Africa tomorrow. It was a festive atmosphere in and around the ground. Food trucks kept coming in to position themselves at their allotted places. Though the opening match does not figure India, a truck named 'Goody Gujarati' offering Indian food is among the range of food stalls. Another prominent one will be selling the famous British 'fish and chips'.

On the way to the press conference room is a wall describing the history of the Oval. Among the interesting reads are the one that shows when the first Test match was played here from September 6-8, 1880, between England against Australia, and another one on how the Ashes series began from 1882.

The historic Oval ground
The historic Oval ground all dressed up for the World Cup. Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News

England had lost to Australia in a low scoring match at this venue when a newspaper called The Sporting Times stated that English cricket had died and its body would be cremated, and the Ashes to be taken to Australia. Very soon, a slot indicating that ICC Cricket World Cup 2019’s first match was played here will also find its place on the walls of this historic stadium.