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K.R. Nayar's ICC Champions Trophy diary

Gulf News Chief Cricket Writer K.R. Nayar keeps you up to date with all the goings on as he covers the Champions Trophy live from England

  • John Harmison, driver of the Cross Country train that took India and Sri Lanka fans to Cardiff.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • The Indian team's bodyguard, South African Tinus, keeps an eye on the players during practice in Cardiff.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • 'Cricketeers' point the way to the Oval in London.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal narrowly avoids being run-out during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy cricket match beImage Credit: AFP
  • A woman distributingfree water bottles to fansspreading the message ofbrotherhood.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni address the media before the match against Pakistan.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • The commentators box at the Oval with former India captain Kapil Dev and former England captain Alec Stewart, Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News.
  • The Chawla Sindhi Royals team players from Dubai supporting the Indian team at the Oval during the Champions Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq (R) bats during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy cricket match between Pakistan and Image Credit: AFP
  • Indian cricket team fan Den Jairath Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • K.R. Nayar's view from the press box as England took on Australia at Edgbaston on Sunday.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar
  • K.R. Nayar's view from the press box as England took on Australia at Edgbaston on Sunday.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar/Gulf News
  • K.R. Nayar's view from the press box as England took on Australia at Edgbaston on Sunday.Image Credit: K.R. Nayar

Friday June 21

Fans from both teams were at their best. There were hilarious and thought-provoking comments, both from fans and journalists. An Indian scribe was heard commenting: "Lasith Malinga will never pose any threat to the Indian batsmen. Indians play him more than Sri Lankans do due to the Indian Premier League."

Soon after India qualified to play England in the final, another was heard asking about England skipper Alastair Cook: "What should be Cook’s recipe against India?" To which another replied: "Ask his [Jos] Buttler."

Following Shikhar Dhawan’s splendid form — he has scored 330 runs in four matches at an average of 110 — an email is now going around: "How can you stop Dhawan? Please send all suggestions on a postcard to the England and Wales Cricket Board headquarters immediately."

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni handed over his wicketkeeping gloves to Dinesh Karthik so he could bowl, an Indian fan observed: "Rahul Dravid gave up the wicketkeeping gloves to bat and Dhoni is giving it up to bowl. The only wicket that Dhoni has ever taken is that of West Indies batsman Travis Dowlin in the 2009 Champions Trophy. After Dowlin became a Dhoni victim, his cricketing career ended. If not for the review, Mahela Jayawardene, who was given out, may also have had the same fate."

After Ishant Sharma’s deadly spell that won him the man-of-the-match award, a tweet showing his hair covering his face at the point of delivery said: "Sharma’s image should now be used more to scare kids rather than inspire them to become fast bowlers."

After Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews called it a sad day, it is now said he should be called ‘Agony Mathews’.

Thursday June 20

Fans on track for a great day out

Cardiff: The majority of the fans watching the India-Sri Lanka semi-final here on Thursday were from outside of Wales, meaning the small railway station at Cardiff was a busy place.

As usual, I took the cross-country train from Birmingham and it was filled with Indian and Sri Lankan fans heading to the stadium.

I was seated close to the driver’s cabin and I learnt he was a keen cricket fan. Although named John Harmison, he insisted he was not a relative of former England pacer Steve! At every station, Harmison had a tough time ensuring that all fans, most of whom were in a jovial mood, boarded the train.

“It’s so lively when there are cricket fans in the train. Lots of noise... and that keeps us busy,” said Harmison, who was kind enough to permit me to take his picture from inside the driver’s cabin.

Harmison said he would love to watch Sunday’s final, in which England will play, but was not sure if he would be able to make it because of work.

One of the train’s coaches had more Sri Lankans than Indians and almost all of them had skipped work or college to enjoy the match. They kept chanting “Ela Machang Ela”, which translates to “Excellent friend, excellent.”

From the station, I walked with the Sri Lankan fans past the Millennium Stadium, which is home to the famous Wales national rugby team.

Sri Lankans love rugby as well so many stopped to take photos in front of the impressive venue. Incidentally, this is the second largest stadium with a retractable roof and, with rains affecting many matches, one fan commented that soon all cricket stadiums in England may have to be equipped with similar roofs.

The United Kingdom’s Met Office has announced that shifting wind patterns in the North Atlantic will result in yet more wet summers in the UK. An English daily here reported: “Sun-lovers look away... a decade of dull wet summers awaits you. It’s time for soggy holidays, ruined barbecues and muddy music festivals. Never has the huge cost of £80 million for the retractable roof at Wimbledon looked like a better investment.”

As I reached the stadium, I learnt about the match start being delayed due to rain.

Most of the kiosks that sold India and Sri Lanka flags had huge umbrellas over them and those who were specialists in painting flags on the faces of fans had a tough time.

Interestingly, those who sold flags were from Pakistan and the face painters were locals. A fan commented: “They are neutral like the umpires — hence any mistakes in their painting will be pardoned.”

Wednesday June 19

Team India’s saviours: Tiny and company 

Cardiff: I arrived at Cardiff the same time as Team India arrived in their team bus. A heavy security cordon was present around the players in the wake of the recent spot-fixing scandal and the players are not supposed to interact with the media except during press conferences.

Interestingly, Indian journalists who trail the team constantly hardly ever get to see the players except when they train and, that too, only the day before a match. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has hired three private bodyguards too who keep an eye on every player and also stop anyone from getting too close to the players. They are South Africa’s Tinus, Australia’s Craig Weatherly and England’s Kyle Gould.

Tinus looks like the bouncers one normally sees outside bars. When Gulf News approached him for a picture, Tinus — addressed by players as ‘Tiny’ despite his huge size, said: "I am not supposed to pose for pictures."

His next question was: "Do you know who I am?"

This reporter walked away preferring to shoot his pictures from a distance and be safe.

Tinus follows Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni everywhere, including the press conferences. He stands at the door keeping a watchful eye on everyone entering the room. Following the spotfixing scandal, stringent measures have been taken to ensure that no untoward incidents take place during the tournament. It seems players have been told not to move alone and that guests are not permitted into their rooms.

The Indian team management is extremely particular that none of their players get into any trouble like Australia’s David Warner, who punched England’s Joe Root in a bar. Incidentally, the present Indian team does not have players like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Santhakumaran Sreesanth who have a penchant for nightlife.

Suresh Raina was the first one to reach the ground ready for fielding exercises. The hard work he puts in reveals why he is hailed as one of the finest fielders around. The practice began with a warm-up football match that was contested quite vigorously. When Dr Baba, the team’s media manager was asked who was best in football, he picked Dhoni.

Dhoni prefers to keep his players away from pressure and he leads the way, always joking and mixing freely with the players. He walked into the press conference with his pads on and was in a jovial mood throughout. The bright sunshine throughout the day has given everyone some hope that the match may not be a washout.

 Tuesday June 18

‘Cricketeers’ are everywhere to help 

London: You can find them everywhere, ready to help with a smile. From the moment one comes out of the underground railway station, they are there to guide you to the stadium. One gets the feeling of being welcomed to the ground.

Wearing red uniforms and a glove, they help you with directions and even help people cross the road.

They are called ‘Cricketeers’ and are volunteers of the Champions Trophy. Organisers here have recruited 900 of them, and incidentally all of them are doing this free service as a commitment to their society.

Asked why they are called Cricketeers, Claire Gatcum, the marketing and communications manager of the Champions Trophy, said: “We did not want to call them volunteers but cricketeers as they are here to help cricket.”

About 2,600 people applied to become Cricketeers, of which only 900 were selected based on their passion for the work. They play a number of roles, from meeting and greeting the spectators, supporting on-field entertainment, preventing ambush marketing, guiding drivers, ground staff and distributing scoresheets at the Press box.

They seemed busiest during the India-Pakistan match — having to repeatedly distribute the Duckworth Lewis calculations during every stoppage.

Volunteering is big in the UK, with many people willing to take it up regularly. A study conducted recently on volunteers revealed that 73 per cent of employers employ a candidate with volunteer experience and 94 per cent employers believe that volunteering can add to skills.

Another motivating factor is the fact that there is no age limit for becoming a volunteer and hence one could find many volunteers in their fifties during the Champions Trophy.

With the rains playing hide-and-seek, there was heated debate as to why the ICC does not move the game indoors.

Given that it rains frequently in England, some suggested that a glass roof should be built over the whole stadium.

One scribe said: “If Qatar can make a whole air-conditioned stadium, why not here?” Some also felt that if the sides are kept open, it might aid swing bowling too.

Interestingly, as I walked out of the stadium after Sri Lanka’s victory, I met the same fan who had compared Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to aged wine, saying they improve with age.

“They are better than wine as they are getting stronger too... the shots that Jayawardene played today clearly reveal it,” he said.

Monday June 17

Sri Lanka fans in high spirits at the Oval

London: On Monday I was treated to a nice long walk with some Sri Lankan fans from the Vauxhall underground station to the Oval ground ahead of their crucial match with Australia here. They sang songs in praise of their team and some carried large posters of Kumar Sangakkara, while many of them also wore one of the famed Lasith Malinga wigs.

A few kept chanting ‘Sri Lanka Jayawewa’. As the chant started getting louder, I wanted to know what it was all about, and a Sri Lankan scribe said it was equivalent to India/Pakistan’s ‘Zindabad’.

Sri Lanka and Australia are known for their intense rivalry. From Sri Lanka’s star bowler Muttiah Muralitharan being accused of being a chucker and humiliated in Australia, there have been many instances where players from the teams have clashed.

Australians have always held the upper hand through their sledging, so it was interesting to hear a few such instances being recounted by a Sri Lankan fan while waiting to get into the ground.

It seems Ian Healy, frustrated with the portly Arjuna Ranatunga’s batting, once told a bowler loudly: “Put a Mars bar at a good length and maybe then he might get out.” Healy, who as wicketkeeper could clearly be heard through the stump microphone, once even told Ranatunga, who had asked for a runner: “You will not get a runner for being overweight.”

Sri Lankans, who love their drinks, queued up at a stant near the ground entrance. “We drink wine for Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene,” said a fan. “And, like wine, both these batsmen seem to be getting better with age.”

A few Tamil supporters were seen distributing pamphlets at the Oval gates, calling for the boycott of Sri Lanka by international cricket teams. An angry Sri Lankan fan was heard responding: “Please stop your nonsense and come in and enjoy the game.”

At the pre-match press conference, English journalists seemed more interested in knowing Australia skipper Michael Clarke’s reaction on the likely return of Kevin Pietersen from injury and its impact on the Ashes series. Irritated with the questions, Clarke responded: “Is Pietersen playing for Sri Lanka? My focus now is on Sri Lanka and I will talk about Pietersen when we play him.”

Sunday June 16

Pakistan batsmen need beating with their bats

Birmingham: The on-field action during the India-Pakistan match wasn’t exciting owing to the frequent stoppages due to rain, combined with Pakistan’s poor batting display yet again. However, the interruptions gave me enough time to keep my eyes and ears open for comments off-the-field and I wasn’t disappointed in any way since fans were more imaginative than the Pakistan batting.

Some fans indulged in tweeting and journalists spent more time in the press lounge than at the desk, sipping hot coffee and cakes. Rain was the epicentre of almost all conversations. Just so that I don’t miss any interesting observation, I carried my notepad with me every time I dropped in at the lounge.

It began with an Indian journalist asking his English counterpart: “Do you call this summer in England? Apologetically, he replied: “Sorry mate, our weather for the last one year has been awful. We are lucky if we get one full sunny day.”

A few made jokes about the rain using players as targets. One remark was: “Mohammad Irfan is so tall ...can someone not ask him to wipe away the clouds?” If that was not enough, in-form Ravindra Jadeja, now known as the man with the golden arm, was told through a tweet: “Jadeja, can you please remove the clouds too?”

After Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore’s press conference, in which he expressed helplessness over solving the mystery behind his team’s poor batting, I overheard a comment: “Since he cannot do anything, the least he can do now is to beat them with their own bat.”

Whatever fleeting moments of glory the Pakistan fans had during the match, they made full use of it through their loud cheering. An English volunteer said: “Since India seem to be the superior team in cricket, may be Pakistan fans can outmatch them in screaming.”

Saturday June 15

Spreading the brotherhood message among fans 

Birmingham: One often goes to an India-Pakistan match expecting aggressive behaviour from supporters of both teams.

The animosity between the two countries is well known as both countries have fought battles very often. But it was a pleasant feeling at Edgbaston, when, as I got out of my taxi, I was offered a bottle of water by a group of ladies with the message “treat your neighbours as if they were your family”.

These are words from Hussain ibn Ali who lived in 620 AD and served as a role model for people promoting compassion and generosity. The message urges everyone to visit the website

An Indian fan, who was being given a bottle, was heard asking a lady: Is this Indian water or Pakistan water? To which the lady replied: “It is a bottle of water from people who want peace in this world and wishes everyone lives as a family and not enemies.”

Flags and caps of both the nations were sold separately. Interestingly, a Pakistani was seen selling Indian flags. He was wearing a Pakistan cap to express his support. When asked why he was selling Indian flags, he said: “My brother is selling for the Pakistan fans, and for us it does not matter who buys it as long as we are able to meet our fans’ demands,” he said.

As I was walking towards the stadium entrance, I could hear silent whispers: “Want a ticket for 300?” Incidentally, despite the match being of mere statistical importance, tickets were still being sold by touts since the majority of matches were sold out within three hours of release last month.

The atmosphere outside was so electrifying that at the media gate a volunteer was heard asking Sami Ul Hassan, the International Cricket Council’s Media and Communications Manager: “Why don’t you organise an India-Pakistan match every year here. It feels so good.”

When I entered the stadium there was bright sunlight, and when I remarked it was a wonderful day, a volunteer warned: “Please don’t trust the English weather.” This volunteer who hails from Hyderabad in India, has been living in England for the last 14 years.

“I was really surprised when we had such bright sunshine for the England-Australia match here. For a while I wondered whether I am really in England,” he added.

Inside the stadium the crowd kept chanting the names of their country loudly right from the start. In the press box, Indian and Pakistan reporters were given front rows and neutral country reporters like me and those from Sri Lanka and England occupied the back row of the packed press box. 

Friday June 14

Captain Cool not tackling his grey area

Birmingham: The ICC Champions Trophy is a short tournament and hence the pressure on players to perform is also very high.

Back-to-back victories, like India have achieved, can ease the stress, but a clash against traditional rivals Pakistan drags every player into a pressure situation.

Every member of the team knows that, if they lose to Pakistan on Saturday, though the result is of no significance as they have already qualified for the semi-finals, it can harm their confidence.

So India’s shrewd captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has worked out a simple formula of living in the present.

“I am one who believes being in the present really helps, because it really takes off the things that are not really in your control. I don’t believe in imagining. What I believe in is doing stuff right,” he said.

Though Dhoni lives in the present, his hair has greyed, which makes one wonder whether it is due to the pressures of captaincy. He is known as Captain Cool, but whether off the field he is actually a cool person, few people know.

When Dhoni removes his helmet, his grey hair glistens in the bright sun. Two reporters were heard discussing why Dhoni is not using dye, with one saying: “Barack Obama has grey hair and so has Dhoni. Both hold the toughest posts in the world.”

They also observed that if Dhoni may continue for another five years, he will become India’s first fully grey-haired international cricketer.

Dhoni nowadays avoids controversial questions, offering his smile instead of a reply, making the reporter who asked the question wonder whether he heard it or the question did not register at all.

Dhoni also does not make personal conversations with any reporter, unlike former captain Sourav Ganguly, who made sure to interact personally with all Bengali journalists.

So when a reporter asked Dhoni whether he has a point to prove by winning this tournament, many wondered whether the answer would be a silent smile, but he replied: “Every assignment that we go in to we have a point to prove, that’s what international cricket is all about — when you compete amongst the best teams in the world. There’s always the fact that you play for your country, you play for the pride of the people that you are representing.”

In sharp contrast to Dhoni is Pakistan’s skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. When I met him after a press conference here, he greeted me and many Pakistan reporters with a hug. He answers even the most controversial and tricky questions. In fact, he shocked all journalists when he said that his team deserved to be booed for their performances so far in the tournament. 

Thursday June 13 

Cricketing greats add to the Oval experience  

Birmingham: Sitting alongside three former international captains in the commentary box with the best view of the Oval ground was an unforgettable experience.

It is from here that UAE listeners get live radio coverage of the happenings on the field.

Dubai-based Channel 2 group has roped in some of the greatest players to commentate for Cricket Radio — including Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Shane Warne, Alec Stewart, Mike Gatting and commentators Ralph Dewlor and Brian Murgatroyd. Ajay Sethi, Chairman of the Channel 2 group, is also usually on hand.

I was fortunate to get nearly an hour with these greats and they had lots of interesting stories from their careers to talk about.

The International Cricket Council mobile app is now using Cricket Radio’s world feed and all commentators were in a great mood as their tally of listeners had crossed the one million mark through feeds to Sirius XM in the USA and Canada, Reliance Mobile in India, Klas FM in the Caribbean and Radio 4 in the UAE.

Though Gavaskar is an expert commentator, Dev is yet to get used to the role. Irrespective of his commentating experience, Dev’s views based on his cricketing knowledge are thought-provoking, such as an observation he had about India’s rising star Shikhar Dhawan: “Have you noticed no-one has noticed the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir? Everyone is now talking about Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja. That is the way of the world when youngsters take on the role of seniors.”

The panoramic view from the commentary box makes one appreciate many interesting aspects of the game, and when one is along with the former greats they draw your attention to some of those minute details that could be easily missed or may not even be visible for television viewers.

During the India-West Indies match, I would usually have missed seeing M.S. Dhoni leave his position and jog nearly 20 yards to congratulate Rohit Sharma, who had produced an acrobatic bit of fielding. While sitting there I also realised how quick Ravindra Jadeja is in the field.

The hard work being put in by India’s fielding coach Trevor Penney is evident. While in the commentary box, I heard that Penney, a former player for Warwickshire, was hailed by English newspapers as one of best fielders to have graced the county game.

Interestingly, one could also clearly notice from the commentary box that Ishant Sharma’s new long hair could be dangerous for his bowling. At the point of delivery, his locks, at times, totally blinds his vision! No wonder he was hit for 21 runs in the 49th over by Darren Sammy — very likely he had no clue where his delivery pitched and how quickly Sammy’s shot sailed over the boundary for those sixes!

Wednesday June 12

A slice of Dubai cricket family at the Oval

Birmingham: There are some cricket fans around the world who are willing to do whatever it takes to watch their sport. This Champions Trophy too is no exception as it has fans from South Africa, Sri Lanka and even Australia — and Dubai.

It was exciting to meet players from the Chawla Sindhi Royals team that played in the Dubai Cricket Council’s Sindhi Premier League during the India-West Indies match at the Oval. This team’s owner, Niranjan Chawla, had promised their players soon after they emerged champions of the second edition of Sindhi Premier League that he will fly down all 13 members of the squad for a tour of the UK and also watch an India match at the Champions Trophy.

Shiva Pagarani, executive member of the Dubai Cricket Council, who was also instrumental in the formation of the Sindhi Premier League, said: “We planned a tour of the UK to play some matches and also watch the India-West Indies Champions Trophy match. Now that India have won, all of us are eager to watch the India-Pakistan match too. In the spare days between these games, we would be playing three matches — one against the local Doctors Xl at Hinckley Town Cricket Ground, the next one against the Leicestershire Over 40s club at Kibworth Cricket Ground, and the third with Langton’s Cricket Club Social Xl at the Langton’s Cricket Ground.”

Coming from the hot and humid weather in Dubai, the team were seen enjoying the cool weather and even the slight intermittent drizzles. “To get to watch the Champions Trophy during our tour is like icing on the cake; but witnessing Shikhar Dhawan’s ton against West Indies was like the big cherry on the icing,” remarked Pagarani. UAE batsman Swapnil Patil, and Neeraj Ramamurthy, owner and captain of the Wings XI team, were also there soaking in all the excitement of the Oval match.

An interesting observation by a bunch of Indian fans at the Oval was that Team India’s spirited performance in the Champions Trophy has a lot to do with moustache. Two of the top performers: Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja now enjoy spreading fear among their opponents not only through their performance but also by twirling their moustaches. According to one fan, a moustache can give a lot of confidence, authority and a sense of bravery to a man.

According to Dhawan, he has one on since he hails from a Punjabi family where everyone has a moustache and given that his wife too likes it, he has decided to keep it. Jadeja, meanwhile, seems to have been inspired by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. 

Tuesday June 11

Pakistan fans downcast after second defeat 

London: Almost the whole of Birmingham seems to have plunged into a gloom after Pakistan lost to South Africa and is danger of being eliminated. Many Pakistani expatriates living in Birmingham, seemed to be quite upset over their team’s loss.

“It was clear that with such a poor batting line-up, Pakistan had no chance. In fact, most of my friends have not bought tickets for the finals since they don’t expect Pakistan to qualify,” remarked the Pakistani taxi driver who drove me to Birmingham New Street Railway station on my way to London for the India-West Indies match at the Oval.

At the station, one of the train guards was a Pakistani, and his comment was: “It was a total waste of my time and money that day,” he remarked. He was at Edgbaston for the match against South Africa and had turned up for duty at 7am.

Soon after the match, jokes about the Pakistan team began to make rounds. One of the popular ones was: “During the partition between India and Pakistan, it was agreed that India gets the batsmen and Pakistan the bowlers.”

Misbah Ul Haq, the beleaguered skipper, is now being addressed as “captain of the Titanic.”

In sharp contrast was the mood of the Indian fans, who took the train to London for the India-West Indies Oval match. Some are now actually worried if the India-Pakistan league game on Saturday could lose its appeal under these circumstances.

Interestingly, some of the Indians fans felt that Mohammad Hafeez, who is likely to be the next captain, may strike form only when the One-day captaincy is also bestowed upon him. There were also some discussion on including Shahid Afridi in these circumstances. “At least when he comes out

to bat there is some hope; but with these batsmen it is totally hopeless.”

To add insult to the injury, Man of the Match Hashim Amla, when asked about Pakistan’s batting failure, simply said: “What do you want me to say?”

“The day Pakistan batting clicks, we can conquer any opponent. Till then we will remain as unpredictable as the English weather,” summed up a fan.

Monday June 10

Den’s getting his teeth into Champions Trophy

London: In sub-continent countries, you can find many supporters who follow their team to every venue, but to find such a fan here in England was special.

Sat on the train from Birmingham to London, someone sat close to me was wearing a Team India shirt and was heard talking on his mobile about his excitement at being able to meet his hero — Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He even talked about his anticipation of being able to watch Champions Trophy matches to the ticket inspector when asked about his destination.

So when I introduced myself to him, he said: “You are a lucky man, you can see all matches, but I have to take leave from my job and pay for my tickets.” He then quickly added: “I have told my office and my wife that do not fix any appointments for me this month during cricket match days.”

Talking about some of the great matches he had watched in England, he handed me his card. “People call me Den. I am Den Jairath from Punjab.” His card revealed he is a Dental Surgeon.

“Yes I don’t take appointments on cricket match days. I have managed to get tickets for all the India matches. I knew that India-Pakistan match tickets will get sold out in a flash so I never closed my laptop and made sure to get the tickets not only for me, but also my three kids.”

Den lives in Birmingham but has booked his train tickets in advance for all the matches. He has even managed to get a ticket for the final. “It did cost me a lot of money but then memories from cricket matches will live forever. If I had missed the South Africa-India match at Cardiff, I would have regretted it,” he said, taking out his mobile phone that displays Dhoni’s winning shot from the 2011 World Cup final.

“This is my mobile’s screensaver and I look at it every day,” he said. Before he left, he added: “It would be a great month of cricket for me if India reaches the final.”

Meanwhile, the Indian team finally came out of their siesta to train on Monday at the Oval. The Indian journalists who are starved of stories from the camp were delighted when West Indies team management allowed Marlon Samuels to be interviewed. When an Indian reporter revealed his plight that Indians have not trained since the Cardiff match, a West Indies team official was heard saying: “That’s cool man. Three days of no practice.”

According to sources, the Indian players relaxed by playing aquatic games in their hotel’s swimming pool on Sunday. A reporter remarked: “Hope they don’t drown at the Oval to West Indies.”

Sunday June 9

English fans get back at Aussie jibes 

Cardiff: England fans celebrated their team’s victory over archrival Australia in style in Birmingham on Saturday. As it was the weekend, almost all English fans rushed to pubs nearby to celebrate their team’s victory. The celebrations went on till late into the night.

“There is nothing like beating Australia,” said a fan. Seeing my media accreditation tag, one youngster asked me what the headline in my newspaper would be on England’s victory. Before I could reply, he said: “Australia set to return without Champions Trophy.”

His friend came up with a more innovative headline: “Australia down to ashes before the Ashes series.”

There is a reason behind their eagerness to disgrace Australia. When England were going through a rough patch in international cricket a few years ago, many Australian fans had made jibes at the English cricketers.

An English fan recounted a few such Australian jokes: The English version of a hat-trick was England batsmen scoring three runs off three consecutive balls; Height of optimism: an English batsman wearing sunscreen; Why were English batsmen looking forward to the new millennium — at least, they could pass a century.

There were other jokes about England fielders such as: “English fielders did not need pre-tour vaccine shots because they never catch anything. The English version of LBW was ‘Lost Beaten and Wallopped’ and the easiest job in the England tour party was for the guy who removed red ball marks from team bats.”

During Saturday’s game at Edgbaston when Ravi Bopara was batting, the bails fell off and the matter was referred to the third umpire to know whether Bopara had hit the wicket. A fan then remarked that England’s batting was so slow that even the bail had dropped off. Another fan tweeted that Bopara’s stumps could not watch him bat and hence dropped off.

With daylight holding on till 8pm, it was a nice walk back to the hotel with thousands of fans. This city has over 8,000 acres of parks and open spaces and is considered one of the greenest cities in the UK.

The sunlight was so bright during Saturday’s match that the England and Wales Cricket Board has instructed all players to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes. Players have been told to optimise their vision by wearing lenses of the right colour.

Saturday June 8

Cadbury’s, lawn tennis and referees whistles

Edgbaston, Birmingham: Reporting from a venue that is more than 100 years old is a special feeling. The first Test match played here was way back in 1902, where like Saturday’s clash, England and Australia were at war.

Every cricket playing nation’s fans have something to be proud about Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

Indians who reside here speak with pride that K.S. Ranjitsinhji, the Indian prince played for England in that 1902 Test match, while for the West Indies fans it is Brian Lara’s marathon knock in 1994.

It was here that he hit the unbeaten 501 while playing for Warwickshire against Durham, the highest score in first class cricket.

Many among the volunteers here were witness to that knock. It seems Durham wicketkeeper Chris Scott dropped Lara on 18 and then turned to the slips and said: “I suppose he’ll get a hundred now.” Lara went on to score not one but five hundreds!

The venue has a new press box that offers a spectacular view of the whole ground as well as the city. From any position, one gets the feeling that the match is being played right under your nose. The stadium also offers a lovely view of the expensive penthouse apartments around. The prim terraced houses make the whole surrounding colourful.

For English fans, it is from this very ground that the English team began their journey to the top in 2011 after their bad patch in world cricket. The man who helped England clinch the No.1 ranking is their captain today and Alastair Cook cracked 294 runs in that match against India here.

English fans enjoy watching a contest against Australia here mainly because all contests here between the two countries have been keenly fought. In 2005, when Australia lost to England by two runs in the second Test of the 2005 Ashes series, it became the closest match ever in the history of the Ashes series.

The receptionist at my hotel was born here, and takes great pride in talking about the city and urges me every day to visit its historic places.

“Don’t you go anywhere other than cricket stadiums?” she asked. “It was here that the Cadbury’s chocolate was founded almost 200 years ago,” she informed me.

It is not for Cadbury’s alone that this place stands tall, but for many other sports too.

Lawn tennis was first played here 100 years ago while the football referees’ whistles were manufactured in Birmingham. It’s no wonder then that Birmingham is also home to three of the oldest English football clubs - Aston Villa, Birmingham City and the nearby West Bromwich Albion.

Friday June 7

Spot-fixing jibes aplenty at Pakistan match

The Oval, London: Pakistan fans turned the famous Oval ground into a sea of green as almost every supporter had come clad in their national flag’s colour.

Green caps were everywhere. Seats near the press box were also painted green and, with the outfield a lush colour, one fan commented that all traffic lights outside the Oval ground should also remain green as a mark of support to the Pakistan team.

Outside the Oval, one fan waiting in the queue to enter was wearing a Team India outfit. When someone reminded him that India’s match was held yesterday in Cardiff, he said: “I wore this to irritate my good Pakistani friend,” he said, pointing to a smiling Pakistani ahead of him.

Elsewhere, a bunch of Pakistan supporters were making fun of Indians, saying: “We had only three players involved in spot-fixing and you have a full tournament of them!”

This led to a friendly argument, with one Indian hitting back with: “If in the Pakistan team you find DNB, that does not mean ‘Did Not Bat’ but ‘Did Not Bet’.”

A Pakistani quickly responded by saying that soon Indian Premier League matches will be played between different prisons instead of cities. So hilarious was their conversation that I felt like joining this group rather than be in the press box.

Despite Shahid Afridi not being in the Pakistan team, many fans were seen wearing T-shirts with his name on.

When the Pakistan team came out for their national anthem, pacer Mohammad Irfan stood taller than all players from both teams. The debate on Irfan’s height is still on — the tournament’s official souvenir magazine says he is 7ft 2in (2.18m), but most profiles say he is one inch shorter than that.

It seems Irfan was measured three times in one day at the National Stadium in Karachi in 2010 and he came out with three different heights — 6ft 10in, 6ft 8in and 7ft. This incident got a mention in the Champions Trophy’s official souvenir magazine.

Pakistan fans applauded Chris Gayle when he came into the ground. After his exploits in the recent IPL, he was the star attraction. When a reporter jokingly asked him where he would bowl to himself, Gayle had a good laugh and then said: “In the slot where I can hit it. To be honest, I don’t know where I would pitch it. I would be nervous if I was bowling to myself.”

Friday June 7, 4.20pm

BREAKING NEWS: South African pacer Morne Morkel out of competition 

The Oval, London: South African pacer Morne Morkel, who left the field injured during the India-South Africa match at Cardiff on Thursday, will not be fit to take part in the rest of the tournmanet.

He is being replaced by Chris Morris following approval from the event organisers.

Morkel suffered an injury to his left quad during the tournment opener. South Africa’s next match is against Pakistan in Birmingham on Monday.

Friday June 7, 1.35pm

BREAKING NEWS: Michael Clarke out of England match

The Oval, London: Australia’s Michael Clarke has been ruled out of the side's first Champions Trophy group match against England on Saturday due to injury.

Cricket Australia through a statement from physiotherapist Alex Kountouris said: “Michael is making steady progress in his recovery from the recent lower back injury but is yet to return to training.

"He will remain in London over the coming days to continue his rehabilitation and will not be available for the first match against England on Saturday.

"How he responds to the ongoing treatment will determine his availability for the match against New Zealand next Wednesday.”

Thursday June 6

Thankyou Sophia, for your vision

Cardiff: Soon after Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s pre-match press conference on Wednesday, I was interviewed by BBC Wales on what I felt about the venue here.

My first visit to this ground was five years ago, when I was in Wales with my family on a holiday, but there was never an opportunity to report a match from here. When I remarked that it would have been a shame if such a beautiful venue was not picked for an international tournament, those who interviewed me were delighted.

Though the stadium is named after Swalec, Wales’ largest electricity provider, everyone knows it as Sophia Gardens. Sophia was the wife of the Marquess of Bute, the major landowner in Cardiff during the mid-19th century. She felt there was limited open space in Wales due to its rapid industrialisation.  I also admitted to them that, although some cricket stadiums in the world carry the word Gardens in their name, they weren’t as beautiful and green as this one. Walking alongside a river, one crosses a lush green park to reach the stadium entrance from the railway station. Tall trees form a picturesque ring around the stadium.

Dhoni’s statement that “it’s always lovely to play in England” was a little disappointing for these Welsh interviewers. “England is different from Wales, and it seems Dhoni does not know about it,” they observed.

People here believe Wales has not been given the importance it deserves. One of the reasons could be because very often the England and Wales Cricket Board is referred to as ECB only and not ECWB.

When I mentioned this during the interview, one reporter was quick to point out that, until a few years back, Wales was totally ignored. The Welsh are very proud of their tradition and language, and the pressman revealed that cricket is spelt as “criced” by them.

Though this stadium is the home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club, it hasn’t produced many Test stars. Simon Jones and Robert Croft are the only two cricketers to make it to the England Test team. The happiest day for cricket fans here was when, in 2009, ECB granted Test status to this ground and allotted them an Ashes match. And that match is fondly remembered for the vital last-wicket partnership between Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar that saved England.

The train that I travelled on from Birmingham to Cardiff was filled with Indian fans. They entertained all the passengers with songs.

And then the walk with these fans alongside the river Taff to the stadium will surely remain etched in my memory forever — one has to really thank Sophia for her vision.