The Boeing 777 300 ER gently taxied down the runway at Joburg's Oliver Tambo International airport. The crisp Afrikaans accent rang out: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard flight EK 762 from Johannesburg to Dubai. Our flying time is 8 hours and 10 minutes. It is a privilege to have on board the world champion Indian cricket team on board…"
It was a privilege for all of us on board to be travelling on the same flight as the newly crowned world champs of cricket's latest avatar. The party really began at Joburg airport, where the check-in counter had a placard: "Welcome and congratulations India."
As the players settled into business class, cameras (of all varieties; phone, still and those of various channels) appeared from nowhere. And a free for all autograph and photograph hunt began. The captain and vice captain were in first class and got a tad bit extra privacy. The trophy, neatly packed in a wooden box, was with the airline staff, all set to be unveiled on the journey from Mumbai airport to the Wankhede some 17 hours later.
Once airborne, after a quick chorus of "We are the champions" orchestrated by Yuvraj, and a selective round of champagne (many chose orange juice!) the team settled down to being normal flyers. I was seated next to Ian Bishop but the Trinidad connection wanted to sit together so I happily relinquished my seat to Robin Singh and settled in behind Irfan and Bhajji.
Once the chicken vindaloo had done the rounds, most of the boys became engrossed in Hindi movies (Traffic Signal and Dhoom 2 were top of the pops). Sreesanth tried to nap but failed. He and Uthappa then decided to wander around the cabin and spent most of the flight trying very hard to explain their superstar status (and the nuances of this strange game) to an American stewardess.
Rohit Sharma and Piyush Chawla almost apologetically strolled up and down the aisle, almost unwilling to accept the new status thrust upon them.
As we touched down in Dubai, and a major shopping expedition was being planned and a few relaxing moments (before the chaos of Mumbai) savoured, Sreesanth switched on his phone and proudly showed off the latest SMS doing the rounds: "Misbah ul Haq thought he was sending the ball to no man's land. Little did he know that there is a Mallu in every corner of the world…"
It was hard to treat this as any other flight. The World Champions were truly flying high.
(The author is a presenter with ESPN-Star Sports)