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And the magic endures...

Despite hardships, the paying public remains enamoured of their cricket idols, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2006 22:38 IST

The desert sky is typically bleak, the sun a fierce orb in that blazing expanse of blue that seems to dare you to walk under its fiery eye.

At first, it seems like few will make the effort, even the sand seems reluctant to meander through the baking stillness. It is that quiet in this Champions Trophy town.

Till the time you drive into the vicinity of the school where the Indian squad is sweating it out, hoping to work up some steam ahead of the first game of the main draw of the event, the critical India versus England tie.

It is like entering a different world, one that combines the characteristics of a war zone, a marketplace and a pop concert, all at once.

There is a frenetic argument on at the gate, a familiar scene to anyone who has followed the Indian cricket carnival anywhere in the country.

Cop vs Commoner, the one conscious of his impermanent importance as the man who has to be got past for a distant view of their gods and, the other, a symbol of that enterprising breed — the great Indian cricketing public, perennially abused by authority (see the state of spectator facilities in most Indian stadiums), yet coming back for more each time.

Even as the young man at the gate is successfully repulsed, the policemen at the Neeraja Modi School come to attention as a man in a white kurta-pyjama, followed by his acolytes and the customary, gun-toting guard, walks in.

Then comes a well-heeled family of four, who display their required “passes” to watch the Indian nets. Still more people come through — they are known to the policemen and thus, privileged.

The lords of the ring are already on stage, watched by their fortunate public. The Indian team trains as usual, running sideways, throwing the ball to each other in various combinations, hopping around the place. After a little while, the rest thankfully disappear under a canopy as the pacemen are put through their paces.

Still later, there is a bit of a buzz. Dharamveer, last seen during the Challenger Trophy in Chennai, has come to the Pink City to cheer his team.

For some, the 16-year-old from Morena in Madhya Pradesh who moves from match venue to match venue is a familiar figure; to others, he is an oddity, ‘walking’ as he does on both hands and feet, oblivious to both the stares and the whispers, revelling in just being around the players.

Nothing much is happening, the Indians are playing a match among themselves. There is no excitement like during the practice game two days ago, when schoolchildren screaming for Sourav were quickly shushed by teachers.

You decide to sit on the sidelines with Dharamveer, watching the practice from his eyes. A natural commentator, he begins talking, slowly at first, about himself and then about the game.

It was polio, he says, almost before you ask. “I don’t remember, my parents tell me,” he adds. A Class XI student (who managed 70 per cent in his Boards), Dharamveer wants to do research into the disease after school. For the moment though, he is immersed in his cricketing journey across India, armed with a Class II railway pass given by the Madhya Pradesh government.

The son of a Surat-based diamond cutter, Dharamveer says he was fortunate to meet up with Yuvraj Singh in Mohali exactly a year ago. “He was wonderful to me and gave me his PA’s number. As soon as I get into town, he gets me a pass for every game,” he says. Yuvraj also gives him money now and then for his stay.

Ajit Agarkar waves a greeting from where he is fielding and the youngster grins back. “They talk to me. Ian Frazer asks me what I think of the practice,” he says. “I tell him.”

He falls silent then, he wants to watch the practice seriously. “It is an amazing game, isn’t it?” he asks.

You fall silent too, reminded afresh that the game, its spirit often strangled by crass commercialism and starry squabbles, can still be magic. For Dharamveer’s sake, hopefully, Sunday should be special.

First Published: Oct 14, 2006 00:54 IST