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Aussies party as Indians face music

It was a familiar sight. Minutes before 8 a.m., the Indian team coach was in the porch of the Sheraton with the engine running. Coach John Wright, physio/trainer and some players were already in the bus occupying their designated seats. They waited for others to arrive, and mindful of fines in play looked anxiously at respective watches.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 00:16 IST

It was a familiar sight. Minutes before 8 a.m., the Indian team coach was in the porch of the Sheraton with the engine running. Coach John Wright, physio/trainer and some players were already in the bus occupying their designated seats. They waited for others to arrive, and mindful of fines in play (each minute costs several dollars) looked anxiously at respective watches. But experience told them players invariably made it at the last second.

Thursday, the first morning of a fresh series, was no different. Seconds before the scheduled departure, players magically tumbled out of the hotel lobby, some carrying cricket equipment (bats, because coffins were already at the ground). Others loaded with provisions from the breakfast table - bananas, apples and the odd muffin - ready to undertake the 10 minute trip to the Gabba.

Play starts at 10 but the team needs almost two hours to go through an elaborate pre - match routine. During this period Gregory King puts the boys through a series of warming-up/cooling-down exercises. After that John takes over to pass on last minute wisdom, then the team is free to go into a huddle and say its final prayers.

Looking at the threatening clouds (the sky a grim grey) the team needn't have hurried. The Gabba was drenched and rain did not look like letting up. But the experienced groundstaff was not worried. "We will have play," said one confidently. The Gabba soaks water quicker than an Aussie drinks beer!

This is an exaggeration (the normal Aussie is exceptionally talented at consuming beer) but nobody disputes Gabba's reputation as an outstanding cricket venue.

Facilities were upgraded, almost rebuilt, during the last Olympics to stage football matches, and partly the slick appearance is the result of having regular activity ranging from rugby to rock concerts.

But this is peripheral - Gabba has cricket first, everything is the latest and the best. Here, advertising boards on the boundary (many carrying messages from Indian corporates) flip over automatically every few overs. Sight screen are operated through a remote controlled devices and there is nothing, from a cricketing standpoint, that is missing.

Reason for this is that Australia has successfully married cricket with commerce and converted the sport into entertainment and industry. Before play started, loud music blared from the speakers, and one almost expected Daler Mehndi (ok, someone more respectable and rocking) to descend from a helicopter and break into a vigorous naach.

As part of on-going festivities, schoolkids played their tennis ball/ plastic bat Test matches during lunch, and when tea was taken a brief athletics meet was conducted in the middle.

While these minor liberties are taken with cricket, tradition, far from being abandoned or no-balled, is genuinely respected. Before start of play, both captains strode out together (Sourav dutifully punctual!) dressed smartly in team blazers and caps.

Little later the teams lined up to look appropriately solemn as the National Anthem was played These niceties over, play commenced, and so did the slaughter.

First Published: Dec 05, 2003 00:16 IST