Stumps in London

Stumps on a wall in London…

I don't Like Cricket

innercitysumo.


…and cricket in Mumbai

Cricket before breakfast

Jenny Thompson


“Where are you going so early?” asked one of my flatmates this morning. “So early?” I thought, “Is my clock fast? I make it 9am.” I double-checked. It was, indeed, 9am but that is, apparently, early. Now, of course, this could be just my flatmates. But no … shops only open at 10am … Traffic jams only occur from 9.30 onwards …

Oh yes, the day starts much later than what I’m used to. Getting up at 7am, latest, is my norm in London – which hurts – while here I’ve been getting up at 8.30. Ooh yes, suits my body clock much more, thanks very much indeed.

“I’m going to the beach,” I said and was greeted with an approving nod and smile. And off I went to Juhu beach, scene of many adventures, where I immediately stumbled upon a game of cricket and people shouted “Hellos”; they were semi-mocking today, but delivered with wide, wide grins that were too damn cheeky. I laughed and strolled on.

Jenny is my colleage at Cricinfo. She’s clearly now given up the idea of working, in any shape or form.

An Englishwoman in India, part three

Jenny Thompson

OK, so today, I’ve decided to give a flavour of some things non-cricket, just to make a change. I’m going to start with the beach, because I’ve always loved walking in the sand and swimming in the sea ever since I was a kid when my parents would spoil my brother and I by taking us abroad every year. In particular, I’ve always been spellbound by the reflection of the sun on the waves. I won’t try to be poetic about it – it will only end up too cheesy – buuuut, there I have to say there is something about the shifting identities of the beach: in the early morning, during the day and in the evening. All captivate me.

Even the beach in Juhu – the area I’m staying – is brilliant, though the usual residents say it’s too dirty and you can’t really swim in the sea. Sure beats living inland though, as I always have! As the only white person on the beach – and, ergo, the only one sitting in the sun, not the shade – I was instantly swamped by curious boys when I sat down to read a book. That’s OK. They soon got bored and I got on with book. So far, so could-be-anywhere.

Now, the beach in the evening is great – a funfair of whirling lights, with stalls selling fruit and jewelled bags. And maps. “You want a map of India? It has Bombay and Goa on it.” I swear – a man selling maps at midnight! On a beach! And for 1,000 rupees! (madness – a three-course meal costs 200 to 300)

I went there with my damn cool colleague Shinde – he’s my self-appointed Mumbai guide and resident dude – who introduced me to fresh coconuts. Maybe I’m coming to them a bit late in life, but hey. It’s all good.

Then we had curry – outdoors! still exciting! – and had our fortunes read in Hindi by a flashing robot who electronically spat out our futures into flashing headsets … There were also loads of cute, little monkeys on leashes (which is a bit mean, though, admittedly). One of the boys said he would make his monkey dance like Michael Jackson for us. We turned the offer down – a bit too cruel – although we had much fun guessing how exactly the little guy would move – and what his star turn would be. We settled on Black and White.

I related this in the office to George today and he told me that on some trains there are actual small boys – aged five or so – who paint monkey faces and prowl through the carriages imitating monkeys. Now this I would love to see.

I also know another thing – when I grow up I’m going to live by the beach.

Jenny is my colleage at Cricinfo. She drinks herbal tea, but apart from that we like her a lot

India domestic cricket

Jenny Thompson

OK, so cricket is everywhere in Mumbai. Further proof – every morning, just metres from my apartment, I pass nets for 30 or so juniors. The national team are superstars. You can’t move for cricket. Brilliant.

But what never ceases to surprise me is how little anyone cares about domestic cricket. In a cricket-mad country – arguably the cricket-mad country – you’d expect domestic matches to be a sell-out. But the recent Ranji Trophy final, the showcase event, drew crowds of – and I kid you not – 100 to the 45,000-capacity Wankhede Stadium.

Why? Well, it’s just not glamorous for a start. My colleagues tell me that only the big names count in the sport. They also say that in cities such as Mumbai, who get their share of internationals, domestic cricket by contrast has a lesser appeal. Hmm, that still doesn’t stack up for me. Sure, we all love to watch the big boys at play but me, well, I’d watch any type of cricket and I know I’m far from alone in that.

But then, there’s the experience of going to a game. It’s just not comfortable to sit in the stadium, on the concrete slabs, without water, much shelter and limited toilet access. When the temperatures are sweltering at around 40C – and the shade isn’t much better – well, it all adds up to, erm, not much fun, really. Yet, even so, there’s still something that’s not quite right…

If anyone else knows why domestic doesn’t do it out here then do leave a comment.

Jenny is my colleage at Cricinfo and is out in our Mumbai office pretending to work. In fact, I doubt she’s even pretending…

An Englishwoman in India part two

Continued from yesterday

Then I found my workplace and had my first game of office cricket. It’s quite fierce and wholly relentless. Again I was no good and, being competitive, this was frustrating. But not to worry: I soon forgot my woes as we headed by auto to Bandra, through streets lined with slipper sellers and random elephants, to watch a play about Gandhi. It was sumptuous: colourful, authoritative and adorned by light touches of humour. Speeches before and after sandwiched the play, and the audience were thanked for coming – a rarety back home, but imbued in the friendly culture over here. It’s not second nature, it’s nature.

Afterwards we dined al fresco which was bliss after a cold English winter. Two days later more outdoor activity – my first net of the summer. This was a net like no other. It began at 7am for a start. This involved my colleagues and fellow nettees – George, Naga and Sid – swinging by my apartments at 5.30, just in time to catch sunrise. I’m no early bird, but I was still running on wide-eyed, wide-grinned adrenaline.

We threaded our way through streets and link roads where Bollywood posters mixed with huge photos of Flintoff and Vaughan plus the usual assortment of Indian megastars – all against a contrasting backdrop of poverty and riotous splendour. An hour later we reached the Oval maidan in uptown Mumbai, three pitches’ worth of sprawling municipal ground which is maintained for public use. The pitch is flat and true, perfect for batting. No run-up is marked, but that doesn’t seem to hamper the bowlers for whom the nets are more an excuse for socializing afterwards. Still, they came in whites.

The commute

After two-and-a-half hours of this warm weather training, the sun was scorching and we were beat, so we repaired to a café for burjee bread (spicy scrambled eggs on white) and beer. It was not yet 10 o’clock.

The only cricket I took part in on Wednesday and Thursday was of the office variety, where I am getting no better, and beers are at stake. Friday was my day off, so I headed into town again, having been placed carefully on the train in the ladies’ first-class carriage by another colleague, Rajesh, who was off to watch the Davis Cup.

I had heard so many stories about the trains and the gasps in the office when I had mooted the idea of catching one were so loud that I was disappointed they were no warmer nor more cramped than your common-or-garden Tube. I’ve since learned that there are ten train deaths a day (from climbing on the roofs, from crossing the tracks) that when a passenger dies and delays the train it’s more an exasperating inconvenience than anything else. I didn’t do anything so daredevil, instead sitting quietly, my eyes and nose pressed in the thin gap between the wire mesh, drinking in the atmosphere. Smells – musty, thick and rich – rose up from the streets, shanty towns and smog and enveloped the people, so many people, who were milling around at all points.

I arrived at Victoria Terminus – renamed, with limited success, CST as the authorities try to wipe away traces of the empire – and it felt just like Paddington: a vast, ornate cavern housing train after train. I ducked next door into the Times of India, a cool, marble building, where I delved into the archives for some historical research on old matches.

One such match was in 1993, the prawns farrago involving Graham Gooch. I chuckled at how the paper had reported: ” Prawns are a luxury not many can afford in England and hence, perhaps, the temptation” but then realized immediately that many of my tourist eye’s perceptions over here will be ‘wrong’ (I hope not) or perhaps amusing.

The archives closed for lunch, so I visited another maidan, the Azad, which was next door to the Oval. There were games and games, of course, and I was amused to see one groundsman marking a pitch which spilled over into another, while a live game was taking place, with umpires, scorers … but no boundaries. Apparently, the ball goes for four roughly where the strips stop. Next door to the higgledy-piggledy pitches are the immaculate lawns of the Bombay Gymkhana, a 100-metre stretch of a pleasingly symmetrical pristine clubhouse overlooking manicured, lush green turf, with taut, proud nets anchored firmly into the ground.

But back at the other pitches, another instant swarm; this time schoolboys. They gathered round fast and fired questions faster. What’s my name? Where am I from? Do I like cricket? Who is my favourite player? They were quick to speak of Sachin, quicker to introduce me to mini-Sachin, a Mumbai Under-19 player. The Little Little Master. We chatted about cricket for a while – heaven, as usual – before the drinks cart rolled up.

Two men stood behind, cheerfully squeezing out fresh watermelon juice and lime juice. “You must try it,” Salman, a slender, elegant boy with dazzling teeth and an easy manner, told me. Trying to pay for anything is proving impossible wherever I go and here was no different. Much to my embarrassment, but in spite of my insistence, 14-year-old Owais bought my drink. Salman explained: “It is our pleasure that you have come to India.” This experience has been often repeated and never diminishes in its delight. There’s nothing forced about it, either.

In the evening I returned to the maidan: more nets, more people. I was invited to watch and immediately offered a chair. Nets take place here every night – apart from Fridays – with matches on a weekend. No wonder they are all so good. I was transfixed by one player in particular who casually swatted the ball to all parts with quick wrists and keen eye.

Ah, Mumbai. As if the sun, food and friendliness of everyone is not enough, there’s also cricket in abundance. Cockroaches, mozzie bites, power-cuts and swollen feet aside – just a part of life – I’m not sure I want to come home.

An English woman in India

Me and Jenny, my colleague at Cricinfo, free-meal-giver-outer and general banter-girl-in-chief, thought it’d be fun to document her travels in India. She’s out there at our Mumbai office, and I thought it would be cool for you lot to read. It’s rather long(!) so am splitting it over a couple of days. Mehhhhh, JT.

OK, so I love cricket. And I love the sun. And so to come to India and be pretty much guaranteed to get both has long been right up there on my Brilliant Things To Do List. But it couldn’t really be cricket everywhere could it? Well, yes, apparently it could. Within 12 hours of my midnight landing at a humid Mumbai airport – it was 25C and sweltering and I didn’t dare contemplate how hot it would be in the day, eek – I was playing cricket in a park with boys who I had only just met. They had stopped me to say “Hello” as I walking along the bustling, colourful street near my new home and I promptly followed them, Alice-style, into a wonderland of cricket match after cricket match.

Neither were they the first boys I had seen on that particular road, just a left turn from my own street. Does this happen everywhere? Across India are there streets and streets of boys with bats and balls? Ooh, hope so! Strolling about trying to get my bearings and a flavour for the area I watched, beguiled, as boy after boy carried stump after stump before disappearing somewhere I knew not where. Eventually curiosity got the better of me – it usually does – and, when the boys said “Hi” I knew I had my way in.

What I found was a mud-baked dusty area, the size of two football pitches, where informal games of cricket were taking place. Some were practising ahead of a game later. My group asked me to bowl – I couldn’t get my line or length, but that didn\’t stop a crowd instantly swarming round to see what was going on, and who this girl was. As I soon learned, everywhere I go I am a curiosity, because I am white and because I am female. But in my experience so far there\’s nothing sinister that underlies this interest; I’m just different.

I couldn\’t stop for long at the maidan because I had a lunch appointment and I didn’t know where I was going. And neither did any of the drivers of the autos, which are three-wheeler motorbike-style tuk-tuks, also known as ricks. These drivers wouldn\’t seem to have a hope of passing The Knowledge – in fact any knowledge would be a start, stopping as they do every two hundred metres or so to get directions – normally to continue straight down the road. But everyone asks for directions all day long, and people are only too keen to help. It\’s just a way of life.

But on this occasion I didn\’t need an auto anyway because one of the boys, Yogesh, offered to show me the way to work. OK, I thought, this should involve a short stroll. What it actually involved was a motorbike ride via the beach (where there was, needless to say, more cricket). Now, I\’d never been on a motorbike before; in fact, I\’d never done many of the things that I\’ve crammed into the first week of being here. "Are you scared of the traffic?" he asked, as he weaved in and out of autos, cars and people. There are so many people here, it\’s no wonder they spill out on to the streets and into the paths of traffic, who always seem to avoid them. But I\’m not scared. There is some kind of inexplicable order amid the chaos.

What I found was a mud-baked dusty area, the size of two football pitches, where informal games of cricket were taking place. Some were practising ahead of a game later. My group asked me to bowl – I couldn’t get my line or length, but that didn’t stop a crowd instantly swarming round to see what was going on, and who this girl was. As I soon learned, everywhere I go I am a curiosity, because I am white and because I am female. But in my experience so far there’s nothing sinister that underlies this interest; I’m just different.

I couldn’t stop for long at the maidan because I had a lunch appointment and I didn’t know where I was going. And neither did any of the drivers of the autos, which are three-wheeler motorbike-style tuk-tuks, also known as ricks. These drivers wouldn’t seem to have a hope of passing The Knowledge – in fact any knowledge would be a start, stopping as they do every two hundred metres or so to get directions – normally to continue straight down the road. But everyone asks for directions all day long, and people are only too keen to help. It’s just a way of life.

But on this occasion I didn’t need an auto anyway because one of the boys, Yogesh, offered to show me the way to work. OK, I thought, this should involve a short stroll. What it actually involved was a motorbike ride via the beach (where there was, needless to say, more cricket). Now, I’d never been on a motorbike before; in fact, I’d never done many of the things that I’ve crammed into the first week of being here. “Are you scared of the traffic?” he asked, as he weaved in and out of autos, cars and people. There are so many people here, it’s no wonder they spill out on to the streets and into the paths of traffic, who always seem to avoid them. But I’m not scared. There is some kind of inexplicable order amid the chaos.

I could have been scared of accepting a lift with a stranger, of course. But this was just the beginning of the adventure and how can you be scared of a 21-year-old who asks you out to dinner and promises to wear his best clothes, including his Nike trainers? Bless him. He dropped me off at lunch.

Office cricket

Then I found my workplace and had my first game of office cricket. It’s quite fierce and wholly relentless. Again I was no good and, being a competitive type, this was a little bit frustrating. But not to worry: I soon forgot my woes as we headed by auto to Bandra, through streets lined with slipper sellers and random elephants, to watch a play about Gandhi. It was sumptuous: colourful, authoritative and adorned by light touches of humour. Speeches before and after sandwiched the play, and the audience were thanked for coming – a rarety back home, but imbued in the friendly culture over here. It’s not second nature, it’s nature. (some of my colleagues would beg to differ but you can only speak as you find, right?)

Afterwards we dined al fresco which was bliss after a cold English winter. More outdoor activity next day – my first outdoor net of the summer. This was a net like no other. For a start it began at 7am … to avoid the maddening heat.

Part two continues tomorrow!

India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, Day Five

Day five at Mumbai. India need another 295 runs to win; England need nine wickets. Anyone’s game, really…

India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, Day Four

(Posted in advance) – chat away, night owls

India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, Day Three

(Posted in advance) – chat away, night owls

India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, Day Two

(Posted in advance) – chat away, night owls