| Mike Whitney with seven-year-old Gaurav Soni, who is suffering from leukaemia, at Aquatica on Sunday. Picture by Amit Datta
Mike Whitney had floored India with a 7/27 in Perth. But nearly nine years after retiring from Test cricket, the Aussie left-armer hasn’t had his fill of pulling a fast one — on Indians — yet. He is back here with a challenge of a wacky kind, hitting the streets on Sunday to see if Calcuttans could dare face up to the seamer-turned-small screen anchor.
Whitney wasn’t disappointed. The host of AXN’s Who Dares Wins met daredevils enough to pull off five dares he tossed up at Aquatica and Planet M. The energetic Whitney, who had people stomping through buckets of shaving gel, injected a local touch to the “India Special” footage. Balloons were filled with rosogolla syrup, chucked in the air for participants to catch without bursting or dropping them.
At St Xavier’s College on Monday (after a stop at Metro Plaza), he is scheduled to issue challenges of a more physical kind: students will be dared to ride a motorcycle over a giant ‘figure eight’ on campus, without letting their feet touch the ground.
That Indians are conservative is a theory Whitney dismisses with a flick of his powerful wrist. “Some of the stuff we have shot has been amazing. I have been shocked that some people have completed the dares,” he laughs.
That’s the one thing in common between the show and cricket. “In Australia, when you are at the cricket match, people would shout ‘Ave a go mate! ’Ave a go!’ It is pretty much the same thing on the show.”
The New South Wales man who has shared the pitch with “greats like Dennis Lillee and Doug Walters”, is now a well-known face on Australian TV.
“After doing sports commentary for a while, I decided that I didn’t want to do just sports. I wanted to do entertainment.”
Whitney has been taken by surprise by the kind of “adulation” he has attracted during his India tour. “I played Test cricket for 15 years but some people back home don’t know who I am. They ask me what I did before TV,” he shrugs. “But here, people have travelled for hours just to see me. Teenage girls, young boys, old women know everything about my career. This is such a place of passion.”
The entertainer with a “batting average of six” is still in touch with his first love, as vice-president of New South Wales cricket association and as president of his “local club” Randwich-Petersham, where he played all through. “Australia to win” is the motto for the man, whose modern cricket hero is Steven Waugh. “If you look into his eyes, you know just what kind of a leader he is.”