The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Present in Sachin, past in Patilya

Cricket, cricket and more cricket on the menu card. That sums up a chilled-out five-hour dinner with Ravi Shastri at a friend’s place in Johannesburg.

Not for more than three minutes at a stretch does the conversation leave the pitch. And it’s not just Tendulkar talk — though the tall man is closer to the little man than most around the cricket field.

Another “hero” of Cup ’03, proclaims Shastri, is his former “roomie” Sandeep Patil. “Spare a thought for that guy, man, what guts to stick it out in Kenya and now reach the semis. I’m so happy for Patilya.”

Past, present and future figure in almost equal measure. The past stretches from Gundappa Vishwanath, his enduring hero, to Malcolm Marshal, the deadliest bowler he faced, to Ian Chappell, the captain-commentator he respects the most. “Chappell is something else, man.”

The present, of course, revolves around the Cup, from how Sourav has emerged as a true leader of men, to how these boys are true champions, to how Sachin is a national treasure.

The future, however, strikes a more sombre note — how cricket in India must be run by cricketers and professionals, not businessmen and politicians and how things must change and now.

“A lot is going to happen, just wait and watch,” promises the best captain that India never really had. The remaining four hours and 40 minutes of the “ghar ka khana” tabletalk cannot be reproduced for reasons ranging from “just among friends” to media obscenity clauses.

Flight of fancy

“South African Airways, official sponsors of ICC Cricket World Cup 2003.” Leaning back against the headrest pronouncing this, on one of the on-the-hour-every-hour SA flights from Jo’burg to Cape Town early in the morning, the last thing you expect is to have fun.

But making two hours of flying fun are the captain and the crew. And it starts while taxiing. “For the first-flyer amongst us, and I’m sure there’s one, this is just to warn you that we will not be walking to Cape Town. I’m afraid we must fly to Cape Town! But take heart from the fact that on December 17, the Wright brothers’ first flight will complete a century,” says the captain.

This draws a spontaneous suffix from one of the stewards: “And for the Indians on board — and there are many, including BCCI boss Jagmohan Dalmiya and family — by century we do not mean what Sachin Tendulkar looks like scoring every time he goes out to bat.”

While Tendulkar is now something of a household name here, names of Indian players, past and present, continue to be misspelt wildly here. Try these for a name game — Souchasish Ganguly, in The Sunday Times, happens to be a profound reference to elder brother Snehasish, in an “in-depth” profile of The Bengal Tiger. And Nawab of Parudi, Ali Khan, proclaims Sawubona, the in-flight magazine, while praising “the one-eyed swashbuckling Oxford graduate”.

Cape seer

Cape Town International Airport makes you feel at home at once. The first guy you run into at the enquiry counter hears you out patiently as you go on about where you want to go, for what, etc, before interjecting: “First things first, sir. May you Indians kick Aussie ass on March 23.”

Lawrence Titus is in no mood to get down to business. “Look, ever since South Africa was knocked out, I am with India all the way,” he says, pointing to the World Cricket Challenge Tournament on his computer screen, where his players are in India blues.

Outside, however, at the most picturesque point of South Africa where mountains and oceans merge, the Sunday streets have been overrun and hotels overbooked by cyclists.

The annual Argus Two Oceans Cycle Tour finds 35,000 cyclists being cheered on by thousands, as Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill keep silent vigil and the waters of the Atlantic and the Indian keep up a steady roar.

It’s a pity that Cape Town won’t see any more cricket this Cup — or rather, it’s a pity the Indians won’t get another chance to dunk Bhajji in the splendid surf of South Africa’s favourite tourist destination.

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