The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bubbly in air, chaos on ground

On board IA’s special flight (IC -012) from Islamabad and the IGI Airport in New Delhi: Piper Heidsieck champagne ruled the air, courtesy a very thoughtful Indian Airlines (IA), but chaos took centrestage on Team India landing home late on Saturday evening.

It prompted agitated players to talk of security arrangements having been “far superior” in Pakistan. Moreover, nobody took too kindly to the BJP flag surfacing in the VIP lounge, coinciding with the players’ entry.

Apparently, everything went haywire because Union minister Vijay Goel deviated from the security agencies’ script. So, for at least 20 minutes, Sourav Ganguly and the rest kept going in and out of the lounge. The arrival of another Union minister, Sahib Singh Verma, added to the chaos.

A semblance of order came about after Sachin Tendulkar reminded the janata that the Mumbaikars had a connecting flight. Even then, the victorious team was literally taken out through the back door — all this while the paparazzi waited elsewhere.

Surely, beating Pakistan both in the ODIs and Tests caused fewer problems.

Earlier, during the 70 minutes of flying from Pakistan’s (First World) capital, the ambience aboard the Airbus-320 was carnival-like. Captain Ashok Raj set the ball rolling with an emotional welcome and, then, invited Sourav to uncork chilled champagne. The Piper Heidsieck was, as is the tradition during celebrations, passed around. Miraculously, it lasted till the aircraft entered Indian airspace over Moga — an announcement greeted by cheers.

In fact, champagne wasn’t the sole add-on to mark a truly special flight: the menu was different (babycorn cutlets and sandwiches, for example) and there was the welcome option of mango shake and cold coffee. If only regular IA flights offered the same fare...

Incidentally, the team’s departure (March 10) was also on a special IA service.

Seated in row No. 1 were the big guns — Sourav and Virender Sehwag; Sachin and Rahul Dravid. Sehwag got off his seat first and, within minutes, quite a few teammates followed.

Anil Kumble, for one, went around shooting with his handycam and with just about everybody wanting to be captured live, the star leggie created a bottleneck in the aisle.

Much to everyone’s amusement, a call on the PA system formally requested Kumble to “return” to his seat. He obliged.

Sourav isn’t going overboard. “Life hasn’t changed overnight and, as I said yesterday, it won’t.... But, yes, we woke up feeling different,” he told The Telegraph during a walk (interrupted by requests for autographs and photographs) through the length of the Airbus-320. Sourav reaches Calcutta this morning.

Footnote: Speaking exclusively, Dravid revealed that Brian Lara’s 400 had “inspired” him to author his own career-best 270 in the decider at Rawalpindi.

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