Monday, April 30, 2007

Webster's article: Makes sense in India too

One of the more interesting people I met while in the West Indies was Rudi Webster. We in India have heard his name in connection with Greg Chappell. Webster has made a name for himself as a sports psychologist, and Chappell had invited him over to India to spend some time with the players and help them with the psychological side of things.

Now Rudi, a former Warwickshire regular, was a very good medium pacer whose best figures were 8 for 19 in a county game. His average was a mindblowing 19.44, so we have to accept that he does know his cricket even if we in India haven't really heard of him much.

He is a Barbadian. Or a Bajan. But lives in a beautiful house overlooking the sea in Grenada with his wife, who is Grenadian. Rudi is full of stories. Fascinating ones at that. Including of the one where he talks of the time when Clive Lloyd told him - a few drinks down, sitting at a bar - that he would never play a Test again without four pacers. Rudi was the manager of the team at the time.

My interview with Rudi was also one of the high points of my work here, though in a 'news' sense, some of the other stuff would have been more significant.

Now here's something Webster wrote yesterday in the Trinidad Express. Found it very, very interesting. And thought that most of it makes sense in the Indian context as well..

Different thinking needed to move WI forward
By Rudi V Webster

One would have thought that by now West Indies supporters had become immune to the failures of their team. But this is not the case.

Since the World Cup, the mood in the region has turned nasty and supporters are expressing great anger, disgust, and animosity towards the team and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Many of the supporters and stakeholders are now engaged in adversarial thinking and acrimonious fights. It is in that context that adversarial thinking and its antidote, design thinking, will be discussed.

During crises, negative and adversarial thinking are quite appealing. But how often does destructive criticism result in positive change or beneficial solutions? Not often. Should we not then abandon this style of thinking about our cricket in order to chart the way forward? This will need steady nerves, cool heads and clear minds.

There are many people and some cricket experts in the West Indies who do an excellent job of criticising just about every aspect of West Indies cricket. But when they are asked to articulate comprehensive solutions, they are usually very silent.

The purpose of adversarial thinking is to win the argument and score points by discrediting or defeating your opponent. In that system one side attacks and the other defends or counterattacks. As arguments get heated each side stops listening and their points of view become more rigid and polarised. One side wins and is happy and the other side loses and is bitter and disappointed, unwilling to conform or cooperate. Opponents mistakenly believe that by proving the other persons wrong, somehow proves them right. This is nonsense. If you prove the other person wrong and he proves you wrong -you may both be wrong.

People who use this type of thinking have a simple formula for finding solutions to problems-find the cause and remove it.

Brian Lara is the cause of the West Indies' problems-get rid of him. Ken Gordon and the WICB are the cause of the West Indies' troubles-get rid of them. The players do not care-drop them.
This is a simple and attractive idiom but it is inadequate.

People who think this way believe that once the cause is removed then the problem is automatically solved and all will be well-remove the dictator and democracy will flourish; remove Lara and West Indies cricket will immediately prosper. We know that this is not so because complex interactive systems simply do not work that way.

West Indies cricket is now in one of its darkest periods. Moving forward will require a different type of thinking-design or creative thinking. This entails designing a specific outcome and tailoring energies and resources to fit and create that outcome.

What type of team must we have in five years if we are to become a world power again? What types of players are we looking for to create that team? What attitudes, work ethic and cricket culture do we need to promote? What selection policies and philosophies do we need to put in place? How can we improve the identification of talent in the region?

Once that talent is identified, how do we go about developing it fully? How can the WICB enhance the confidence, motivation and the performance of its players? Should the Board and players establish a contract of expectations between themselves? Then each party would know what exactly is expected of them. What types of development programmes and development modules should be put in place at the grassroots level? Should the WICB be restructured in order to perform better? Are the cricket boards throughout the region prepared to put a major part of their resources into domestic cricket and development programmes at the grassroots level? It is no secret that the true strength of Australian cricket is at the grassroots level.

Those are just a few of the questions that could stimulate creative or design thinking.

Adversarial thinking is about the past and focuses on what is wrong. Design thinking is about the future-creating something that isn't yet there and fitting or tailoring personnel, financial resources, structures, systems, programmes, strategies, checks and balances, development modules and selection policies and philosophies to create that outcome.

We have a choice. We can either stay trapped in the past or free ourselves and move ahead to the future.

OBSERVATION: I think it's fantastic that the people in the West Indies still feel so involved with the game. Their team hasn't done well in ages, but most people I have spoken to - bartenders, drivers, shop owners, attendants, et al - have expressed surprise in the way India's loss was reacted to by the people back home. These people, especially in places like Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica, are very cricket-educated. And while they would love to see their team win, they are understanding of the fact that there are things that are wrong and the team will not win for a while now.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Wow! 9th March is when I reached Montego Bay in Jamaica. That's when the World Cup started for me. The teams had reached here before that. And so had a number of journalists from India and elsewhere. Today is the 28th of April here in Barbados, and the tournament is finally over. In appropriately stupid and disappointing fashion. The Australians have won. There's been no change in world order. The most 'open' World Cup in years has been closed shut. Sealed.

What a two months it has been! It started with Bob Woolmer's murder. This was, of course, after India had lost to Bangladesh and Pakistan had lost to Ireland after having lost to West Indies and therefore knocked out of the tournament within 5 days!

So Woolmer died. And then the next many days were spent in a blur of police stations and hospitals and funeral parlours and police press conferences. Words like 'toxicology' and 'histology' suddenly became the new buzzwords, and 'aconite' would soon become a poison everyone always knew about. 'Cricket Correspondent' they called me in office when speaking over the phone, and I would talk about histology and the Jamaican Constabulary Force and autopsies and asphyxia and heaven-knows-what!

That was phase one.

Phase two was spent in watching and reporting on a sequence of the worst one-day cricket I have ever seen. It was the Super Eights of the greatest World Cup ever. The interesting Sri Lanka-South Africa and Sri Lanka-England games were seen on TV. As was the inconsequential England-West Indies game. Lara retired. Ordinarily I would have wept and sent emotional reports. I ignored it. It didn't matter. I wished everyone suddenly retired and the tournament would be called off. No luck. Ireland had to play Bangladesh and it had to be reported.

This was interesting from another perspective. Every single Indian journalist had made Barbados part of their itinerary for the India-Pakistan game on the 15th of April. That eventually turned out to be the Ireland-Bangladesh game. And it became the most widely covered game of the tournament (bar the final) because it had every single journalist present.

By and by we reached the semi-final stage and saw two more bad games. And then today's final. Rain. Shortened match. Cricket in the dark. Bad umpiring. Aussies celebrating before the match was over. The final was a living, breathing example of Murphy's Law.

Add to this the fact that the West Indian islands - beautiful as they are - were just not ready with the infrastructure required for a tournament of this magnitude and the whole thing gets even worse. Lost baggage was an everyday occurence. As were delayed flights. Hotel bookings were ticked off without any intimation, and some colleagues even complained of flights offloading them after issuing them boarding cards.

On the flight back from St Lucia, we had a stopover in Antigua. At Antigua, when we were in transit, we were told that some bags had arrived from St Lucia that could be ours. Could we please check? They were ours. They should have reached Barbados, but had reached Antigua before we had. By an earlier flight. And by then the connecting flight had left.

This was, of course, still better than the time our luggage didn't arrive at all when we went from Grenada to St Lucia. Or as two other colleagues from another TV channel experienced: large suitcase lost, only to resurface the day before they left for India forty days after their arrival in the Caribbean.

The saving grace were the people. In every island. Really. If the tour gets a 5 out of 10 in my book, 4 of those points are for the people and one for the novelty of the experience. The cricket, of course, is retired hurt.

Sambit Bal writes on the tournament, and what a dud it's been, here.

And this is cricinfo's Andrew Miller's take on the final farcedown.

Andrew was brilliant at the press conference with Malcolm Speed today as well, asking him whether he doesn't think the portents are appropriate for a resignation. Malcolm replied in the negative - what did you expect? - but was a bit shaken by the question to start with.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

West Indies photos

Well, have finally figured how to upload photos on the blog. My own photographs are all in the old format, which will be sent to the local photo-shop once I come back and so on and so forth. These are some that were in Atreyo's digicam, and I can upload them now...

With Moses Kondety of The Deccan Chronicle on the streets of Kingston. He's fat.

Me standing. Next to me is Karyl Walker of the Jamaican Observer and Olivia, both of who I've mentioned in an earlier post. Beside Olivia is Udita from Star news and her cameraperson Atul. This is from Jamaica as well, in the hotel room where Moses and Atreyo were staying, and where I spent three nights during the confusion over my travel schedule following Woolmer's death.

This one is with my cameraperson Ankur (in the cap) and Prakash (of the Indore-based daily Prabhat Kiran) in front of Sir Frank Worrell's grave in Barbados. Worrell's bust is to the extreme left, followed by Sir Clyde Walcott's bust and Sir Everton Weekes's bust. Weekes, of course, is still alive.

This is taken in front of Courtney Walsh's restaurant Cuddy'z in Kingston. I am up on the steps. Ashish Magotra of DNA is next to me, with Moses to the right.

(From left to right) Moses, Sandeep Dwivedi of The Indian Express, me and Jaffer Hussain, the cameraperson from Geo TV, Pakistan, at the Sabina Park in Kingston.

I love Vijay Mallya!

The man rocks, doesn't he? This matches up to the some of the Coke-Pepsi, Adidas-Nike takes down the years...

Friday, April 27, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: A 99mph morning walk

Chose not to write from St Lucia anymore because while it was really picture perfect and everything there, there really wasn't much to write about. I mean, how much can you describe beautiful locales and stuff? Plus, didn't really get much time to wander about.

But had a champion experience this morning, which I thought I would post about. If I was still working for a newspaper, I would have been able to write a proper diary on it, but anyway.... Woke up early, around 7.30, and as is my habit, I went for a walk on the beach. One round down who do I see calling out to me, but Colin Croft! Most former West Indian cricketers are good fun. They are friendly. Chatty. Ask them for an interview, and they would almost always turn you down or ask you for a lot of money. Crofty, of course, is an established television and radio commentator, and has only chosen to refuse interviews to me down the years.

But I guess he knows me, at least by face, and thus ensued easily my most exciting and interesting morning walk ever. The sea was thundering away to our side as we went up and down the beach a number of times; me intent on my exercise as well as doing the constructive thing of having a proper conversation with Crofty. Crofty, well, just walking. And I guess, humoring me. But whatever he got out of the entire exercise, I got a lot of very interesting perspectives on Indian and West Indian cricket, on the International Cricket Council, on former West Indian internationals, on the 1979 Fastest Bowler Competition organised by Channel Nine, on cricket commentators, on Jeff Thompson, on Brian Lara...

I'm not sure how much of it Crofty would have said if it had to be on record, but it certainly was one of the most frank cricket conversations I have had the privilege of having with a former cricketer of such standing. In fact, an indicator of what Crofty had to say can be got from the fact that I am feeling iffy about putting it all down here.

And at the same time, he listened. He wasn't just interested in talking. He wanted to know about the BCCI, about Indian cricket, about why it's difficult to get Indian cricket out of its current mess, why the ICC has moved to Dubai...whether there is any point in his moving to Dubai to work!!! It was great fun.

I would have expected him to walk slower than he did. He didn't. So my basic purpose of waking up at 7.30 was also fulfilled. And then, after over half an hour of walking and talking with me, it was a 'see you in Barbados then' and a splash and he was off for a swim before starting the day.

Monday, April 23, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Terrorists-in-disguise

Yesterday, a couple of our colleagues from India found out exactly what the western world's ongoing witchhunt/prejudice/nonsense against people from the South Asian region is about. Two of the many Indian sports journalists here in the Caribbean - in Barbados, to be exact - Atreyo Mukhopadhyay of The Hindustan Times and Sanjjeev Samyal of Mid-Day, were picked up for interrogation by the police in Barbados for no apparent reason and harassed for over an hour each.

Here is how the story unfolded (from Atreyo's account; Sanjjeev is writing the story for his paper even as I write this):

They were both at the Hilton hotel where outgoing England coach Duncan Fletcher had a press conference. They hung around for a while trying to speak to other cricketers, after which Atreyo left for a nearby beach, while Sanjjeev stayed on. Atreyo reached a nearby public beach - Pebble Beach - made for a shack and sat down with a beer. At this stage some locals approached him, showed him their identification cards, and told him that he would have to go to the police station for an 'interrogation'. Why, Atreyo asked. Your behaviour at the Hilton was suspicious, he was told. Handcuffs were produced for him to wear. He refused. Fortunately, the fuzz accepted.

He was taken to the police station. And soon after he reached, Sanjjeev was also brought in. He had been picked up from the hotel itself.

After this, they were separately questioned for over an hour. They were asked (a) why they were at the Hilton, (b) why they were making so many phone calls while at the Hilton, (c) how they knew each other if they stayed in different cities in India, (d) why they had beards, etc. The police frisked their bags, checked their digital cameras and scanned all the photographs, checked their emails, tape recorders, laptops, etc. They both had photographs of locals and of local locales. They were asked why they had taken these photographs. That sort of thing...

Now, they gathered during the interrogation that they were being suspected to be terrorists - South Asian complexion and beards!!! Atreyo has a beard. Sanjjeev doesn't. What else do you need?

Incidentally, Atreyo was also asked if he was Muslim!!!

They were released later and have not been harassed since. They have obviously lodged a complaint with the World Cup organisers and with the Barbados authorities. But whether anything comes of that is way beside the point, isn't it?

What's happened here is a typical case of the western world's - I include the black locals in this, because somewhere, they don't have an identity of their own and have to fulfil the desires of their white American overlords - paranoia about the brown part of the world. I don't need to get into details of this, because we all know what the details are.

This, really, is outrageous. And this is about two journalists. What about the complete outsiders? We know stories of all the completely innocent people who are rounded up on various concocted charges. Surely we need to call the bluff at some stage!

WORLD CUP DIARY: Sunny's right

For one, I agree with absolutely everything, every word, Gavaskar has written.

WORLD CUP DIARY: Smoking crabs!!!

Yeah, you read that right. This happened soon after we reached St Lucia and I had a quiet smoke at our balcony...

I swear everything I'm writing is true, and my cameraperson Ankur is witness to what happened.

See, I chucked the lit cigarette butt (with about half an inch of white still left) on the sand outside the balcony, and within three seconds, a small crab lunged at the butt, caught hold of it and dragged it towards its little hole.

The crab was about two inches in diameter (yes, it was roundish), and close to the colour of the sand. But it's hole was too small for the cigarette butt to go in... So what the crab did was keep one hand/leg on the cigarette butt to sort of keep ownership over it, waited for it to get smaller, and then dragged it inside the hole.

I ran back inside my room to get the camera, but by the time I got back, it had disappeared.

I'll try this again tomorrow - have my camera ready. If it works, you have a Believe It Or Not waiting for you with proof.

Lost in Transition
Actually, the crab-smoking incident was about the only bit of positive excitement that happened on a day when few other things went right. The journey from Grenada to Barbados was eventful in that the Australian, South African, New Zealand and Irish teams were on the same flight, as were a number of the umpires and other match officials. So there were four pockets of fun on the flight as the usual delays meant we left Grenada over an hour late.

But that was only the beginning of the travails. We reached Barbados late and had to run like hell to catch the connecting flight to St Lucia. And then, when we reached St Lucia in another of those scary 20-seater aircraft, we discovered our luggage had been lost in transit. At least five other journalists I know have lost their luggage at some point or the other during the World Cup, and I guess it was only a matter of time before we did as well...

Here's a report in the Australian media - a bit exaggerated, but all right.

But that's as maybe... As things stand, we have nothing except this laptop. Went and bought some stuff like toothpaste and toothbrush and stuff earlier. Have to live on free breakfast and in hope till things work out.

But Lucia is beautiful
If it's called St Lucia, can it be anything but beautiful? St Lucia is as beautiful as Barbados, but has the added beauty of the lush mountains adding character to it. Grenada also had the hills and the seas, but the beauty of Grenada was really in its streets. The hills had a bare and barren look about them. Lucia is totally lush. All of today went in trying to (unsuccessfully) track our luggage. Will explore tomorrow.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Beyond the Boundary

Nothing's changed. Football is still an Argentine game. And giant raspberries to all the Rooneys and Henrys of the world.

Friday, April 20, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Lots of cricket news

There's a veritable photo-finish on at the moment to try and provide the world with the biggest bit of cricket news...and it's coming in from all over the world.

1. Duncan Fletcher's resignation: This came in yesterday, and I was surprised to note that the British journalists were all very happy with Fletch going away. I would have thought that for a country with such limited international cricket success as England, Fletch would have become a complete hero after the 2005 Ashes win. Obviously, it's the players who play and yada, yada, yada, but surely the coach's role can't be discounted. And obviously there is no other way to gauge a coach's abilities than to see the success-failure ratio of the team. Here you have a team with exactly two talented cricketers (Flintoff and Pietersen) and a number of over-rated mediocre cricketers and a number of pace bowlers who don't last for more than a few hours on the cricket ground before getting 'career-threatening injuries'. Surely Fletch did well?

2. The Indian teams for Bangladesh: This came in today and is obviously important news in India.

They've 'rested' Tendulkar and Ganguly from the ODI squad. Sensible. But can we take Gambhir and Uthappa to open in England later this year? Thankfully, Irfan, Harbhajan and Agarkar have been 'dropped' without any curtain over the decision. Agarkar is easily the worst cricketer in the history of the game to have played as much as he has. Harbhajan has been bowling terribly for many years now, and Irfan is, obviously, Irfan and shouldn't be playing any grade of cricket right now.

Across in the Tests, you have no Sehwag. So that means Karthik is now the first choice opening batsman along with Jaffer. It's not a bad team otherwise, and it's good to note that no major knee-jerk action was taken. And it's also nice to note that Laxman is still in there. He might not score more than 20 when he goes out, but it's always nice to see him playing. He certainly is nice enough to be picked.

3. Shoaib Malik to be Pakistan captain: Not a bad call. But is it because he has the potential to be a good captain or is it because there are no other options? We all know it is the latter, and that's never a good thing. And when he comes back from the dope-induced layoff (or injury, if you choose), Mohammad Asif is likely to be the vice captain. And Younis Khan has finally been removed from the vice captaincy after the world finally realised that he doesn't want to be captain. It's also good that he himself has finally realised it. Pakistan cricket continues to baffle.

4. Lara choosing to retire: Now this is the biggest bit of news to have come out from this World Cup. Bigger than Woolmer's murder. Bigger than India and Pakistan crashing out early. Bigger than the financial and general disaster that this World Cup has been. Because Lara, to me, was bigger than the sport. Much bigger. The same way Maradona was. Or Ali was. Or Tiger Woods is. It sounds stupid, but watching Lara bat during one of his characteristic free-stroking long innings was better than most other things the world has to offer. Put together, often.

We knew before the World Cup that he would retire at the end of the tournament. It's probably right that he goes away also, considering the amount of criticism he has received (unfairly, I think) during the World Cup and also considering the fact that his own form has been average at best for a long time now. But somehow, I feel that he had at least one more long Test knock in him somewhere. That won't happen now. He is quitting all cricket. And now cricket will have one champion less, and Shiv Chanderpaul will be West Indies' best batsman.

WORLD CUP DIARY: Grenada Cruisin’

I think I’ve mentioned before that the most interesting aspect of Grenada is the way the streets are built. For starters, the hills start almost from the edge of the sea. So what happens is that you have a lot of steep ups and downs practically all over the city/country. And if you think of Grenada as an average-sized Indian town/city you can imagine the lane-bylane system that it would have. Now replace these unexciting lanes and bylanes with roads that go up, up, up and then suddenly down, down, down. You go up for about 500 metres and then take a sharp right turn that goes down for about 300 metres and then take another turn towards the left and so on and so forth. What makes it even more exciting is the speed at which the cars move: about 40-50 mph, which is much, much faster than it would be otherwise.

But that’s not the reason why we are talking about cruising here. Actually we were taken on this nice cruise last evening by the Grenada Tourism Board. Over a hundred journalists from around the world got together at around 6.00pm last evening aboard the Rhum Runner II at the Queen’s Bay Jetty, for what promised to be a few hours of fun – obviously with a lot of drinking and eating and dancing and stuff…

And that’s precisely what it was. The boat/ferry/cruise ship took us quite some distance into the sea (the rather calm side of the Atlantic) and as darkness fell the breeze picked up. We, the Indian lot along with some of the Brits and Aussies, had taken control of one of the sides of the top deck, and it really was about the breeze and the lovely hillside dwellings and the rum for the most part. The music and dancing was mostly confined to the bottom deck, and we managed to miss all of it. Really didn’t realise how the time ran out and it was 9.30pm or so, and we were back on terra firma, all set to go back to bed.

As I write this, cricinfo says that the usual strange Indian teams have been picked for the tour of Bangladesh, Dav Whatmore has resigned, Lara will resign after the next game and much more… And Ponting and Hayden are butchering the New Zealand bowling right in front of my eyes here at the National Stadium in Grenada.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: In Grenada now

Have been here in Grenada for two days now, but have had little time to anything constructive, and therefore, to blog about.

The problem is not with Grenada, which is a truly picturesque part of the world like so many other parts of the Caribbean. It's not been able to sell itself as a tourist destination yet, which means a lot of the central places are rather run-down. It also means that the taxi connections aren't fully developed. And the hotel we are staying in - quite expensive - hardly has any facilities for the tourist. No Internet. No food. No taxi stand. No mobile signal in the rooms...

What this has meant is that I haven't been able to go out and about much, though people tell me there are superb pubs scattered around town. But the island itself is very beautiful. Small hills all around with a wave-less sea dotted with yachts. Driving around the place is the most interesting part of the tour, because everything is up-and-down, but the streets are constructed like normal streets would be. So there are lots of very steeply sloping narrow lanes and bylanes, around which the local drivers drive like madmen.

Hope something interesting happens though...will post about it for sure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Good on you, Razzaq

This is what the PTI has reported today from Dubai:

Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq has criticised the late former national coach Bob Woolmer, saying he was only interested in keeping his job and his tenure made no difference to the team.

Razzaq, who missed the World Cup due to a injury, said he knew that it was not right to pass adverse remarks on a dead person but he had no regret to state the truth although it may sound unkind, according to a newspaper report.

"In my opinion Bob was a very shrewd operator. He was a coach just by nature of his job. Bob knew how to spend his time. For me, he must surely be one of the cleverest Britishers. On the surface he acted as an Asian but inside he was only interested in keeping his job irrespective of victory or defeat," said Razzaq.

My take:
I'm sure Razzaq has his own agenda here, but it takes balls, especially in the subcontinent where dead people assume god-like status, to come out and say what he has said. Admittedly, Razzaq should have said what he has said earlier if he felt strongly enough about it. He didn't. And that must count against him and also lead to questioning him about his intentions.

But he has shown guts, whether rightly or wrongly. And I will respect him for that.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Yesterday was the last day in Barbados - as if watching matches featuring Bangladesh and Ireland wasn't dreary enough, both the teams were playing yesterday. But it was a fun day as the gates were thrown open to the public after a couple of hours' play and loads of fun locals tropped in with various musical instruments - mainly drums and trumpets - and made a lot of noise around a match that didn't deserve more than a couple of claps.

At the end of the match, we met up with two of the best known Calypso singers in Barbados: Shenton 'Red Plastic Bag' Wiltshire and Smokey Burke. Both of them were fantastic people who gave us all the time in the world, gave us every detail we wanted, and sang lines from a number of their songs.

The highlight, of course, was the two of them singing Lord Relator's famous paean to Sunil Gavaskar in chorus:

It was Gavaskar
The real master
Just like a wall
We couldn't out Gavaskar at all
Not at all
You know the West Indies couldn't out Gavaskar at all.

Had only read the words of this song in the past. Heard it yesterday.

The two of them, in fact, have a number of cricket calypso songs. RPB sang 'Stroke It' for us, while Smokey sang 'Kensington', his ode to the new and improved Kensington Oval. They both also told us that cricket is one of the oldest and most popular subjects for calypso music and that Harry Belafonte had missed the point back in the 1950s.

In fact (Pankaj, you will find this interesting), both of them and a number of other locals here as well as in Jamaica that we spoke to talked of how irrelevant Belafonte is to the general consciousness. They talked of Belafonte selling out, moving to the United States, not being bothered about the people at home...and generally losing importance.

To start with, of course, they were surprised to know that we even know of Belafonte. "He from the 50s, man...long gone," is the general refrain.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Day Out at Foul Bay

Foul Bay isn't very appropriately named. It is totally tranquil. Blue sea. Waves that on the whole stay away from you. Fine white sand. Trees. Some intimidating rocky cliffs a slight distance away. On the whole, it's the sort of place American teenagers spend the first few days before inviting the wrath of strange creatures and spirits in B-grade thrillers.

And it's at the Foul Bay beach that the Barbados Tourism Authority had arranged for us hard-working foreign journalists to have a spot of fun. Fun in the form of beach cricket. The idea was that a team of 13-14 foreign journalists would get together a form a team called 'Media Moguls' that would play the 'Bajan Legends', which would have true legends like Joel Garner and a few non-entities like Carlisle Best and Roland Holder. Or so we were told.

None of the legends eventually turned up, and neither did the non-entities. Garner did make a guest appearance after repeated calls from the organisers, but left in 10 minutes. But the journalists turned up in hordes, and were eventually broken up into three teams - the Moguls, the Legends and the Mount Gay Rum team. A serious carpet-like pitch was readied for us, because while playing cricket in the sand is fun, it's difficult to have a full-fledged match.

The beer had been stacked up beyond the boundary along the cover-point region, and the barbecue had been set up around thirdman. Tent-like sheds for the non-cricketers to idle in was around extra cover, and a small stage had also been erected, which started the Calypso going just before we were to start the first match, and like at the World Cup, the music came on each time a wicket fell or an over was bowled. The leg side had to be kept vacant for the waves to have their game and for the sixes to be hit. Needless to say, we also had a commentator, a typically funny Bajan gent.

The game wasn't much and most of the people really were no good as cricketers. Having said that though, I managed a paltry seven while batting, so maybe a lot of people would be saying the same about me. But six of those seven runs came off one hit over mid-wicket and the single was a blind heave that ended up being an outside edge to point. But the wicketkeeping went well. A couple of stumpings and a catch was effected. For the record, Media Moguls (that's my team) lost by a few runs...though a lot of us felt that no one had kept score properly.

Anyway, the match was really incidental, as the trip - from the time we were picked up from the hotel around 12, to the climb-back-into-the-bus-with-aching-bones at around 6 - was really about having fun. And we certainly did have fun. The cricket was different, in that it was played on a Caribbean beach, where we have grown up knowing all serious West Indian legends have had a go. A lot of beer was had (six-seven bottles, though a friend suggests it was closer to 40) and a lot of chicken and fish was gobbled up. And when the Legends played the Mount Gay team, we also had a little dip in the sea.

So on the whole, a great day. What was originally meant to be for a story on 'beach cricket with the legends', turned out to be a day when the camera never came out of the bag.

Meeting Patrick Eagar
Well, that's not entirely correct. Because Patrick Eagar was there. And even though no West Indian cricket legend was around, Eagar, a legend in his own right, was. So I lined up an interview with him and thus the camera emergeth.

He is a really sweet elderly gentleman who has fascinating stories to tell about his own career and all the World Cups from 1975 downwards. He didn't play, but took a lot of shots of our game. And thus us journalists have now reached the same bracket as the great cricketers who feature in Eagar's films.

WORLD CUP DIARY: Woolmer update

This is reaching ridiculous proportions now.

Today, the Jamaican Constabulary Force has come out and said that Woolmer was poisoned before being strangled to his death. This is what we had all concluded on Day One, when it was confirmed that there was blood on his pillow, on the bathroom floor and elsewhere along with a lot of vomit. Understandably, the JCF couldn't have made the announcement without having got the toxicology report. But surely this tells us that the case hasn't progressed at all.

And if we take our minds back to the time Woolmer was murdered...we had first been told then that the tests (toxicology and histology) had been 'inconclusive'. The same evening, after about five hours, we were told that the police is treating Woolmer's death as 'suspicious'. I had asked Mark Shields at the time whether they had moved from 'inconclusive' to 'suspicious' after the tests, and the reply was 'yes, obviously'.

Which raises the question: If the tests had been conducted then and had helped the police move from 'inconclusive' to 'suspicious', then what is the police playing at by saying they are now in possession of the toxicology reports?

It really is a case of the police mucking up the investigations, and also giving in to demands from a number of quarters to keep the murderer being named till after the World Cup. Look at the overall picture. India and Pakistan losing out has made the World Cup a financial disaster. The spectators have suffered, the local organisers have suffered, the ICC has suffered, the sponsors have suffered. To name Woolmer's killer now would take the World Cup to where it was when it was first announced that he was murdered; in the background.

Which is also the reason why the police, which said that it was ahead of the game on March 24th, is now saying that it is now in for the long haul.

It's a mess. A complete mess. And with the Coroner's Inquest starting on April 23rd, Woolmer's embalmed dead body remains at the Roman Funeral Parlour in Kingston. Almost a month now from the day when he was killed, Woolmer is in Kingston, with the promise that his body will stay in Kingston till the Inquest is over, which could take another month. Now I am not particularly sensitive about these things and Woolmer's murder affected me only in than that it was a big blot on the game, but it does make me icky to note that the dead body will be sent home or cremated over two months after Woolmer's death.

Now Woolmer was a respected man, but his two big coaching stints were with the fixing-tainted South African team and then the Pakistan team, which the world considers deeply mired in fixing. Woolmer may or may not have wanted to squeal, but fact is that he didn't. When he was with the South Africans or when he was with the Pakistanis. But be that as it may, I don't think anyone deserves what Woolmer is getting right now. And surely the police owes it to him to get this farce over with at the earliest.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Beach cricket

Remember all those Sportstar snaps of cricket on the West Indian beaches? Well, we participated in a spot of beach cricket yesterday. At the beautiful beach behind the Hilton. Some of us with a group of British kids with the Australian cricketers (including Glenn McGrath) and some of the English cricketers watching on. Umpires Billy Bowden and Simon Taufel were also part of the audience, as was match referee Ranjan Madugalle. Had fun. Didn't do particularly well, but it really was about the experience.

And today, in another hour or so, we head for Foul Bay Beach, where we have a match lined up against former West Indian cricketers/legends. Some calypso music and refreshments and a barbecue have also been promised. Will let you know how it goes...

Friday, April 13, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Barbados in a submarine

Barbados has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is easily the most beautiful island in the Caribbean. I obviously haven't been to all the Caribbean islands, but some of my colleagues have and they assure me that no place is as beautiful and complete as a tourist destination as Barbados is. I say 'aye' to that from my scattered experience.

To start with, as always, the people here are the most fantastic. I don't know how much of it has to do with their orientation towards tourists and how much of it is genuine. But going by my experience around the West Indies, I would wager that it is genuine. Almost everyone goes out of their way to be nice and friendly, and it's almost like the experiences some of my friends had in Pakistan back in 2005. The people are, of course, almost as crazy as the Jamaicans and for sure, have that old bug in their brains. But where Jamaica is scary in bits, Barbados is not. Even in the night. Alone. On the road. Maybe, again, it's the orientation towards tourists and the knowledge that 90 per cent of the country's money comes from tourism.

And why not? All of Barbados is inches away from the Atlantic Ocean. The sea is a blue, blue, blue that almost looks like paint, it's so blue. You know, when you stand near the water, you feel as though the water itself is blue and if a few drops come and hit you, these drops will also be blue. It's not of course, but I'm not sure of that.

Then comes the food. Fish of so many shapes, sizes and preparations that I'm not sure Bengalis have a case when it comes to competing against the Bajans. We had an unfortunate experience with the fish though...

We had been told that you get crocodile flesh/meat in Barbados and David's is the place to go for it. So we went to David's last night, where we were told that South Sea Restaurant is actually the place. So on to South Sea we went, where we were told that the Crocs have become rather unfashionable and have been off the menu for the past six months or so. But they do have 'ostrich' in case we were interested. We were, but David's also had 'rabbit' and 'dolphin' on their menu, so we trekked back there. 'Rabbit' wasn't happening at the moment, but 'dolphin' was. Good enough. Did we want it baked or battered or darkened or grilled or abracadabraed? One darkened and one grilled will do, we said, thinking Solomon and Nefertiti had been conquered. No such luck though, because apparently dolphin is a fish called dolphin and dolphins are called flippers around these parts. So we went and chomped unhappily at the unfortunate darkened and grilled dolphins.

Life Aquatic with Shamya Dasgupta
That was yesterday. This is today. And today was the day when we were taken on a trip in a submarine about 100 feet down the Atlantic Ocean. We reached the pier and got on a small ferry that obviously ferried us across to the white submarine, which actually came out of the water in front of our eyes.

That was kind of thrilling, and so was getting into the submarine and getting lowered (or 'diving') towards the bottom of the ocean. Truth be told, the view was a bit hazy because of the sun choosing to play hide-and-seek and therefore there not being a lot of light down below. But it was still clear enough to see an ancient shipwreck that has yards of corals growing all over it. Apparently in another 40-odd years not an inch of the ship will be visible. The water was also clear enough to spot various eel-like creatures as well as many blue Nemo-fish, yellow and black tiger-like fish, a lot of silvery hilsa-like fish and one Hawksbill Turtle, an endangered thingy that is rather scared of everything, but happened to get stranded right outside out window. No harm was done to it though. Of course, a lot of corals were also seen, along with myriad Discovery and Nat Geo-like flora that seemed to be floating at the bottom of the ocean.

It was a really memorable experience even if no sharks and whales and dolphins and octopii happened on our path.

More legend-spotting
Yes, Charlie Griffith was met with. Head was titled upwards in trying to look at his face, which hovered many inches above mine. Photograph was taken with beeeg smile on face and huge hands were shaken. Some time was also spent with Reverend Wesley Hall and Joel Garner at a Barbados Tourism do the other night.

Now I had interviewed both of them in Delhi sometime back, so some of the charm was missing. But Reverend Hall being Reverend Hall and there being quite a lot of alcohol at the do, long chats were had with the venerable gentleman. Apart from that, there have been Cammie Smith and Vasbert Drakes, so there's been no real plateau. It's been peak (Hall & Griffith) to nadir (Drakes and Smith). Which makes me wonder: Was Cammie Smith ever even a player or was he just a bad match referee? Will check cricinfo.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Legend-spotting Part I

Haven’t done much legend-spotting to be honest, though I did interview Barbadian greats (Reverend) Wesley Hall and Joel Garner when they were in India to promote Barbados Tourism sometime back, and have met Garner in the West Indies as well…but we have been hot on the trail of the former greats that Barbados is synonymous with.

List out your All-time World XI, brother, and stack it up against the All-time Barbados XI – it’ll be a close finish! Let’s try listing the Barbados XI just for the heck of it:

Gordon Greenidge
Desmond Haynes
Conrad Hunte (should be an opener, but why disturb the Greenidge-Haynes combo?)
* Frank Worrell
Everton Weekes
Garfield Sobers
+ Clyde Walcott
Malcolm Marshall
Wesley Hall
Charlie Griffith
Joel Garner

[No spinners, you scoff. I blow a raspberry in your direction in reply…. Marshall! Hall! Griffith! Garner! Sobers! And I will make sure Sobers doesn’t bowl any spin.]

Anyway, all that’s beside the point. Point is that we went to the Empire Sports Club earlier today. That’s where Worrell, Weekes, Walcott, Griffith, Hunte, Seymour Nurse and some other West Indian cricketers played in their formative years. The house Worrell was born in is actually just outside the boundary of the club. Like the distance between Jama Masjid and Karim’s. That close. The size of the house is about that of one of the restaurants at Karim’s, and had reached ruin after Worrell’s death. So now the government is renovating it to turn it into a museum. No one lives there…. In fact, Worrell’s only daughter lives in Canada and doesn’t have much time for this small, otherwise dilapidated structure that is obviously of more value to the government and tourists like us.

Weekes and Walcott lived some distance away, but not too much. And Worrell’s grave – a couple of miles away – has a sculpture of the 3Ws in lieu of a tombstone.

We want to trace Malcolm Marshall’s roots tomorrow. Can’t be too difficult. Everyone in Barbados knows everything about their famous sons, and Marshall’s wife/widow apparently still runs a shop somewhere downtown. Will let you know how that goes…

WORLD CUP DIARY: Beautiful Barbados

Like had been the case when I went to the Kaieteur Falls, Barbados has made me fall woefully short of words. Though this being a city and not a wonder as the Falls were, I guess I might be able to pull it off.

We came in last afternoon in the same flight as the chirpy Bangladeshis (as well as the sour South Africans who went on to Grenada) and the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel itself was lovely in the same way a drive around Kerala is. The sea is a constant companion to the left, with picture perfect hut-like houses (we would call them bungalows in India) the only things between the sea and the road we were driving on.

It’s evident that tourism makes this country tick as hotels outnumber everything else, and the Barbadian dollar is a strong 2 units to 1 US dollar. Compare this to India’s 45-odd and in the Caribbean, Jamaica’s 66-odd and Guyana’s 200-odd and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Everything is kind of polished and spanking, and the city gives the impression of overall well-being.

Onward to our hotel, the beautifully named Coral Mist, and believe me, it’s as close to being in heaven as possible. Now I am not a sea/beach person. Beaches bore me. Seas interest me only for a bit, though I must admit the sound of the waves is a brilliant accompaniment when you’re going to sleep. Ajitha is more of a beach person, and she has to come here sometime, because it really doesn’t get better than this. Especially from the balcony of our room at Coral Mist. We are on the third floor of this hotel, and if you jump off the balcony of our room, you’re going to land on the edge of the beach. If the tide is high, you can very well make the water.

But even that is not the best part. The best part really is the colour of the sea. It’s a bright, bright, bright, bright blue; absolutely clear and has a smooth lilt to it as far as the force of the waves is concerned. There’s no unnecessary choppiness, though it’s far from being sedate. So it’s no sissy. But it’s not a bully either.

Went for my usual morning walk today along the beach and found that the sand is really, really fine, and even the water doesn’t manage to change the texture. While walking, I realised that the tide was coming in and seeing that I was walking in the water, I decided to go in for a swim as well. Now this is not particularly dangerous because the high tide is not very different from otherwise and is a difference of only about 20 feet of additional water. And they have these flags around that tell you when not to go in the water, and as long as that’s not the case, you’re safe.

Barbados is also, obviously, home to some of the greatest cricketers of all time, so the next post will be on some of the experiences we’ve had in trying to track down remnants of the Worrells and Marshalls of the world.

PS: Don’t come to Barbados on work. If your office wants to send you, say ‘no’. It makes no sense. Better not come here than come on work.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Leaving Guyana

Even as I sit down to write this post, the television is on (on mute) and they are showing Saif Ali Khan and Kim Sharma singing a song that has subtitles going "Your love has been harassing me so much lately..."

Dunno what movie it is from, but it's just an additional pointer to exactly how Indianised Guyana is. Every evening - including right now - the poolside of the Buddy's International Hotel where we are staying has a Telugu gentleman singing Kishore Kumar songs. His name is Prasad, and he usually has Shalini with him singing the duets. It's terrible, but I admit I rather enjoyed last evening's session.

As the television subtitles have moved to "He's not in love who is crazy from craziness...", I put in the last few notes about my stay in Guyana, which gets over after tonight as we leave for Barbados, which is supposed to be the most beautiful of the Caribbean islands.

First, a note on the sub-par IQ levels of the people in Guyana...

Now a lot of people in Jamaica were a bit crazy, and as a colleague observed, all of them have a bug (poka/kira) inserted into their brans when they are born, and when these bugs act up...

Guyanese people aren't particularly crazy, though there is a hint of lunacy every once in a way. But the people here are by and large rather slow...

For example, a conversation I had with a waitress (really sweet and courteous otherwise) went:

Me: Could you get me a whisky and a packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes? I'll order the food in a bit.

Waitress: Okay (dashing off).

Me: Whoa! I need to tell you what whisky to get.

Waitress: Yes sir.

Me: Get me a Long John, will you? Double (meaning 'large').

Waitress: Okay.

[After a 10-minute gap...]

Waitress: I'll get you the ashtray in five minutes.

Me: Okay. But where's the whisky?

Waitress: I'll get it, sir.

Me: And the cigarettes?

Waitress: You wanted cigarettes?

Me: That's what you wanted to bring the ashtray for, no?

Waitress: Oh yes. I'll just be back.

[After exactly five minutes...]

Waitress: Here's your ashtray, sir.

Me: And what about the cigarettes?

Waitress: You wanted cigarettes?

Me: Yes. Could you please get me a packet of Benson & Hedges? Please. And thanks for the ashtray.

[Waitress nods and vanishes for the next 15 minutes, after which I go inside and enquire after her. She is chatting with a couple of other girls]

Me: Hi. You didn't get my cigarettes.

Waitress: You wanted cigarettes, sir?

Me: Will you just tell me where the cigarette counter is and I'll manage.

Waitress: That way (pointing at the counter).

Me: And I wanted a double Long John. Are you getting that?

Waitress: Yeah, in a minute.

[She comes back after about 10 minutes with a plate of fish fingers]...

This goes on for a long, long time, at the end of which I go back to my room and order Room Service.

Now, please don't take this as a one-off incident that I am hyping up. Similar experiences have been a dime-a-dozen here in Guyana. Unbelievably, not one transaction I have been part of (except at the bank and the police station) have been straightforward and simple. And the difference in accent has nothing to do with this. Truth be told though, the people in Guyana are much, much sweeter than the average person even in Jamaica. And the people in Jamaica are fantastic as well. So you can imagine. That is definitely the upside of spending time here...

Conclusion: The mix of races that the Guyanese people have been subject to down the years has seriously compromised their brains. It happens - I've heard - when people marry within their families and have children. Might be an anthropological connection somewhere.

Stopping by at Bourda
The match between Bangladesh and South Africa (what a match it was!) started at around 9.30am. Around the same time the New Zealand team was practicing at the Bourda Oval. I wanted to go to the Bourda anyway, so took the chance.

And it certainly was worth it...what a beautiful ground it is; constructed entirely out of wood, the Bourda Oval really is what cricket in the West Indies was supposed to be. A huge and well-stocked bar stands beyond the cover (or square-leg/mid-wicket) boundary. Members still fill up the bar even if there is no cricket. The rest of the ground is a one-storey wooden structure that calls out to you and invites you to sit back and enjoy an imaginary cricket match.

When we checked for his opinion, Stephen Fleming was fluffy but probably correct when he said that he is a modern cricketer who wants modern facilities where he plays and the Bourda is incapable of handling all the rain that has been happening in Guyana lately. He also said that as a cricketer at the 2007 World Cup, he would rather play at modern and technologically-equipped stadia than at the Bourda.

Probably fair. But as a stupid cricket fan, I would prefer watching cricket at the Bourda.

That's it then, folks. Me off to Barbados now. More posts from there.

Friday, April 06, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Kaieteur (and Orinduik) Falls

I mentioned yesterday that I was headed for the Kaieteur Falls here in Guyana today, didn’t I? Well, we made the trip and I can assure you that I haven’t had an experience as fascinating as this ever before. A writer in my place would have done a good job of describing the experience because even when I was in the middle of the experience, heck! I was woefully short of appropriate words (adjectives really).

Best I go about it in a sequential way to at least ensure something is right…

Woke up early, was picked up from the hotel along with Daryl Harper and his wife, some of the Ireland cricket team members (from another hotel, we met at the airstrip later) and a pile of tourists to go the Ogle Airstrip. Hung around for a long time there, because the aircraft that were supposed to take us were dilapidated eight-seater flying machines that can’t take too much weight. Forget luggage, even three fat persons would be too much for these babies. So four-five aircraft were arranged, and the organisers went through an hour-long addition-subtraction-permutation-combination process before figuring out who would sit in which place and so on.

The plane itself was more like an Ambassador taxi and I admit that I was scared shitless as it taxied and took off. Man oh man!!! It was scary! But then it did take off and it turned out to be quite a capable plane manned by a very, very able pilot, whose name I forgot to note down.

Now, while all the flying I have done on this tour has been from island to island and therefore over seas, this was the first inland flight. And instead of flying over the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea, we had the Amazon rainforests below us. And these flights don’t go up too high, which meant that we had one of those Hollywood-like sightings where helicopters or small planes go over these fantastic expanses of greens-and-mountains (like when the flight enters Jurassic Park, for example). And because the plane didn’t go up too high, the distance between us and the top of the forest was barely the distance from the top of a 30-storey building and the ground. It was like flying over a carpet of broccoli, because as we realised later, there’s practically no room for daylight in these forests.

Then we landed, and found a very entertaining guide – Colin Benjamin, who took us on a guided tour of all the amazing flora and fauna that thrive in these parts of the Amazons. The flora I was not interested in. The fauna sounded fascinating. Especially the inch-long Golden Frogs. These insect-like frogs are also called ‘poison dart frogs’, and as Colin told us, can kill even large animals like horses with their venom. Needless to say I stayed away.

The other thing we would all have tried to avoid was the ‘wagler’, if, of course, we crossed paths. The wagler is a snake unique to these parts, and is rumoured to be so fast that it can get its fangs into the legs of a galloping horse. Thankfully, we didn’t meet a wagler – mainly because waglers are supposed to be very scared of noise and stay away from tourist parties.

Let me tell you about the forest itself now. For all us Indians bred on the threadbare Corbett National Parks of the world, this is the real thing. In fact, this was only a trailer for the real thing (which would be the middle of the Amazons), but even this was denser than the densest parts of places like Corbett. The sun was shining, but you couldn’t tell by looking up; the trees go up so high and are so thickly leaved. There are some fascinating vines and trees that are supposed to have amazing powers.

And then we came to the Kaieteur Falls. If any of you watch Headlines Today, maybe you can catch the visuals I sent, because I really can’t describe it. From over a kilometre away, you can hear its roar. The roar begins to get deafening as you get nearer, but till you actually reach it, you don’t manage to glimpse it, because the spray that comes up from the drop creates a fog-like haze. Now, remember that this is a 700-foot drop. So the water goes down 700 feet, and the spray that takes place as a result of it 700 feet below bounces up all the way and then creates a thick screen of fog. The water itself is a dark brown because it comes over miles of red stones, but the haze is milk-white.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

You have to shout to be heard at this stage, because the roar is literally deafening. The 700-foot trek can be done in about 4 days’ time because there are trekkable routes. But as Colin told us, there’s a 7-second route also, to avoid which you should stay far, far away from the edge of the cliff, because it’s curtains otherwise.

Legend has it that once upon a time the cannibalistic Caribs attacked the peaceful Patamona tribe that inhabit the forests. In response, the Patamona king Kaie sacrificed himself by canoeing over the falls to appease Makonaima, the Great Spirit and to bring peace between the Patamona and the Caribs. ‘Teur’ means fall, and thus ‘Kaie-teur’.

Photos were taken. Memory pockets in the head were created. Wife was missed.

It’s around this time that the rains started and we relocated to our Ambassador-craft. Next on our agenda were the Orinduik Falls.

The flight from Kaieteur to Orinduik is interesting because the landscape changes very, very suddenly. The broccoli-like Amazons stop suddenly and instead you get the Rupununi Savannahs – barren, plateau-like landscapes without a speck of vegetation.

And then you touch down in Orinduik. No records here, but fascinating nevertheless. The Orinduik Falls are on the Guyana-Brazil border and are sold to tourists as the place to go to if you want a natural water massage. The deal is that the Orinduik Falls are much like the Ram Teri Ganga Maili variety and come down only from about a 12-foot high. But it comes down at a massive speed because it comes straight down from the mountains, and if you sit down under it as we all did, the water falls on your back like a masseur’s fists.

The Orinduik leg of the trip was interesting only because it was part of our itinerary and because of its proximity to Brazil, but the trip was really about the Kaieteur Falls.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Across at Unity Village

It was the sort of thing I like travelling for. There was a match on, which meant most fellow journalists were being ethical and watching Ireland vs South Africa at the lovely new Providence Stadium (or the National Cricket Stadium of Providence). It was raining off an on in Providence, and as we drove out of town and on to the highway to Unity Village, it started pouring. Why Unity Village? Well, on work. That's where Shivnarine Chanderpaul grew up. And that's where his parents stay with Shiv's first wife and Shiv's son from that marriage. Within a one-kilometre radius from around Shiv's childhood home, you can actually find Colin Croft's childhood home, Rohan Kanhai's childhood home and Stephen Comacho's childhood home - that makes it quite a cricketing village, doesn't it?

Anyway, it was raining hard, and we first passed Guyana's most dangerous district - Buxton. This is where all the people of African origin live and Haroon Rashid Khan - our driver - was very specific about mentioning that fact as he explained what Buxton is all about. Can't say Buxton looked particularly dangerous as we passed it, but it certainly looked very, very poor. Loads of homeless people and loads of young boys and girls were idling about on the streets when they really should have been in school or college.

The drive was a long one, and at the end of it, we discovered that Mr Khemraj Chanderpaul had not honoured the appointment and had gone out with his grandson, who we were originally making the trip for. Couldn't do much except relocate to Mr H Rajkumar Licence Liquor Restaurant, a sprawling wooden restaurant-cum-bar with lots of benches-and-tables and the dear Mrs Rajkumar, who got so excited at seeing us that she put on a Non-stop Bollywood Hits CD on the sound system. A couple of beers were had along with some buns and cheese, and then Mrs Rajkumar was kind enough to let us sleep on the benches as we waited for Chanderpaul Sr.

This was to be a two-hour wait-cum-nap, but Mrs Rajkumar didn't mind at all. In fact, she dug out some 'Jhatka Remix'-type CDs and kept the noise flowing as we tried to sleep. Obviously couldn't complain. And when we left, Mrs Rajkumar had packed some semi-vadas for us with a nice tamarind-chilli chutney...

Anyway, we left when Chanderpaul Sr came back with Taijnarine (alias Brandon), Shiv's 10-year-old son, who is already playing in the Under-19s and is supposed to have loads of courage and patience. Interestingly, his batting stance is identical to Shiv's, and he has the same kind of shuffle-and-jerk before playing the ball. The interview was done. I bowled a few to Taijnarine, and truth be told, he wasn't as exciting as I assumed a 10-year-old-who-plays-against-19-year-olds would be. But then, maybe I was just prejudiced against Taij!

The drive back wasn't as much fun because the rain had let up and the sun was shining, which made Guyana typically sticky.

PS: Passed the quaint Bourda Oval on our way to Unity. Will make sure I drop in there before leaving Guyana.

PPS: This was yesterday. Today was spent entirely in the hotel because of non-stop rain. Chose to do a long interview with Daryll Cullinan in the hotel itself, seeing that not much could have been done outdoors. But tomorrow promises to be fantastic fun. We are flying across to the Kaieteur Falls, the tallest single-drop waterfall in the world. Will let you know how that goes...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What a load of bull!

I'm talking about Greg Chappell. He doesn't mean a single word of what he says here, does he? Not one. Not bloody one!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: They stalk me

This post doesn't really have anything to do with the World Cup, but comes into the sequence because it does have to do with the flight from Kingston to Guyana (via Antigua, Bridgetown and Port of Spain). Fantastic flying again!!!

People who know me know of my intense dislike of children. And while I have wanted to write on this passionate hatred of mine and had even charted out the chapters in a self-help book that deals in general with torturing and maiming children, I have never really gotten down to putting pen on paper (or finger on keyboard, as it is). This has to do - by and large- with hurting children via suckering them into playing a game with you, using noise as a cover when you're trying to torture children, using your day-to-day tools and implements on children, stuffing their faces to make sure there's no noise and that sort of thing. Of course, what excites me the most is the old trick of innocently passing on bits of information to children and ensuring that they are going to bring it up with their parents in particuarly uncomfortable situations (I believe parents should bear the brunt of the torture).

And in any case, my old friend and fellow-hater-of-children-and-therefore-in-danger-of-inviting-outrage Jai had also recently taken up the subject, so I thought I would lay low.

Anyway, the spur for this post was the number of kids on the flight we had...and how I found out that African kids (as all of these were) are as noisy as their Indian counterparts. Now, this wasn't particularly surprising. In fact, I had pretty much anticipated this. I knew that Indian kids were particularly noisy because Indians, as parents, aren't particularly great. And they allow their little assholes that much more room to misbehave. And their outrage at irrelevant strangers not taking a shine to their little devils is a sight to behold; something that makes their children that much more misbehaved. It's a vicious cycle.

The kids in the Caribbean Airlines flight were as noisy as some that I have encountered on the Rajdhani Express, or even Jet Airways. They cried. Loud and strong. Their parents paid not a heed. Obviously, mothers across the world work on the same philosophy: I went through nine months of hell for this piece of shit; I don't care who you are, but you're going to have to go through at least ninety minutes of the same shit!

A little saving grace in this case, however, was the fact that some of these kids were actually rather beautiful. Especially this little year-old girl (who was actually totally quiet for the entire flight) with almost no hair on her head. It was particuarly sweet because the little hair she had was in dreadlocks (about half an inch long each) and she had on a number of colourful clips on her hair (head actually). Black people are more beautiful than most other races, and evidently their kids reflect this.

WORLD CUP DIARY: A trip to fuzz-zone!

The last match I had seen on tour was the game between Pakistan and Ireland. Obviously, because since then I have been stuck at Pegasus Hotel, keeping track of the Bob Woolmer murder investigations. As a result of which, as I realised this morning, I had misplaced my ICC CWC Accreditation Card. Now, not having the access card would mean no access to the matches - the grounds or the media centres.

Therefore, a new access card had to be accessed. And the only way to get it was by filing a report at the local police station. In this case, this was the Providence Police Station on the outskirts of Georgetown in Guyana. A wooden single-storeyed building, the police station doesn't inspire much confidence, especially in a place renowned for its more-than-capable crimesters.

It's a lot like your average Indian police station, with a lot of fat men and women hanging around huge tables with a lot of files. There was a black boy sitting on a bench with handcuffs on. There was a small lock-up with fragile looking bars, with a boy called Mahomed staring out from inside. I know he is called Mahomed because he said some rude, loud mumbling sounds at me when I walked in (the only word I caught was 'virgin') and was promptly shushed up with a 'hrtyfdghesluys Mahomed fkghyipwss!' from this officer of Chinese extraction. Apparently he is in because he was peddling something he wasn't supposed to peddle and will be in for a week or so.

But Sargeant Joy Fredericks was very chatty and really helpful, and my work got done in a jiffy. Not a bad experience to add to some of the other interesting experiences I've had on tour so far. And while on the subject of crime, Woolmer remains mis-murdered.

WORLD CUP DIARY: Settling down in Guyana

Guyana is unique in that it is the only country in the South American mainland to have international cricket. Of course, you ask around in Guyana, and every single person will tell you that they are part of the Caribbean Islands and not part of South America…but that’s as maybe. You ask around in India, and most youngsters think they are part of Mainland America…!

Guyana is a very interesting mix of cultures, as I’m sure you’ll know if you surfed the Internet long enough. There are Africans, yes. But there are probably more Indians – both ‘Hindoos’ and ‘Mozlems’. There are also Latin Americans. What’s more interesting is that over and above people from all these extractions, there are people with all these combinations. As a result, the colour of people here varies from a terrible dirty off-white to a beautiful chocolaty dark brown. And while some people look like Oliver Kahn, a lot of the people are really very good-looking.

All right, Guyana could very well be called Mini-India. The man who drove us from the airport to our hotel was of Indian extraction. The girl at the reception who checked us in is called Sunita. The bell-boy who took us to our room is called Avinash Narine, and they were showing a Shahid Kapoor-Kareena Kapoor film on the cable channel in the hotel room!

And that’s not all, we were welcomed into the hotel to the refrains of Kajra Re, and spotted a flower-bedecked Bentley in the hotel porch. The reason is that there was an Indian wedding happening in the poolside area of the hotel we are staying in, and for the first hour or so of our stay (this was rather late at night), we were treated to Antakshari sessions…

And the hotel we are staying in - Buddy's International - despite being rather good, is owned by 'Shri Omprakash Shivraj'. And the country's President is the Most Honourable Bharrat Jagdeo.
While this might serve to delight some of us, it isn’t what you want in the Caribbeans. And it doesn’t look like things are going to improve much going by the first few hours here. There’s going to be a great deal of India in Guyana, whether I like that or not.

To add to the India-ness, Guyana is not supposed to be one of the more exciting islands in the Caribbean, but I’m determined to enjoy it after spending what seemed like an eternity in Jamaica. Also, with some amount of cricket lined up, it can’t be all bad. It is, after all, where Lance Gibbs came from. Oh, the frog-in-a-fruit-basket also hails from here…so you get the picture: it’s going to be a mix of good and bad.