I was initially just going to keep these for myself, but a few friends – especially those I was travelling with – asked me to post up my tour diary for the recently concluded Champions Trophy in England and Wales.
Thursday 6th June, 2013.
Game 1: India v South Africa, SWALEC Stadium – Cardiff.
Day one of my Champions Trophy tour kicked off today with the first game of the tournament. Firstly, it was quite surprising that the hosts aren’t opening the tournament, and secondly, that the opener was played at Cardiff – coming from Australia, when I pictured cricket in the UK, I’d pictured Lord’s, Headingly, Trent Bridge, etc.
The day started with me, still jetlagged (day four of the trip so far) and tired from all the sightseeing I’ve been doing in London, heading to Paddington station to get on the two hour train from London to Cardiff. As expected, the train was full of tricolour and blue jerseys, so it wasn’t hard to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. I ended up talking to a couple of uncle’s who’d skipped work for the day, and we took a cab in from the station at Cardiff to SWALEC Stadium together.
I got to the stadium and called a friend who had my ticket, a friend who I’d only met once prior to today – at the India v England game at the 2011 World Cup in Bangalore. Shailly came out to give me my ticket, and take me to our seats, where Jat was – another friend I’d made at the World Cup – and another one of their friend’s Jai. It’s quite funny how sport can bring people so close together, there I was, half a world away from home, sitting with two blokes I’d met once two years back in the subcontinent, and another bloke who I’d literally met 5 minutes before, and after a pint, it was as if we’d known each other forever – reliving that famously tied game at the World Cup, and talking about the game in front of us then and there.
South Africa had won the toss and sent India in to bat, on what seemed to be a flat pitch, and a slightly overcast day – which cleared to be a belter. Whatever preconceptions anyone had about India’s relatively inexperienced batting line up, and their susceptibility to short pitched quick bowling was soon put to rest. The new partnership of Shikhar and Rohit provided a great platform with a 127 run partnership. Shikhar went on to score 114 off 94, and Ravi Jadeja chipped in with 47 from 29 down the order to give India a very healthy total of 331 for 7 off their allotted overs.
As the sun beat down on the crowd, and alcohol started taking its toll – many of the Indian contingent (who am I kidding? Apart from the one Richie Cunningham looking South African supporter three rows in front of us, everyone else was Indian) started getting frustrated at some of the expensive bowling and at one time, sloppy fielding. At points it boiled over into anti Pakistani chants, which I was quite disgusted by. They weren’t even playing against us yet!
Despite South Africa threatening to chase down the score, India regularly took wickets, with all the bowlers chipping in, and eventually winning by 26 runs. The victory lead to the crowd erupting in applause for the Indian team, on the back of the spot fixing scandal it was good to see the boys performing well on the ground. The applause then turned into a rendition of “Ye Dosti” and a few more chants and songs for the next hour or so with England’s touring Indian supporter group, the “Bharat Army” (including a new one that I’ve heard here, which is actually quite catchy – just singing SIR RAVI JADDDEEEJAAA – or OHHH RAVI JADDDEEJJAA to the main riff of Seven Nation Army by the Whites Stripes.
Shailly and I ran into a few more guys we had met in Bangalore at the World Cup and took pictures with them, and the huge flag with the WORLD CHAMPIONS printed on it. It was a good start to the campaign, the only negative from the day was the 45 minute delay on the train back to London. A passenger apparently had been abusive to one of the steward and refused to leave the train at the next stop, and the police had to be called. Was quite annoying as it had been a long day, and everyone just wanted to get back to London.
Can’t wait till the next game; bring on the Windies at The Oval!
Tuesday 11th June, 2013
Game 6: India v West Indies, The Oval – London.
Back in London, after a quick getaway to Paris in between games, and I woke up very excited this morning. Having done a Google+ Hangout with Glenn Mitchell (ABC Radio) and Kiks from the Swami Army yesterday in regards to this match, it was easy to remember as a Team India supporter that the West Indies went into this game with form behind them at The Oval, making short work of Pakistan’s batsman, and also they are a team that can cause an upset more often than not. Not to mention the fact that it has been quite overcast in London, more of what we’re used to seeing as “English” conditions – not like the perfect day that it ended up being in Cardiff for the opening game.
I made my way down to The Oval from central London, and ended up having to wait a bit for the other lads from the first game in Cardiff, and joined by Ramesh , as they had got off on the wrong stop apparently, and Shailly made the lads walk about an hour or so I’m told to the game. Once we got in, we’d heard that India had won the toss and sent the West Indies in to bat on a rather gloomy morning.
My thoughts on the toss were “Good, let the Windies bat first. I actually really want to see Gayle and co make a big total and see if our lads can knock it off”. Initially I wasn’t disappointed, Gayle and Charles started out playing quite attacking cricket, till surprisingly Ashwin took a stunning catch at slip to remove Gayle. Charles kept the pressure on India, eventually making 60 off 55 before being caught in front by none other than Sir Ravi Jadeja.
That wicket of Charles triggered a collapse, in which Jadeja claimed his maiden ODI five wicket haul. Most of the stadium broke into singing the “Oohhh Ravi Jadeja” song to the tune of the ICC’s “Reliance Dummers” belting out Seven Nation Army on their drums. Anytime Jadeja did anything, all of us would break out into song. It is really a catchy number – and there I was singing along, and waiting for an opportunity to sing along to it, even though only nine months ago I was slamming selectors for giving Jadeja his first Test cap, and reintegrating him into the Indian set up, boy was he proving me wrong.
Darren Sammy, who surprisingly was only playing due to Denesh Ramdin being suspended, provided some fireworks and respectability to the total with some lusty lower order hitting, making 56 off 35. The late order hitting was quite well respected by the mostly Indian crowd, and the few West Indian supporters around us exclaimed “we’ve already got enough, if we could bowl out Pakistan for 170, 200 is enough for you guys” providing some much needed friendly banter.
India came out to bat, and all were eager to see whether the new partnership of Shikhar and Rohit could back up their form from Cardiff, or whether it was a one time thing. They did not disappoint, reaching their second consecutive 100 run partnership, the first time India has had back to back 100 run opening stands in quite some time. It didn’t seem like we were missing Gauti, Viru, or Sachin. I’d go as far as saying that these two reminded me of the left/right hand partnership Saurav and Sachin shared in the 90s. Not as prolific as yet, but definitely some similarities, flamboyant left hander and a more text book right hander. Hope they can continue this form for some time.
Time and time again, I’d start the “Jeetey ga” chant – something I’ve become notorious for back home and evidently on this tour as well, as some people at this game recognised me from Cardiff, as we rejoiced in the ease in which the batsman seemed to be making the target. An Indian victory here meant that Pakistan would be eliminated, and a bloke in the crowd made sure everybody knew holding up a placard stating “Heathrow to Lahore, 16th June, SOLD OUT!” which drew immense cheers from the rest of the crowd, even an imposter “Chacha” wearing a kurta of half Pakistani and half Indian colours.
India lost Rohit after making a half century to the DRS, and Kohli bowled off Narine, before rain interrupted just as Shikhar reached the 90s. It wouldn’t be an English summer without rain right? Luckily the delay wasn’t long, but it provided me with an opportunity to talk to people around me, including one guy sitting behind me who wanted to know about the whole “Indian bashing” issue in Australia a few years ago. The covers soon came off though, and we were treated to watch Shikhar Dhawan bringing up his third consecutive International century with an incredible stroke through backward point for six off West Indian captain Dwayne Bravo. After that stroke India only required 2 to win, so Shikhar blocked off the rest of the over, and DK hit the first ball of the next for four to get to his 50 and win the game for India in quite emphatic fashion, by 8 wickets and over 10 overs to spare.
No surprises that Ravi Jadeja was named Man of the Match, which once again erupted in more singing of “OOHHHHHHHHHHH RAVVVIII JADEJJAAAA” over and over, till we had to leave The Oval.
Two out of two. I was becoming a bit worried now, as a mostly pessimistic Indian fan, I thought we’d have lost to South Africa and had tickets booked to the semi-final played at The Oval, and now it was looking like India would finish 1st in the group and would be playing at Cardiff. I should try and sell this and buy tickets to Cardiff.
Thursday 13th June, 2013
Game 8: England v Sri Lanka, The Oval – London.
Time for something a little bit different. Yes, I went and saw a game not involving India. SHOCK HORROR! I know…
In all seriousness, I love cricket, not only if India is playing. Ideally I would’ve loved to gone to see Australia v England at Edgbaston over last weekend, especially given that it’s a dual Ashes year. However, I also felt its important I see other parts of Europe while I’m all the way over here, and with there being Five Tests followed by ODI and T20I series in Australia later this summer for the Ashes, checking out Paris instead was a no-brainer. Which brings me to England v Sri Lanka.
I decided to go to this game because I wanted to go to at least one game in which the host nation was competing, also it was convenient because it was only a couple of days after India’s last fixture at the same venue, and also it would also give me an opportunity to catch up with a mate of mine, Dan, who lives not far from London.
Dan and I met at a hostel in Auckland, NZ, when I was doing my summer internship with Auckland Cricket Association in late 2011. He later travelled through Australia, and we shared our love of cricket by attending a BBL game (Sydney Thunder v Adelaide Strikers in which Gayle made a century) and also all of the New Years’ Test in Sydney between Australia and India in which Michael Clarke made 329* (during which Dan said “Yes Michael Clarke is a good batsman…but he’s not 300 good. He CANT be up there with the likes of Hayden, Lara, BRADMAN…Ponting and Tendulkar aren’t even on that list!” in utter disgust).
I made my way back to The Oval for the second time in three days to see what ended up being a great days’ worth of cricket. Dan and I continued where we left off last time we’d met in January of 2012, with an intense cricket discussion, that lasted seriously the duration of the game. Anything and everything from the Champions Trophy, the upcoming Ashes, the IPL, County cricket, Shield cricket, reliving Gayles ton in the BBL, to our own cricketing experiences at club level. At one point Dan had even said that the last time he had a serious cricket discussion was the last time we’d met.
Despite it being the coldest I have felt at a cricket game, it felt more like I was at an AFL game in the middle of winter – and yes, I have been to the winter series that used to be held in Melbourne in the early 2000s – we really got our money’s worth. Albeit after a slow start, England got to a very decent score of 293, thanks to some brutal batting at the end by Ravi Bopara, who made 33 off 13, after we had spent a few overs berating him for never performing on the international level. He shut us up with 28 off the last over bowled by Eranga.
In the innings break, we did a round of The Oval, and stopped by the ICC Fan Zone, in which a Q&A was being held with former English batsman Mike Gatting. Lovely listening to him speak about cricket, until he spoke about spin bowling in which he labelled Saeed Ajmal as “not the worst, but there are better out there” and also the Ashes in which he said “England will win the Ashes here 3-0, we’ll lose two to rain. In Australia, we’ll give them one, but England will win 4-1 over there”. Not sure if I agree with his views.
Most of the crowd, which was almost entirely English – quite surprising considering Sri Lanka normally get a fairly great turn out, in Australia anyway – thought that England had done enough to win the game in the first innings. However, it seemed like Dan and I would witness yet another brilliant innings together. After a slow start, in which Sri Lanka stumbled with the loss of an early wicket, we watched Sri Lanka chase down the sizeable target on the back of a Sangakarra century (134 not out all up), with hand contributions from Dilshan and Jayawardena, and pinch hitting fireworks from Kulasekera, sent up the order at a time where it looked the total was out of reach.
It was a bit of a wakeup call for the host nation, and opened Group A right up, and as an Indian fan, now Im not quite sure who we will be playing in the Semi Finals next week.
As we left the stadium, Dan and I talked about how despite seeing such great innings together by class batsmen, we have been quite unlucky for each other’s teams, witnessing India getting thrashed in Sydney, and now England getting beaten in London. We had our goodbyes, and hopefully we will meet again soon somewhere in the world.
Saturday 15th June, 2013
Game 10: India v Pakistan, Edgbaston – Birmingham
It’s time for the big one. India v Pakistan. Despite it being a dead rubber, the excitement was still there. I made the journey from London to Birmingham with a uni friend of mine, Rachit, and one of his friends, Ankush. We were meant to get the 7am train from London – Marylebone to Birmingham, but Rachit slept in and as a result we missed our train. Not to worry, there were services every half an hour, and we took the next one – although that meant we would get to Edgbaston JUST in time.
Getting to the stadium from our hotel was quite a mission, traffic was obviously an issue with everyone in Birmingham making their way to the venue, and once reaching there – after an erratic unlicensed taxi driver took us there, there was a bit of a queue to actually get in. This meant we missed the toss, the anthems, and the first couple of overs.
Doesn’t matter, we were still there. Since the moment I landed in London, Rachit and I had been talking about getting to Edgbaston for the India v Pakistan game like excited school boys the night before a field trip to the chocolate factory. Now that we were finally there, we were just praying the sun stayed out and the clouds away, because the atmosphere was electric despite it being a dead rubber.
I had only once in my life been to an India v Pakistan encounter (that too a dead rubber), with my father and uncle in Jaipur in 2007, but being in India, it lacked the extra spark added with a mixed crowd. The crowd was roughly half Indian supporters and half Pakistani supporters, which lead to a lot of banter as you can imagine. It also lead to a lot of interesting conversations. Rachit and myself had quite in depth conversations about cricketers from both sides of the border with the Pakistani uncles sitting in front of us, and spoke about our admiration of Pakistan’s fast bowling culture, and they spoke of theirs for India’s relatively newly found athleticism in the sport.
The game was great to begin with, quite evenly poised by the first rain break, with Pakistan losing 1 wicket with 50 on the board. After the first delay, Pakistan lost some momentum and India picked up two wickets before the rain started again. It poured, and it looked like it wouldn’t stop. The extended delay however did allow for there to be quite a lot of banter between supporters. Two sides were set up between the fans, and there were chants sprayed to and fro, from Pakistanis singing “Dil Dil Pakistan” to the Indians retorting with “You’re going home! You’re going home!” and “Are you Ireland, are you Ireland, are you Ireland in disguise?”. The police thought this was going to get heated for some reason, and set up a line between both sides of fans, which upset everyone in general, and as a sign of solidarity a lot of Indian and Pakistani fans started embracing each other (myself included) which I thought was brilliant. That is what its really all about isn’t it? These encounters between our two nations should be there to build and mend relations between the two, rather than separate them.
The game eventually restarted, with the announcement that 10 overs per side were lost, and India dismissed Pakistan for a pretty low total, 165 within the allotted 40 overs. It was pretty disappointing, Rachit and myself were hoping for a larger total for India to chase, seeing as they’d been in great batting form so far this tournament. When India came out to bat, signs weren’t too good. The clouds were already back, and although India was trudging along nicely, the weather was always threatening a premature end to the game.
After the loss of Rohit, the heavens opened up again, and honestly did not look like closing. It rained for about an hour before it looked like it would stop. As soon as it would stop, and the ground staff would get ready to prepare the outfield, it would start again. There were a lot of people who were a lot less optimistic than me about the restart and left the ground. Eventually, my optimism turned to pessimism when the rain got heavier than anything I’ve experienced at a sporting venue, and there was no sign of it letting up. I’m ashamed to say this, but I decided to call it quits, get back to the hotel and have a warm shower – thinking there would be no play left today.
About half an hour after reaching the hotel, we were told that play would restart in a further half an hour and 18 more overs were lost, and we were tossing up whether to go back to witness the probable Indian victory – at the time it seemed a better option to go to the bar of the hotel and watch the remainder of the match.
Quite a disappointing end to what could have been a great encounter had rain not played its part.
After dinner we caught up with Jai and Jat for a few beers on Birmingham’s infamous Broad St drinking strip (I say infamous, because that’s where the Walkabout is housed – where Warner had a swing at Root). Catching up over a few beers, we ended up bumping into the match officials from the days play, and had quite an interesting chat to Richard Kettleborough and Nigel Llong. Spoke to them about all things Champions Trophy, and even touched on their views on the BCCI/DRS which were quite interesting. A funny moment was when we were badmouthing Stuart Broad, and talking about how he gets away with murder on the field because of who his dad is, and that India should bring back Yuvi if we play England in the final, all this without realising his father Chris Broad was standing within a metre of us. He kindly stood up after a while, shook our hands, and walked away. We shortly left too, and came back to the hotel
Tomorrow we head back to London, and say goodbye to Birmingham for now. Hopefully when I’m back here next the weather doesn’t rear its ugly head. So far though, India has played three and won three, and goes into their Semi Final in Cardiff on Thursday on the back of some great form!
Thursday 20th June, 2013
Semi Final 2: India v Sri Lanka, SWALEC Stadium – Cardiff.
I’m not going to lie; I almost decided not to come to the Semi Final today. To be fair to me, I was in Amsterdam for the last three days, and the weather forecast for Cardiff today was pretty grim with 80% chance of rain. I was thinking “well, if the games washed out, India still qualify for the Final…I may as well extend my trip by a day or two and enjoy more of Amsterdam”. I’m really glad I didn’t, it ended up being a great game to be at.
Pretty tired I woke up today after a three day bender in Amsterdam, to get on an 8am train from London to make the two hour journey to Cardiff. Being a traveling cricket fanatic is a tough life some times.
Before boarding the train however, I did bump into BCCI official Rajeev Shukla. I had a bit of a chat to him, asked him how he’s enjoying the boys performance on the field, and then lead to whether he finds it ironic that India has been the best percentage of correctly using the DRS this tournament – which he chose not to answer and walked away.
On the train, I dozed off for an hour for some much needed sleep. When I woke up, the man sitting next to me started having a chat to me. He was traveling with his family from the USA to India, and decided to stop in the UK for the Semi Finals and Final – as they obviously don’t get much access to cricket in the USA. I was quite glad to meet this family, as it gave me hope of finding a partner in the future who would still let me travel around the world to watch cricket, and would join in too and make it a family activity!
Despite the grim forecast, and the overhead conditions, the stormy weather stayed away for the duration of the game. Jai and Ramesh had messaged me in the morning saying it had been raining quite heavily the whole drive down from Worcester. India won the toss and sent Sri Lanka in, in what was yet again another World Cup Final replay from 2011. With the overhead conditions it was a no brainer, and India had Sri Lanka in quite a bit of trouble early on. Early wickets, an injury, and a slow run rate did not help the Lankan cause, and the Indian fans loved it. Dhoni was almost taking the piss, we saw DK put on the pads and gloves and kept to Ashwin, and we all thought “no…MSD cant be bowling next over…can he?!”. He did.
The crowd erupted when Dhoni came on to bowl, something he last did in an ODI at the last Champions Trophy four years ago. Second ball, he struck Jayawardene on the pads and the umpire adjudged it LBW. The crowd, including myself, went mental! It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. A man with such a cult following, a great leader, and the wicket keeper, had taken the gloves off – in a semi-final of a global tournament – taken the ball and got a wicket. Unfortunately, the fairy tale for Dhoni wasn’t meant to be as Jayawardene reviewed the decision, and it was overturned. Dhoni may have not got a wicket, but the rest of the bowlers did the job. Ishant made the pitch look unplayable and picked up three, as did Ashwin who took one of the best wickets I’ve seen an off spinner take, bowling Kulasekera around his legs with a doosra. The tight bowling display meant India needed only 182 to progress through to a Final with the host nation for the last ever Champions Trophy.
India once again started well with the bat, Rohit and Shikhar provided a great start with another 50+ partnership before Rohit was bowled by Mathews. Shikhar made runs like he has all tournament, and Kohli joined him in the runs with a 50. Shikhar was eventually dismissed in the 60s, as Kohli and Raina pranced to the target with 15 overs to spare. India through to their second consecutive ICC ODI tournament final. The only negative from the whole experience in Cardiff was that the match was interrupted twice by pitch invaders – Tamil Tiger protesters, who ran onto the ground with placards, and even at one point tried to physically harm Sri Lankan cricketers.
There was a large Tamil protest outside the ground at the end of play, and while I agree with the Tamils right to protest and let the world know of what their people have gone through, I don’t necessarily believe that sport and politics should mix, and that pitch invading would’ve helped their cause at all.
For India however, off to Edgbaston we shall go!
Sunday 23rd June, 2013
The Final: England v India, Edgbaston – Birmingham
Its here. The final. I was about to witness India play an ICC tournament final. I was oh so close to being able to do so at the World Cup in 2011 in Mumbai, but had to return home earlier than anticipated, but I could make up for it now.
I got to Birmingham the evening before the final to catch up with the lads; Jai, Jat, Ramesh and Shailly. We got together at a pub called Desi 2, which was part pub, part dhabha (blew my mind), for a few beverages and a feed, and of course a copious amount of cricket discussion. At the end of the night, I stayed at Shailly’s place (really appreciate the hospitality bhai!), but barely slept because of the excitement building up.
We all got together for breakfast before the game, and head to Edgbaston nice and early. The weather seemed clear enough; the toss was on time – which England won and sent India in to bat, as were the anthems, but half way through God Save The Queen, the ground staff rushed to put the covers on. It started getting heavier. It rained, and it rained, and it rained. All up it rained for about five hours.
For the first couple of hours, we thought it would be like the India v Pakistan game earlier in the tournament, and that it would rain for a couple of hours then we’d get a game in, so we tried to enjoy it as much as we good. The rain delay meant that everyone was under the covered section, singing, dancing, chanting, along to the beat of the dhol while watching highlights on the projector. One of the games that was on the projector was the India v England tied World Cup game that we’d all met at two years ago.
As the rain poured down steadily, we got even more pessimistic about the chances of a single ball being bowled, as there was no reserve day. The group even thought of leaving, but having travelled so far for the tournament, I wasn’t going anywhere till the match was officially called off. Eventually the ICC had enough sense to extend the playing time, and once the weather cleared a 20 over match would be played to decide the champions of a 50 over tournament (makes perfect sense…).
In the crowd we were all discussing how India’s ODI team is closer to their T20I team, and England’s ODI team is closer to their Test team, which should give India the upper hand, and any score above 120 should be enough. India struggled to get to that mark, with a middle order collapse – most of the middle order hadn’t needed to bat due to the top order doing most of the damage all tournament. Luckily, Sir Ravi Jadeja and Kohli got India to 129 with some clean hitting at the end of the innings. However, India would have to bowl very well to defend this.
It was quite tight and nerve racking, after knocking off Cook early, Trott looked comfortable and Dhoni’s bowling changes looked questionable. We were all getting ready to witness an Indian loss at the hands of England. Three quick wickets, and we all felt India had this easy. Bopara and Morgan got together, and took the game out of India’s reach, until somehow, the cricketing gods decided to give Ishant Sharma miraculous powers in that faithful 18th over in which he got out Morgan and Bopara in consecutive deliveries. Bresnan’s runout the following over didn’t calm the nerves of the Indian fans completely, although we were quite ecstatic at that stage. We knew Broad was still there, we knew he could take this away.
England required 15 off the last over, and Ashwin was bowling – he’d been very miserly in what was essentially a T20 game. Second ball of the over was despatched for four and everyones hearts were in their mouths. One single, two two’s. Indian fans knew it was theres, six were needed off the last ball and Tradwell was on strike, not Broad. But stranger things have happened in cricket. Ashwin bowled it, Tradwell missed it. Dhoni jumped up. So did close to 20,000 Indian supporters at Edgbaston. We were in a state of euphoria. We’d just witnessed India win the Champions Trophy. The loud speaker belted out Chale Chalo, followed by Chak De India, followed by what had been the unofficial team anthem throughout the tournament – Ye Dosti. After all that, the crowd broke into OOHHH RAVI JADEJA as he picked up the Man of the Match award and Golden Ball award.
We stayed and watched the team get their white blazers, pick up the trophy, and do the lap of honour. We soaked it all in as fans as well. No other fans are as passionate as Indian fans, and it was truly our victory too for sticking by our team after a rough couple of years outside the subcontinent. We also stayed and soaked it in because of the friendships that had been forged through the course of the tournament. If there’s one thing I want to share from my experiences of traveling, especially for sport, its that the people you meet, that you travel with, that you don’t necessarily know but see time and time again at different cities at different grounds, you end up sharing something very special with them. You can end up making great friends from these experiences.
England and Wales has been great. Five out of five Indian victories is a rare thing to experience, not including winning the trophy. Now on to planning for 2015, when the World Cup visits Australia…