by Ian Gason
It might have taken me ten years longer than planned, but finally I made it to India. 35 years of waiting also came to an end for Australian cricket, when they wrapped up the series in Nagpur….meaning I was flying off to a dead rubber.
Enough has been said in the media about the pitch, the result and our batting in Mumbai. Rain on the first day reduced play to just 40 minutes, which was enough time for India to lose 2 wickets. That resulted in mile long queues on Day Two, as everyone hoped to see local hero Sachin Tendulkar come to the rescue. When word of his dismissal spread, the queues disappeared and half of Mumbai trudged off to work.
Inside the ground, the crowd let the Aussies have it, with some orignal chants such as “AUSSIE SUCKS”, “JASON IS A BASTARD”, or my favourite, which sounded something like “Plinky, plinky plonky, Martyn is a donkey.” Adam Gilchrist picked up an imaginary Border-Gavaskar Trophy and held it aloft to silence the crowds.
Other highlights included Justin Langer’s playing kick to kick during the rain stoppages, several thousand people singing “Happy Birthday” to one of the Aussie supporters, the Sachin Tendulkar look-alike getting more cheers than the real one, and some Indian kid running around with a stuffed kangaroo on his shoulders. Hedging his bets, perhaps?
One thing the crowd couldn’t do was a Mexican Wave (which, being old and grumpy I believe belongs at the pyjama cricket….). Two bays would all stand up together, and no-one would follow suit. For two days this went on (like the match), but in the final session they finally got it going (like India). Round and round it went, gathering speed with each lap, circling the stadium in a break-neck 6 seconds!
Loud? How loud can you imagine? It still doesn’t even come close! When the Aussie wickets began tumbling in the fourth innings, Wankhede Stadium erupted. By now a full house of 50,000+ had crammed into the furnace, and were making the place shake as they jumped up and down and shouted.
Whistles, drums, horns, “AUSSIE SUCKS” ringing in your ears as batsman after batsman threw his wicket away Dizzy, Hauritz and Kaspo put the celebrations on hold, but when McGrath strode to the crease it was on for young and old. They were still celebrating the 9th wicket by the time Pigeon had got out. Somehow our lame batting had manufactured one of the more memorable Test results, and the atmosphere during that one session alone was worth the airfare.
The streets of Mumbai around the ground echoed with “93! 93!” (our score) as the local fans took some delight from the end to the series.
The constant honking of horns is the one sound I’ll always associate with Mumbai. As in most parts of Asia, the horn and not the breaks is the preferred method of avoiding an accident, and here, an overcrowded city of 20 million it is taken to extremes. Thousands of black and yellow 1950s style taxis compete with double decker buses, scooters and the occaisonal cow for a piece of the road. Amazingly, I didn’t see one accident.
I jumped into one those taxis and headed to the Metro Cinema, where I had heard the sports shops could be found. Apparently they had been doing a brisk trade as plenty of the other Aussies had the same idea. First shop I tried had sold out of the SG Test balls we Wombats use. It would have been easy to pick up half a dozen bats, as I’m sure some did. I put the breaks on after buying just a dozen balls, one hockey stick (Y1600), one MRF (Y6000) and cheapie bat (Y400) for my mate’s son. I can still picture another 3 or 4 I wish I’d bought.
The tucker was first rate. From the cheapie ‘thali’ curry shop, where a set plate costs Y50 to the flash buffet where lunch for 3 cost Y1500, I don’t think I put a gastronomic foot wrong. The veg biryani at the cricket was a stand out, and it was interesting to see a dozen other Aussies take the plunge once I had acted as guinea pig! And not one attack of the infamous Delhi Belly the whole time.
The old seaside district reminded me of St Kilda, with its art-deco buildings, broad boulevards and palm trees. Not as many down and outs as St Kilda though. There you find the maginficent Taj Mahal Hotel, facing the Gateway Of India, built to commemorate the arrival of some Pommie king yonks ago. Back away past the museums and dozens of other classic colonial buildings is The Oval. A large green lung in the centre of a hot, dirty town, The Oval is naturally a cricket haven. Dozens of tennis ball games go on side by side and back to back, with balls criss-crossing several ‘fields’. Unlike Wankhede, the council does maintain ‘proper’ pitches for the use of the wealthier schools.
I was sitting with a group of aspiring Tendulkars, Under-13s perhaps, as they waited for their turn to bat at training. Wombats’ cap proudly on my head, I turned to watch some older boys in fielding drills.
“Sir?” a young voice from behind me enquired. “Your name is…Curly?”(If you are thinking of joining the Aussies on tour, please check out Luke Gillian’s http://www.wavingtheflag.com. Ticket only and hotel packs usually available for the tour group respected most by our Test cricketers. They even came to our welcome party!)