ONE: Arriving in Visakhapatnam and getting a ticket for the match
When my international flight landed in Delhi it was inevitably raining and I had to splash my way through a series of puddles and potholes to reach Terminal 2 and check-in for the next fight to Visakhapatnam. Once the flight was called from Gate 29 a bus was required to ferry us across another series of deep potholes before we were able to climb aboard the relatively small Indigo aircraft. I’d read in the Times of India an article by Aasish Nehra claiming Bumrah’s stress fracture to his lower back had nothing to do with his unorthodox bowling action. There won’t be too many pundits who agree with that but perhaps he’d had one too many Indigo flights leaving from Gate 29. I had to admire the staff working for the airline for their determination to get more rupees out of me. I had the foresight to purchase an additional 5 Kg baggage allowance when buying the ticket. When I checked the bag in at the Etihad desk in London it weighed 17.4 Kg. By the time it reached the scales at Indigo it had put on another 2.4 Kg and now registered 19.8 Kg. Normally I’d be worried about shampoo and other things that can spill being stolen from the unlocked part of my bag to potentially make it lighter. I couldn’t see the staff in Abu Dhabi adding a few extra bricks for a laugh and could only conclude that the scales were deliberately set in a very creative manner at the Indigo counter in Delhi’s Domestic Airport.
Having just scrapped in below 20 Kg I was then offered an “Express Bag Delivery Service” on arrival in Visakhapatnam for only 400 Rupees. I declined as I fully expected all the bags to arrive on the carousel from the same trolley. Indeed once I had managed to get into the Arrivals Hall in Visakhapatnam Airport my bag was already doing circuits of the Number 2 collection conveyor belt. I used the 400 Rupees for a Pre – Paid Taxi to the Hotel Ritz Comfort and met a delightful chap called Srinivasa who offered to take me to a range of places that all appeared to have one thing in common; the fact that I had never heard of them and wasn’t inclined to want to make an extra journey to see them, particularly at 11 O’clock at night.
Vigorous and relentless monsoon rain has put this month on course to be the wettest September India has recorded for 102 years. With only a day left in the month the all-India average for September stands at 247.1 mm which is 48% above normal and the third highest ever recorded by the Indian Meteorological Department. The IMD has come up with three reasons for the monsoon deluge persisting for as long as it has in 2019. Firstly the El Nino conditions over the Pacific Ocean which normally suppress the monsoon receded this year in late July. At the same time the conditions in the Indian Ocean became favourable for the monsoon with the Indian Ocean Dipole turning positive and finally a series of low pressure systems gradually built up in the Bay of Bengal. What the IMG failed to reveal was the timing of my decision to come to India and the confirmation of my travel arrangements. Now that I have landed and settled on the East Coast of India the monsoon looks set to continue until at least the second week of October which hasn’t previously happened in the entire time the Indian Meteorological Department has been compiling such records starting in 1960 which is incidentally the year in which I first brought rainfall into the world.
Sometimes I am unable to live up to my reputation for bringing rain to every place I visit but looking at some of the statistics before this series began I noticed a new pattern emerging whereby I have witnessed the two most recent examples of a batsmen being dismissed for 199 in a Test match. I was in Chennai in 2016 when Lokesh Rahul scored 199 against England and I was also in Potchefstroom in 2017 when Dean Elgar made 199 against Bangladesh. Batsmen approaching double centuries will be minded to keep one eye open to look out for supporters wearing Queens Park Rangers shirts sitting behind the bowler’s arm while keeping the other eye fixed firmly on the scoreboard as they get closer to the landmark. The hex can of course be broken by paying me handsomely to go and sit in a pub for a while until the batsman’s score eventually reaches 200.
The temperature was far too hot and humid for me to spend time out on the streets after 10 am today and I retreated to the air-conditioned Hotel after stopping for a lassi at a wonderful little place called Lassi Stop. I noticed in the Times of India a story concerning the former Indian opener – turned politician Gautam Gambhir. The Delhi Police have filed supplementary charge sheets before a city court accusing Gambhir and others of an alleged criminal breach of trust and cheating flat buyers. Over 50 flat buyers complained that they booked flats in a real estate project in Ghaziabad’s Indiraputram in 2011 but never received the keys when the project failed to deliver the promised apartments. Gambhir, a BJP MP, is a director and brand ambassador for the joint project of Rudri Buildwell Reality Pvt Limited and HR Infracity Pvt Limited against which a previous on-going case was lodged in 2016 for allegedly duping people out of hundreds of thousands of rupees on the pretext of booking apartments in the same project. The outcome of this particular court case is unlikely to coincide with this visit to India and I will have to investigate how it is progressing when I return early next year to watch Ireland play Afghanistan.
On a brighter note I have my tcket for the Test match in my wallet following a wonderful act of kindness from Sunil Cherukuri in Bangalore who read my recent article about failing to purchase anything from the www.eventsnow website. Sunil managed to buy a five day pass for me via the internet and then got his friend’s brother Praveen to collect it and deliver it to my hotel. I’m always joking about the little inconveniences I encounter when travelling in India but things somehow always appear to work out in the end. I’ve met some marvellous people over the years watching cricket over here and I hope to meet many more in the future too.
TWO: Some days it’s tough when you know you should have called tails; Faf du Plessis’s take on Day One at Visakhapatnam
I phoned Mr Srinivasa and haggled for a daily rate to drop me at the Stadium and collect me at the close of play. He sent a different driver who arrived 15 minutes late. I wasn’t impressed as I wanted to get inside the ground before the toss, but I needn’t have worried as with surprisingly little traffic on the road we reached the ground after only half an hour. There had been several unmanned road blocks to negotiate with large metal barriers strewn across the road advertising Nagarjuna Cement. Further along one of the barriers supported a notice that informed us that we were at an “accident spot” which was hardly surprising given how difficult it was to see the barriers in advance when travelling behind a big truck. I found Gate 19 and was relieved to be able to get my bag and pens into the ground with absolutely no hassle at all. If only it was this easy at all the grounds in India. I took no notice of the seat number on my ticket and picked an area under cover with a good view of the replay screen and hopefully in the shade all day. Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat on a bright yellow strip that had been described the previous day by the head groundsman as being “as dry as a bone” despite the wet weather experienced in the region virtually every day for the last three months.
That was the end of the Test Match as far as I was concerned. Faf du Plessis might as well shake hands with the Indian captain now and try a little harder to win the toss in Pune in eight days time. His only serious chance of saving the match was going to be with the help of the rain gods and I tried desperately to attract his attention to see if I could negotiate a fee. Meanwhile on the TV screen Virat Kohli was announcing the eleven chosen by himself and the Indian selectors but of course we couldn’t hear anything because as soon as he opened his mouth the entire stadium became engulfed with the sound of horns and vuvuzelas. I imagine he was trying to explain that Wriddhiman Saha had replaced Rishabh Pant as the wicket-keeper and that Ravichandran Ashwin had returned as a second spinner to effectively take the place of the injured Bumrah. Rohit Sharma was confirmed as opening the batting with Mayank Agarwal and with Ishant Sharma and Shami to open the bowling there was no room for the recently recalled Umesh Yadav. The Indian side had been announced 24 hours earlier and I was fully aware of the line-up but I still didn’t have a clue about the South Africans. As is often the case in India I would have to try to work it out once the players were out in the field.
The humidity was absolutely stifling and I was dripping water just sitting quietly in the Lower South East Stand. The start was delayed momentarily as Philander made a point of showing the new cherry to the umpires and had it changed before a single delivery had been bowled. This was all a little bit strange as the South Africans would have chosen the individual ball after being asked to bowl first. Maybe someone from the Indian camp had managed to sneak into the umpire’s room and swapped it for a mango. The third umpire appeared and Philander eventually ran in with the new new ball from the DV Subbarao End. Agarwal didn’t care what ball it was and cracked the third delivery to the boundary behind point. Rabada opened from the Vizzy End and Rohit Sharma needed only two deliveries to get off the mark with almost an identical shot. The bowlers beat the bat a few times in the first forty five minutes and the batsmen survived while adding only 22 runs from 11 overs. An edge from Agarwal wide of third slip brought four fortuitous runs off Rabada just as the first popcorn selling wallah appeared in the stand. He was followed by Domino Pizza sellers and another chap carrying a large container full of sweet coffee.
The spinners were into the action before the first drinks break and Maharaj was switching ends unable to decide which might suit him best. When he tried the Vizzy End Rohit took several steps down the wicket to greet him and the ball landed in the seats about five rows in front of me having sailed over long-on. The 50 partnership came up from 115 balls. Agarwal joined in the fun and charged down the wicket to hit Piedt for a straight six at the other end. There might have been 7 – 8,000 people in the ground and they were having a great time. Maharaj dropped short and Rohit stepped back and crashed the ball through the covers. Rohit used his feet again and hit Piedt high over cow corner for another six. You don’t often see three sixes in the first session of a Test Match but when you do things are usually not looking too good for the team doing the bowling.
Debutant Senuran Muthusamy was brought on to bowl slow left arm 15 minutes before the interval and he managed three dot balls before Rohit smashed him to the fence at mid-wicket. Rohit completed his 50 with the first false shot of the day when an attempted sweep just evaded Rabada’s dive at a strange deep leg gully position. The half century had come up off 84 balls including 2 sixes and 5 fours. Lunch was taken with the score 91 – 0 from 30 overs. During the interval four women wearing yellow and black saris used besoms to sweep dust off the entire wicket while a couple of men in blue track suits spent less than twenty seconds repainting the two popping creases.
Maharaj returned to the attack after lunch and Rohit hit the second delivery to the cover boundary off the back foot. Philander bowled from the Vizzy End and the 100 partnership was completed from 213 balls. Agarwal brought up his half century from 114 balls with a six over extra cover. Every boundary scored was greeted with a cacophony of excruciating noise. Rabada replaced Philander and a short ball was pulled to the mid-wicket boundary by Rohit off the front foot. If anyone had any doubts about there being no pace in this wicket they were left feeling pretty sorry for the fast bowlers after watching that delivery. Piedt was given a bowl from the Vizzy End and Agarwal helped himself to nine runs from the over. The 150 partnership came up from 286 balls.
Rohit hit a huge six over mid-wicket off Piedt to take his score to 87 and the next delivery was hit straighter and again landed four or five rows in front of where I was sitting. People were dancing in the aisles and it was like being caught up in a T20 match without all the coloured clothing. Muthusamy took over from Piedt whose 7 overs had gone for 43 runs and his first delivery was driven for four. Rohit played a beautiful late cut to take his score to 97 and followed it up with a push into the deep for another two. He completed his century with another cut off a no-ball from Muthusamy. It had taken him 154 balls and had included 4 sixes and 10 fours. It was his fourth Test century with the other three all being made while batting at Number 6.
The time was just after 1.30 pm and dark clouds were quickly building up in every direction I was able to look towards. The temperature dropped slightly and there was a delightful cool breeze. Agarwal played a stylish drive that didn’t quite make it to the cover boundary but it did bring up his highest Test score by taking him to 78. A slog sweep from Rohit off Maharaj brought him his fifth six of the innings and the hundreds of dragonflies hovering over the ground were as likely to be mashed by a cricket ball as to being eaten by swooping birds. The cool breeze continued to blow across the ground as Rohit greeted Philander’s return to the attack by carving the ball wide of Markram in the gully for another boundary. Two balls later a drive crashed into the fence at extra cover and I was wondering if I would be approached at tea to clear off before the batsman got anywhere near 199. The 200 partnership was completed from 351 balls with the last 50 runs coming from only 38 minutes.
The light was deteriorating quickly at this stage and the umpires had gathered in the middle for a quick discussion. The floodlights were not switched on and the atmosphere was quite surreal. It was literally the calm before the storm. A flash of lightening was noticed to my right and umpire Gaffaney had removed the bails before we heard the subsequent crack of thunder. The players left the field six minutes before the scheduled tea interval. The sheets of tarpaulin were dragged on to cover the entire outfield and the floodlights were turned on presumably to help the grounds staff to see what they were doing. Ten minutes later it started raining and when it rains in Visakhapatnam it rains properly. With large puddles on the covers the umpires called play off for the day an hour later. By this time I was already dodging barricades on the way back to the Ritz Comfort Hotel. The score at stumps was 202 – 0 from 59.1 overs.