The National Cricket Academy at Bangalore is teeming with familiar faces.
Indian cricketers in various stages of disrepair and amotivation are scheduled to arrive in batches at the Academy to gauge their preparedness, or lack thereof, for the impending obligatory ODI series against Sri Lanka later this month.
Ishant Sharma, with all the poise of an ostrich on the run, is hurling a mean ball in the nets, watched from the sidelines by a rather trim Virender Sehwag.
The weather is typically Banglorean and Sehwag seems to be enjoying it, before he hurriedly rises and removes himself to the middle as a portly gentleman – an insufferable collector of memorabilia, I am told – tries to sidle up to him.
In the time it takes for one of his cover drives to crash into the fence, the dashing opener disappears from sight, leaving the collector smiling foolishly, clutching uselessly at an empty canvas bag that he would have had high hopes of filling out by the end of the session.
The art of passive avoidance is likely innate in the celebrity, as Sehwag gloriously demonstrates.
THERE IS A sudden commotion in the small contingent of shutterbugs, who all this while have been cradling oversized cameras waiting for a new subject to appear. They are innervated as a figure in white materialises at the far end of the corridor.
Wayfarers and earphones in place, Virat Kohli trundles into the facility and by the time a series of multi-shots have snapped noisily through the air, Kohli has made his way into the changing room, whence he appears padded-up and ready for business some ten minutes later.
The future India captain (or so people would have one believe) dismisses the first ball he faces in the direction of long-off and smiles wickedly at the nets bowler.
Meanwhile, Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh are seen in animated conversation. Pathan looks like an oak in the prime of his life - long flannelled legs; a taut torso; a jaw jutting out in defiance (of what?).
All that this pretty picture serves to do is make Pathan’s companion look worse. Standing next to his lithe teammate, Yuvraj appears to be a pale shadow of the athlete we all know he is. On the hard road to return and ever-optimistic of making it back to the Indian team for September’s Twenty20 World Cup, the southpaw is bloated; a double chin threatens to swell any moment into a triple whammy of flabbiness.
Appearances aside, from the abbreviated batting session Yuvraj had at the NCA (his first since last year) a comeback into the National squad appears distant. Still, it would be a fool who’d doubt the resolve of a man who took India to the ODI World Cup in 2011 and who smashed six sixes in an over off a fast bowler considered today to be one of the best in the world.
Yuvraj glances benevolently at members of the press and chides them for pestering him for ‘quotes’ on a daily basis, before receding with Pathan into the comfort and privacy of the locker room.
SOON AFTER, another character (please notice the choice of word) makes his way in, accompanied by – and this is a surprise – John Gloster, former India team physio and presently employed with Rajasthan Royals.
Gloster is here to liaise with Academy physios Nitin Patel and Ashish Kaushik on the condition of fast bowler S. Sreesanth’s toes, which had been operated upon recently. The maverick from Kerala missed the majority of the season past due to injury, hence the keenness in the Royals’ set-up to keep a tab on his state of recovery.
In another few days, bigger names are expected in the premises. Gautam Gambhir, fresh off a successful IPL campaign with KKR, is due in soon. M.S. Dhoni is supposed to arrive the day after Gambhir departs, leaving enough room for contemplation and conjecture on the relationship between India’s current captain and the man considered to be a genuine contender for the coveted post.
And what about the biggest name in Indian cricket?
“Please don’t breathe a word to anybody,” says an official, “but Sachin may not turn up and is likely to skip the Sri Lanka tour."
Right, as if we didn’t already know.