Delhi Diary - 3

A wet pitch, a dry washroom, and a Sachin-struck journalist.

There are Sachin fans, and then there are Sachin fans. (file photo)A WET PITCH, A DRY WASHROOM

This is the last thing I’d want to do from a cricket venue, portray in great detail the sorry state of washrooms at the Palam Ground, the site of an ongoing Ranji Trophy semifinal. But I owe as much to my distressed bladder and to future generations of sports reporters. Of the eight-odd occasions I’ve had of addressing an urgent call of nature over the last four days, seven-and-a-half have been performed – disturbingly – without the service of water. Why seven-and-a-half? Because once a trickle of the life-giving fluid actually seeped out of the rusty faucet, before drying up again.

Imagine. Spending almost the entire day in the agonizing knowledge that there is no water in the loo – not many situations can induce greater panic. On complaining about lack of this most vital oxide of hydrogen where it’s totally required, an Air Force staffer shrugged noncommittally and went back to punching out God-knows-what on an ancient PC. Maybe military folk find such matters too trivial to address. Maybe they’re comfortable with the idea of the abounding bushes around the stadium. Maybe, they’re just good at holding it in.

FOR A MOMENT WITH THE MAESTRO

It is difficult to say what attracts people to celebrity. Is it pure fandom? An unquenchable love for the sport? A secret desire to bask in reflected glory? Or, too much time on one’s hands? Whatever the reason, there are few who command a greater following than Sachin Tendulkar and the Mumbai maestro’s pull refuses to relent even in the - shudder - twilight of his career. A member of the vernacular press has come out with a compilation of Tendulkar’s hundred hundreds.

The pocket-sized book in Hindi contains painstakingly-compiled details of all his tons and is being carried around the Palam venue by its author. The gentleman has been waiting patiently for an audience with the Rajya Sabha MP so he can “personally” hand over a copy.

With rain and carelessness washing out consecutive days of play, the writer had hoped catching Tendulkar for a few minutes wouldn’t be a problem. But four days on he still hasn’t come within sniffing distance of his target. “I had spoken to the team manager, but even he’s not very comfortable asking him to spare some time.”  Since the Ranji Trophy semifinal is likely to extend into a sixth day, the journo has the advantage of an extra period within which to meet the great man. He, however, doesn’t sound too hopeful.
“There seem to be different rules for English and vernacular journalists. I’ll try my best to meet him and hand over a copy. But the book will still exist if I’m unable to do that.”

MASTERFUL MANAGER

“We’ll chuck them out of the team.” After dodging at least five questions on ground facilities and team strategy with a firm “No comments”, Mumbai’s manager Shrikant Tigdi finally lets out something worth publishing. Asked what he’ll do if his younger wards decide to party late into the night, the pleasant former cricketer says he’ll make sure they don’t find a place in the squad.

“Discipline,” he says is what differentiates the 39-time Ranji Trophy winners from others. “We have players who know their jobs. They are regimented, punctual and obedient.”

And what about Sachin Tendulkar? Is he the obedient sort too? “When you have so much experience you don’t have to be told what is required,” Tigdi evades a question a frank reply to which is likely to cost him his own place in the Mumbai set up. 

As he waits for a final word on whether there will be any play on Saturday, Tigdi is surrounded by people requesting him for interview appointments with his most famous ward. How does he deal with all the attention that having Tendulkar in the team invites? “I have been doing this for years. So it’s not a problem.”

A series of half-decent responses later, an inquiry on how he’d rate the much-maligned infrastructure at the Palam Ground compels him to return to his standard retort. “No comments”, followed by another big grin.

Read more Ranji Trophy dispatches by Kunal Diwan and Skandan Sampath.

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