Delhi Diary - Part 2

"There is no current Indian cricketer who hasn't been under my hands."

Rain plays spoilsport at the Palam Ground. (Photo: Kunal Diwan/Yahoo! Cricket)

When Ajit met Sachin | Delhi Diary - Part 1 | The joys of dismissing Sachin

Food fads


Kevin Pietersen guzzled down six cups of freshly-brewed tea during England XI's recent practice match against India 'A' at the Palam 'A' Ground. The caterer at the venue, Lokesh Sharma, said the star England batsman spent a lot of time warming up next to the tandoor, by whose side he emptied glass after glass of steaming chai to beat the chill.

"He is a very nice guy and has no airs. He made it a point to come out and sit next to the oven and chatted with us all the time. Pietersen also said he preferred the Indian style of brewing tea to using tea bags at the hotel."

Sharma has now been entrusted with the onerous task of feeding Sachin Tendulkar. "Sachin wanted Chicken Tikka yesterday. We didn't have it ready so we hurriedly prepared it, and he liked what he was served. Another thing that Sachin instructed us to do is to have porridge on the menu every morning. I have noticed that most athletes demand for porridge when they play here."

Sharma has a six-strong staff at the canteen he runs and says his establishment is subjected to regular and rigorous inspections by Air Force personnel. "We usually stick to continental fare for foreign teams, while domestic outfits want traditional Indian food," he added.

Mystic masseur

Gulzar Ahmed is the unknown face behind many a successful cricketer. "There is no current Indian cricketer who hasn't been under my hands," says the stocky masseur, "I don't approach these players, they approach me."

Ahmed claims to have kneaded into submission the muscle and fat of several prominent names, and it isn't just flesh and bone that he treats. "I also advise younger players to maintain temperance, be humble and stay true to their careers. That is the only way to have a long and fruitful stint at the top level."

He attributes his special relationship with cricketers to the fact that there are no barriers between them when he starts his massage therapy. "I make them strip and once you've seen them naked, there is nothing to hide. Even the friends and relatives of several cricketers make it a point to hire my services." Loaded statements such as these should never really be taken at face value.

Sheltering sky

Just about the time the umpires called off play on the third day of the semi-final between Services and Mumbai, the sun came out in all its sizzling glory. It had rained all night and drizzled all morning, causing irregular puddles to form all across the Palam 'A' Ground. But no sooner was play abandoned that moats of sunlight started to streak through the wispy air.

It would take a lot more sun for the ground to be ready for play on Saturday, since there is only one ‘Super Sopper’ available at the venue. If rain does continue to play a role, there would be no option but to decide the finalist by the spin of a coin. Both teams, however, will be hoping that a contest as serious as this is not left to the vagaries of chance, which is precisely what the toss of a coin is.

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