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Stirred by Sourav at Southgate
June 21, 2005
It was supposedly the hottest Saturday of the English summer. I had planned to catch up with a lot of niggling work-related correspondence at home only to find myself yielding effortlessly to the temptation of watching Sourav Ganguly bat for Glamorgan.
Middlesex play some of their home games at the John Walker's ground in Southgate, London, when its more illustrious sister venue, Lord's, is hosting another fixture.
After six years spent in the cricket-sterile environs of Atlanta, I have indulged in every little opportunity in London to douse the flames and so it was that I was soon buying my travel-card into London Victoria.
Southgate Tube station is almost at the very end of the Piccadilly line and is one of those destinations that require the largely subterranean Tube to emerge into the world above and pretend, albeit briefly that it is a normal train.
The English summer is a wonderful invention. Although warm in patches, it is not uncomfortably so by Indian standards, but I have always been struck by the sea change in the attitude of the local populace in response to this annual interlude of light and warmth.
Faces are palpably friendlier, items of clothing fewer-sometimes scandalously so, mums are out wheeling contented babies in prams, both the athletically inclined and the not so sporty types are out on their bicycles and, most importantly, there is talk of cricket. This year there is an almost believable rumour floating in the warm summer air of the beginning of the end for Ricky Ponting's men.
I reached the ground almost an hour after play had begun and when it was time to part with ten of the best at the gates, I unashamedly asked whether I could first check if Sourav Ganguly was still batting.
The schoolgirl-type behind the desk did not know and frankly did not seem as if she would lose sleep that night for being ignorant of this vital piece of cricketing information. She nevertheless assented to my request to take a quick look at the action before deciding to invest in a ticket. I stepped into the ground and the first sight that welcomed me was the unmistakable posterior facade of Sourav Ganguly patrolling the midwicket fence.
Glamorgan had conspired to declare early in the morning and almost sensing my disappointment, a couple of Indian teens dressed in the national colours, waving an Indian flag and bravely tooting a bugle each time the ball went to Sourav, nodded at me ruefully grumbling, "did not even wait for him to get a hundred".
The summer was off to a disappointing start. I decided, nevertheless, not to the brave the long journey back home without watching some of the action and so bought my ticket. Walker's ground is a small, tidy venue with most of the seating provided being foldaway chairs placed all around the perimeter.
For someone that has been subject to the decibel levels at cricket matches in the subcontinent, there is an almost eerie silence that pervades those in England. In fact, the only token of resistance against this seemingly universal norm were the aforementioned Indian lads with the lone bugle.
Middlesex were chasing a target of 406, thanks to a generous declaration by Robert Croft, and the absence of Andrew Strauss notwithstanding, seemed to be motoring along well with Owais Shah and Ed Smith at the crease.
I decided to place myself strategically close to Sourav Ganguly, an idea that had also occurred simultaneously to some dozen subcontinentals at the ground. There is little that separates players from spectators at grounds in these parts, and it is this very accessibility to celebrity cricketers that suddenly makes them seem almost human.
I watched Sourav shadow-batting at frequent intervals and as I scribbled a quick "good luck for 2007" on a notepad and held it out to him after an over; he read it, signed and said, "Thanks bud," before skillfully weaving away from yet another imaginary short ball directed at his ribs.
I had previously read reams about how distant he had been at Lancashire during his previous stint in the county circuit and this was as good an opportunity as any to see if things were different now. I saw Robert Croft engaged in animated discussion with him at frequent intervals and there was one occasion when Sourav came on to bowl, when the former walked along with him to his bowling mark, massaging his shoulders, appearing almost to cajole him to get them out of the hole his declaration had dug them into.
On another occasion when Middlesex were clearly running away with it and Owais Shah had helped himself to a couple of sumptuous boundaries off the slow left-arm spin of Dean Cosker, Sourav kicked the ground in disgust, an action that was accompanied by appropriately colourful language directed at the sadly impotent Glamorgan bowling attack.
Make what you will of the above snapshots, but I cannot help feeling that the semblance of a long overdue recovery of batting form may yet make this summer a particularly enriching one for Sourav Ganguly and one that will be talked about in fonder terms at Glamorgan than his stormy association with Freddie Flintoff's Lancashire.
Irfan Pathan was a study in contrast in the Middlesex enclosure. I scarcely noticed anything resembling conversation between him and his teammates for the entire period of time I was present. He smiled brightly at my well-meaning enquiry after the health of his shoulder and said, "thik hai" before making his way to the ice cream van with a friend in tow.
It was hardly surprising that his most engaging banter was reserved for the Indian captain with whom he chatted in Hindi between deliveries from across the midwicket fence. On one occasion Sourav asked him how many one-dayers he had played until now and whether the white ball had swung for him- "safed ball hilta hai?" Irfan shrugged and smiled noncommittally, his poor current form hardly a ringing endorsement of either the ball's inherent ability to swing or his present prowess to induce it to.
After downing my lunch of scampi and chips with a couple of pints of Foster's I walked around the ground. The home crowd were discernibly pleased with the progress of their team and attention had even drifted to the NatWest fixture between Bangladesh and Australia.
When, towards the latter part of the afternoon, the former needed a run-a-ball twenty something with five wickets to spare, a throng made its way to catch the action on the telly at the bar. Going by the vociferous shouts of "come on Bangladesh", you could have been forgiven for mistaking this bar in the heart of London for a watering hole in the middle of Dhaka. To add to the mounting anticipation that we might bear witness to an upset of epic proportions, the satellite signal from Sky Sports went bust intermittently, provoking a wit to shout, "Rupert Murdoch is an Aussie after all."
From nowhere, a gent whipped out a high-tech mobile phone that doubled as a radio and generously handed me one of the earpieces. I could, with my appearance, pass for a Bangladeshi and he had apparently presumed that my need to see and/or hear the action unfold was greater than anyone else's.
So it was that I heard of Aftab Ahmed's last-over six off Jason Gillespie and the humbling of the Aussies yet again in what is rapidly turning into a summer of endless discontent for them. As I proceeded to wander out reluctantly to catch the train home, I was aware of a warm, fuzzy feeling of well being emanating from the depths of my soul. Sourav Ganguly (84 not out off 118 balls) was among the runs, the Australians appeared to be boringly human and the balmy summer night was still young.