In 2004 I travelled to Bangalore to attend all five days of the test match between India and Australia (fellow tragics will understand).
At the M Chinnaswamy Stadium over a decade ago, I was grateful to be in the grandstand behind the bowler’s arm as Michael Clarke clipped an Irfan Pathan delivery through mid-wicket to score his century on debut. In March this year I was back again for the cricket.
Steven Smith’s unheralded tourists had shocked everyone – probably themselves included – by flogging Virat Kohli’s XI in the First Test at Pune, so a keen if uncertain sense of anticipation prevailed among those of us who had made the journey from Oz to support the boys.
I was with my little mate Rapid Eye Movement, a newcomer to the sub-continent. Being forty years my junior and, more tellingly, hailing from Dapto, iMoo was prepared to do the trip on the seat of his pants, whereas I, having covered countless hard yards in my own equally carefree and insensitive youth, have grown accustomed to a degree of comfort that includes air-con, room service and a mini-bar.
Nor am I put out if there is a pool in the grounds.
Notwithstanding my bourgeois addiction to comfort, the Bangalore Marriott was beyond the pale. I mean, for pity’s sake, I write for the Echo, so I need to pretend that I understand and empathise with the poor and the needy.
My excuse is that my accommodation came with the tickets that I’d bought online, so I swanned into the hotel’s marble atrium showing appropriate contempt for the ostentatious wealth surrounding me.
Down the road, iMoo had checked into in a no-star hovel where he cracked on to a couple of Swedish girls who weren’t in the least bit interested in cricket but liked his sun-tan and long hair.
Breakfast at the Marriott, with Swervin’ Mervyn Hughes seated nearby (lap it up, tragics) was a gluttonous indulgence. The buffet included every fruit known to mankind (plus some mysterious ring-ins), mountains of pastries, eggs cooked in whatever way took your fancy and, of course, idlies, raitas and puris. The coffee was surprisingly bland – but a man mustn’t grumble.
Bold as brass, before play commenced at 9.30am, iMoo would wander down from his lodgings, where brekky was not included in the tariff, stride into the Marriott, join me at my table and proceed to hoe into the fruits, pastries and idlies etc. None of the hotel staff said ‘boo’.
From there it was a ten-minute walk to the stadium, through choking, steamy stale air, along broken footpaths and crossing crowded, chaotic roads.
All entrances to the ground were guarded by indolent, khaki-clad coppers armed with heavy wooden lathis with which they would happily crack open the skull of anybody who stepped out of line.
I was not allowed to take in my camera (an edict of the Indian Cricket Board), despite the fact that there was not one spectator who wasn’t snapping pics with their phone.
Remembering 2004, I hoped that the price of our tickets (10,000 rupees/$200 for the duration) would include lunch and afternoon tea.
At the first break in play we entered the grandstand’s lounge to find that a feast had been prepared for us. We fell upon it with ravenous pleasure.
A handful of Australians, fearful of spending their holiday driving the porcelain bus, turned their noses up at the dahl and rice and curries, but were quick to queue with the rest of us for the free Kingfisher beer.
The keg-wallah took an eternity to pour a glass that in volume was somewhere between a middy and a pony so, calling on his Dapto cunning, iMoo presented himself with two glasses.
Unable to decide between the ‘dates pudding’ or gulab jamun for dessert, we opted for both – and we weren’t alone in doing that.
Afternoon tea was a less elaborate serving of samosas and pakoras, with the keg-wallah remaining unflappable under mounting pressure.
The cricket was pretty good, too, despite India winning.
Nathan ‘Garry’ Lyon surprised us by snaring 8-50 in India’s first dig and–this had never happened before in cricket’s long, eccentric history – a bowler took six wickets in each of the four innings (Lyon, Ravindra Jadeja, Josh Hazlewood and Ravichandran Ashwin).
The dismissal that will live longest in my memory was that of Karun Nair in his second appearance at the crease. Mitchell Starc smashed his stumps first ball.
There are few more thrilling sights in sport than a batsman being cleaned-up by a bowler of Starc’s pace. It is life and death in half a second.
The Australians are scheduled to make their next test-match tour of India in 2021, and if the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium at Bangalore is one of the venues, I’ll be there with bells on.
I reckon iMoo might be as well, now that he’s got a taste for it.