Experiencing cricket’s crazy/beautiful

The Australian cricket team practices ahead of its match against New Zealand during the ICC World Twenty20 at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. Photo: Ashwini Bhatia/AP
The Australian cricket team practices ahead of its match against New Zealand during the ICC World Twenty20 at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. Photo: Ashwini Bhatia/AP

 

ARM sports reporter JOSH SPASARO is a crazy cricket fan, but as he has found out on his latest sporting excursion to the sub-continent for the World T20 championship, he's got nothing on Indian supporters.

He didn't expect to find inner peace in the spectacular city of Dharamsala, nestled in the foothills of the world's greatest mountain range, the Himalayas.

Most Australians who visit Dharamsala are there because it's the home town of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile, but Josh was there for the cricket ... and he didn't want to miss Australia's opening match of the tournament against New Zealand.

But after arriving at the ground in a taxi from his hotel, with two new Indian "mates" who had come to the town to see their team take on Pakistan the following day, only for that match to be relocated to Kolkata because of terrorist concerns, Josh found the warning he had been given about getting everywhere early in India because you never knew what obstacles would be thrown at you, was good advice indeed.

 

I ARRIVED at the main entrance to the ground an hour and 45 minutes before the start of play, but with 15 minutes before the first ball was due to be bowled I was still being "detained" in a tiny police station near the main entrance, waiting for my accreditation pass to show up.

The police simply wouldn't let me go, and I was convinced I'd spend the game in the station until my accreditation man magically arrived.

I made it just in time to see an average Australian performance in its eight-run defeat to New Zealand... but I didn't care.

Being way up in the snow-capped mountains at such a beautiful venue was the closest thing to watching cricket played in heaven.

My new mates loved it too.

It turned out one of them had gone to the World Cup final at the MCG last year - obviously hoping India would be playing - after being plucked out as the lucky winner of the trip Down Under from a newspaper competition.

Proving his love for the game, he wasn't even tempted to sell his ticket to the final after a desperate fan offered him a princely sum, by Indian standards.

There are some extraordinary cricket grounds in the world - the MCG, Lord's, Newlands at Cape Town, but Dharamsala was something else.

 

Indian fans sing and dance during the World T20 tournament. Photo: AAP Image.
Indian fans sing and dance during the World T20 tournament. Photo: AAP Image.

 

I got chatting to former Australian Test opener Michael Slater after the game, and he said Queenstown in New Zealand was probably the closest to Dharamsala in terms of its entrancing location.

It's not just the location, of course. The people were incredibly friendly, the streets buzzing with excitement, not to mention highly-skilled taxi drivers who navigated the narrow laneways with thankful precision.

While he wasn't able to replicate his batting numbers in India, Slater said that never diminished his love for the country and its people.

"I had a lot of great experiences over here," he said. "It's a fantastic place. It arouses all your emotions. It's the energy - all your senses come to life, the sights … There are things you just don't see at home. It shocks you, but the people are beautiful."

Slater wasn't the only quality player, Australian or otherwise, to struggle on the slow, turning decks.

Even former Aussie captain Ricky Ponting could only manage one Test ton in India from 25 innings.

"I found it a really difficult place to play consistently. I didn't score the runs I would've liked," Slater recalled.

"When I was playing we didn't win (a Test series) over here. My last tour was in 2001. We came close then."

That series in 2001, of course, was one of the greatest of all time. Australia won a world-record 16th-consecutive Test in Mumbai to start the tour, and was cruising in the second Test at the famous Eden Gardens ground in Kolkata, 274 runs ahead before enforcing a follow-on.

Then VVS Laxman (281) and Rahul Dravid (180) made history, combining for a staggering 376-run partnership to lead India to an unlikely victory, before it wrapped up the series in another thriller in Chennai.

The Australian T20 class of 2016 will now try to do what none of its predecessors have been able to achieve, win the World T20 Cup ... in India no less.

In the last edition in Bangladesh two years ago, Australia failed to make it past the group stage, the batsmen again falling victim to turning decks similar to those being served up in India, and selectors reluctant to go with spin-heavy bowling attacks.

Slater said he had "no doubt" the present team had a great chance of success this time, on one proviso ... selectors stop tinkering with the batting order.

Only three players from the team which lost a final-ball thriller to India in Sydney on January 31 - Usman Khawaja, Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell - played against New Zealand in Australia's tournament opener in Dharamsala.

Batsmen dumped from that game, and not even included in the World T20 squad are Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Chris Lynn and Cameron Bancroft. On top of that, one-time T20 captain and the game's No.1-rated batsman Aaron Finch, didn't even feature in the first two games.

"They (the selectors) have sort of got this belief that they can chop and change, and then a left-hander gets out and a right-hander goes in," Slater said.

"I think they've got to be a little careful with that. I think we've got enough talent in the batting, with some really good hitters. If you're chopping and changing I wonder how settled they'll be."

Meanwhile, the Indian fans have been totally swept up in the excitement of the game they love.

I was in Bangalore for the India v Pakistan game, and, as you can imagine, they went absolutely nuts when their team won.

I'm going to take in a bit of R&R before heading to Mohali for the clash between Australia and India ... which will be crazy. Then again, it is India and I'm loving it.



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