India Tour 2016
The Vizag Test
Settling in to India. The problem of cash: Saturday 12 November
There’s a new word in India: demonetisation. This is the cash crisis that has resulted from the sudden withdrawal of 500 and 1000 rupee notes announced last week by prime-minister Modi in order to deal with all the ‘black’ money floating around in the system. This is cash from tax avoidance, bribery, terrorism and general corruption. It is reckoned that about 25 percent of the economy of India is conducted out of sight of the tax authorities mainly in hoarded 500 and 1000 rupee notes, the equivalents of our £5 and £10 notes, which comprise 86 percent of the currency in India! Abolishing that is massive and Life in India for the last few days, and not just for tourists like us, has been dominated by the need to get money.
Normally when you arrive in a country like this there are money changers and bank kiosks at the airport waiting to help you but that was not the case here. They were all closed and after fruitless visits to virtually every ATM in the airport it was clear that they had no money. I found a taxi who was prepared to take me to my hotel on the belief that they would give me the cash to pay him and put it on my bill. No such luck. They don’t have any spare cash either. In the end I negotiated with my driver to pay him in sterling.
This is the situation that faced me and Welsh Jack and Paul Raven, my mates from Cornwall, when we got to Hyderabad on the Saturday before the test.
When I'd checked into my hotel I texted Jack who joined me in a wasted morning of searching for a bank or an ATM that was open. None were. ATMs in India aren't hole in the wall jobs but are little booths that you go into. Throughout Hyderabad their corrugated iron shutters are down. A few disconsolate punters hang around in the hope that they might open. If the banks do open it is only to serve the queues of people who are holding white forms that will enable them to exchange a maximum of 4000 rupees of their now worthless 500 and 1000 rupee notes for 100s, of which there are clearly not enough in circulation. We know when a bank is open because large crowds mill about outside but they are no use to us because they won't change sterling. Despite it all everyone is very patient and most people say that it's a good thing. Modi dominates the news making long, vigorous and tearful rants.
As everyone is in the same boat, people are very friendly and swap stories and hearsay about how and when and where to get money. When Jack and I got back to the hotel, still penniless, we got talking to very helpful Palestinian guy called Allen who is here on business. He told us that he had a wonderful tuctuc driver who had taken him the day before into a bazaar where some money changers had given him 100 rupees notes for US dollars. He very kindly postponed a shopping trip to accompany us to the bazaar, where skulking around the street corners were shady guys with wads of notes in their hands. We went from money changer to money changer. They were clearly taking advantage of the situation and were offering us ridiculously low rates for the exchange. In the end I changed £100 into rupees at 70 rupees to the pound when the official rate is 85. However, at last we had some cash which felt a whole lot better. But, still, the marginal utility of a rupee was high so we didn't feel we could splash out.
We negotiated a price with a tuctuc driver to take us to a bar that Jack had found the day before near his hotel. By the bar was an open ATM! So, after a refreshing couple of pints, I joined the queue, and an hour later came out with 2000 rupees, about £20, which is the maximum you are allowed. We felt a bit flusher, especially as at bars you can pay by credit card.
By Sunday, you could tell that after a few days of panic the money situation has eased. The ATM near the bar was open again and the queues were less. We were able to get a bit more cash. The crisis isn't over yet but today apparently they are issuing the new 500 rupee notes and we expect the situation to be a bit more normal by the end of the week. It's been very interesting, for all the hassle, to be in the middle of a panic buying crisis like this.
Arriving in Vizag: Monday 14th November
Jack, Paul and I flew into Vizag in the late afternoon. Vizag is on the coast and much steamier and more humid than Hyderabad but still not oppressive. It has a beautiful bay and is apparently a big seaside resort for the Indians of Andhra Pradesh. Indeed, it has a pleasant resort feel to it. There's hardly a white face. Andy Thompson of the Barmy Army told me an amusing story when I bumped into him at Old Trafford in the summer. He’d been out here sorting out hotels and was talking to a hotelier who told him, “Mr Andy, Vizag has a lovely bay but it is like a beautiful woman: you can look but you must never go inside her.” Apparently there are serious rip tides.
Jack, by the way, pointed out to me when he booked rooms for us in Hyderabad that Paul Raven was an early stage name of Paul Gadd aka Gary Glitter, now doing time for various acts of paedophilia. Paul is now the Addis’s very own Gary.
The Addis is beginning to descend on Vizag because this afternoon Freddie, Tremmers and Blade flew in from Rajkot where, as you will know from Tremmers blog, they had been pissing it up during the 1st Test.
In the evening Gary, Jack and I stepped out to a very rough and ready Indian bar across the road where they used another bottle as a bottle opener. Jack wasn't up for an evening of serious drinking so Gazza and I left him there and took a tuctuc to the posh hotel that Freddie, Tremmers and Blade are staying in where we had a convivial evening of eating and drinking until they closed the bar on us
By the Seaside: Tuesday 15 November
The day started badly for Jack who, having decided to get rid of the stubble on his chin, discovered that he hadn’t brought any shaving cream so he sent down to reception for some. As he applied it to his stubbly beard he was surprised that it wasn’t lathering up till he discovered that he was putting on toothpaste.
I now have an Indian sim card. The manner of obtaining it was typically Indian. I'd had no help in Hyderabad where they just shook their heads in the couple of shops I'd asked at. Here I found a phone shop and talked to the owner who sits at the corner of a counter by the door but it wasn't straight forward. "Ah, no sir! You must show Indian ID."
"But I'm not Indian!"
"Oh, big problem, sir. May be you can find Indian man to sign papers for you."
"Well I'll have to make friends with an Indian then, won’t I?"
There was a waggle of the head and a shake of the wrist as he patted the air and got on the phone. Then he told me it would in any case take 24 hours. "Take a seat, my friend, take a seat," and a plastic stool was pulled up for me to sit on. "You want tea?" A little while later he asked for a photocopy of my passport which I was able to produce. Then I had to sign some forms which curiously had everything, passport number, email, home address, English mobile, but not my name. Finally we got round to discussing tariffs and for 220 rupees, a couple of quid, I had a sim card put in my phone. Meanwhile, we had exchanged WhatsApp details.
The currency situation seems easier. The ATMs are still closed but I changed £100 for a very good rate of 80 INR to the £ with my mate in the mobile phone shop. No problem. And Freddie, Tremmers and Saint who had got a load of demonetised cash at Rajkot before the shit hit the fan went into to a bank yesterday, were taken to the head of the queue and changed all their 500 and 1000 rupee notes.
In the afternoon, Gary G and I took a tuctuc to the lovely Rushikonda beach which is a 45 minute ride away along a fine coastal road that is an Indian version of the road into Torquay. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering along the beach, buying blown rice with tomato and chilli and mango and other flavourings and roasted corn on the cob from women who sat crossed legged in bright saris fanning the coals in a little metal brazier. We even went for a paddle. Gary was much in demand from the young people to have his photo with them. He seems to attract them without trouble – part of his charm to juveniles, I suppose. There were even three young girls who posed with him, giggling and colourful in their hats and scarves, Gary with his arms round them. When I suggested afterwards that touching females in India was not a good idea he was most indignant. “They wanted me to cuddle them!” … mmm.
In the evening we met up with the Addis in the posh Dolphin Hotel near us. The service was slow but the food was superb: the biryanis in this part of the world are the best, subtly flavoured with the most delicious rice. There was an awful Indian live band playing loudly near us that mixed Indian warbling with songs like Clementine. The guitarist sounded like a weedy Hank Marvin about to break out at any minute into Apache. We were joined by Skip, Saint and The Boy Dave who had just arrived in Vizag after nearly having to spend the night in Birmingham. A very convivial evening. Skip’s arranged a cricket practice on a hill for tomorrow.
We're gearing up for the Test and have bought our tickets - about five quid a day (£90 at Lords!) Meanwhile, everyone is overjoyed at the thrashing the Saffers gave the Convicts yesterday. When we got back from our slightly alcoholic meal with the Addis, Gary and I sat in Jack's room watching the highlights and cursing the Aussie batsmen, whooping with delight at every wicket that fell and disturbing our neighbours along the corridor. Universal hatred here for Aussies.
Inspecting the ground: Wednesday 17 November
I spent the morning seeking out a post office so that I could buy some stamps for the cheap pack of 20 postcards that I had bought, being an inveterate postcard sender, in Hyderabad. Getting stamps is not so easy out here. Firstly, the receptionist at the hotel, having looked up the location of the post office on the computer - clearly it's not a place she's accustomed to using - had written the address on a bit of paper but appeared then to send me in the wrong direction. After some fruitless wandering I decided on a tuctuc but had difficulty finding someone who could read the piece of paper. There was much scratching of heads before I was finally taken to the telecoms place, which didn't look promising. Several more misdirections and I finally ended up at the post office. Even then I stood in the wrong queue and was sent to the adjacent booth. (English is not universally spoken very well around here.) At 3 ten rupee stamps per card, that is a lot of stamps for 20 cards. I was given, literally, a page of stamps. Furthermore, stamps in India require glue so 20 times I had to tear off 3 stamps and dip my finger into a dirty pot of gum to spread it on the back of the stamps. The stamp lady was not very busy and when I was half way through this laborious task she asked me to hand her some cards. I thought she was going to help me out but, no, she just wanted to look at the pictures.
After lunch we negotiated with a tuctuc man to take us to Kailasagiri Hill for a rather shaky cable car ride to the top. Gazza, who has no head for heights, took a tuctuc to the summit where he spent the afternoon in some nets up there with Skip, Saint and The Boy Dave facing a bowling machine they’ve got up there! – weird! The others were very impressed with Gary’s cover drive – at the age of 66 he still captains the Totnes and Dartington 3rds.
The tuctuc driver is a fine chap called Srinivas with an excellent head wobble who will be our driver for the week, picking us up each day for the cricket. Jack, the tight-fisted Welshman that he is, was pretty hard with the poor chap over the bargaining, all over about 50p a day. I, with a more charitable spirit, had to intervene.
Before we went back into Visag Srinivas took us to the ground so we could pick up the tickets, which was just as well because there appears to be just one ticket booth for the whole, bloody ground. We decide to have a look round and walked nonchalantly into the main entrance of stadium and out onto the ground. Everyone seemed to have assumed we were there for some official purpose. Jack, who’s got a lot more gall than me, even said, “Hey, come on: let’s have a look at the pitch.” So we did. The outfield is a lush, thick green and the pitch looks good, a little bit of grass but no visible cracks. Botham’s penknife wouldn’t have found much to poke around in.
Day 1 - India pile it on: Thursday 17 November
At last the cricket. Poor Jack has the runs and was looking pasty at breakfast but two Imodium seem to have fixed it for the time being. He didn't have to use any of the toilet roll he brought to the ground although he didn't eat all day.
Visag is a nice, solid ground staging its first test. It’s easy to get in, security is non-existent and the seats are reasonable. The facilities, though, are atrocious. There’s no bar, of course, but then we don’t expect any alcohol out here but there are absolutely no food and drink outlets. The best you can get is popcorn, crisps, ice creams and Pepsi from the guys who come round the stands. There’s also a coffee machine and you can buy water. They missed a trick here.
By the time they started there was a good English crowd in the South Upper Stand behind the bowlers and several thousand screaming school children in the stands to our right. Fair play: they make a hell of a racket but add greatly to the atmosphere, provided you don’t have to sit in the same stand.
This Test comes on the back of a poor series in Bangladesh where we could neither bat nor bowl on viciously spinning wickets and were lucky to come out one all, with Bangladesh getting their first win against a major country. However, we did get a creditable draw in Rajkot where we bossed the game. Root, Ali and Stokes got centuries on the first innings and Cook in the second. Hameed on debut suggested that at last we have a partner for Cook. Anderson is back after injury for a supposedly injured Woakes and Rahul replaces Gambier as opener in the Indian team.
India won toss and, needless to say, batted. Broad's first over was brilliant: four balls were in the corridor and Rahul nicked the fifth to Stokes at third slip. Jimmy’s fourth over was a series of hostile rising balls which induced a top splice from Vijay to Stokes at gully. It was 22-2 and we'd got those essential new ball wickets. But that was about it. The wicket deadened and there was nothing in it for the spinners. Kohli and Pujara purred along and by lunch they had put on 70 untroubled runs.
I had a social time, floating between Jack and Gazza and the Addis mates and also chatting to various other people I have met along the way over the years like Chris and Jemma. Higgy is here with the Barmy Army. There’s no drink in the ground but there is a very convenient bar just across the road with a rather pleasant beer garden with shady cabanas at the back to which we repaired for the lunch interval. The Elephant beer is pretty strong, “up to 8.5”, so one was enough for me.
The afternoon session was dominated by a pretty flawless 222 partnership between Kohli and Pujara. A highlight was the mangy dog which trotted nonchalantly across the ground. The two ground staff who chased it around like security heavies chasing a streaker clearly didn’t fancy laying hands on the scrofulous beast and only made matters worse by chucking shoes at it. It the end, another groundsman with more dog sense was nice to it and it wandered off. Out of nowhere Pujara, who had just scored his third successive ton, nicked one behind off Anderson and when Cook took the new ball in the 89th over Jimmy got Rahane to edge to Bairstow. At 317-4 it was definitely India's day though that last wicket helped to make it slightly more healthy for us.
Jack was nursing his guts and stayed in and the Addis seemed to have been recovering from a rather large session at lunchtime at a bar across the road from the ground so Gary and I ate together at the Dolphin, though slightly further away from the awful band that we’d endured the other night.
Day 2 - Another England collapse: Friday 20 November
We’d hoped for another wicket off the new ball but nothing happened. Soon Ali and Rashid were back on. Stokes at slip dropped a sitter from Ashwin off Ali and was shaking his hand, clearly very annoyed with himself, when the very next ball Kohli slashed at Ali and this time Stokes pouched a much harder chance. Kohli’s chanceless 167 has put India in a very strong position. However, Ali then took Saha and Jadeja to leave them 415-7 at lunch which was the cue for another visit across the road.
After lunch the Indian innings came to an end on 455 which was better than we might have hoped. But batting was hard and their seamers started well. Cook was soon bowled by beauty from Shami which just moved in off the seam to get between his bat and his pads. 4-1. Not a good start. But Hameed and Root both looked very secure until Root refused a second run. Hameed had to turn back and a brilliant throw for one of the Yadavs and a flick onto the stumps from Saha did for him. By now the wicket was turning and some balls were keeping low. Duckett didn't look secure and was soon bowled, Root tried to belt one down the ground and was caught and Ali was lbw on review to a low one. Stokes and Bairstow are batting very, very carefully but 103-5 at the close is not a happy score.
We spent the evening at the very rough Quality Liquor Bar which is just opposite our hotel where Gazza, Jack and I had had a couple of pints the other day. Jack had set off there a bit earlier than Gary and I because new additions to the Addis, Postman Pat and Demelza from Padstow who are travelling in India, had got him some cash from an ATM and he was meeting them there. When Gaz and I stepped out, the ATM in the garage by our hotel was also open so we joined the little queue outside to get another 20 quid. The money situation is definitely easing though it's the poor and not the real targets who are suffering. The Indian guy at the ATM immediately before us was having trouble because the language on offer on the screen was either English or Hindi and he could speak neither, the language round here being Telugu. A smartly dressed man with a brief case and good English had to help him out.
When Gary and I passed the whisky drinkers, who stand up at a counter that runs along the wall of the passage we enter the bar by, and went up the stairs to the big dark filthy room that we use we could hear some singing and there, in a big corner in a circle, were all the Addis in very jovial mood at a table covered with bottles of beer. Ramesh, the little weedy little waiter who looks as if he's 12 but swears he's 22, came running up to greet his old friends of 3 days ago. He's always smiling and has a wonderful head wobble. He stood very proudly behind us, beaming, ever happy to have his picture taken with us. It was very noisy so talking wasn't easy. After several beers Gary, Jack and I moved off with the Padstow pair to an alcohol free restaurant across the road for some more delicious Andhra Pradeshi food.
Day 3 - England fight back: Saturday 19 November
There are lovely mornings here. I am on the 9th floor and look down onto the street. It's light by 6 o'clock and warm. The sun is a big, pink orb in the hazy sky across the tops of the buildings.
The cricket went much better than we could have hoped. Stokes and Bairstow were positive, each getting 50s. A 100 partnership began to edge us towards the follow-on total. But Bairstow was out just before lunch, 2 overs before the new ball was due, and Stokes was out soon after. Although Rashid batted well we were out bang on the follow-on limit, with Ashwin getting Broad and Anderson with successive balls. As expected Kohli didn't enforce the follow-on. Jimmy and Broad bowled really well and took out Vijay, Rahul and Pujara. At 40-3 it was a repeat of the first innings. However, Kohli (51), compact, cool, whippy and very fast between the wickets, and Rahane are purring along. 98-3 at the close. A declaration soon after lunch tomorrow looks likely.
In the evening we went to the Barmy Army Beach Party at the swish Park Hotel. It wasn't particularly exciting but in a low key way we enjoyed sitting well away from the main action watching the waves roll in. An Indian band was banging out covers from bands like the Beatles and Creedance Clearwater Revival. Billy, the trumpter, jammed with them. Andy Thompson was the auctioneer in the Barmy Army charity auction for Magic Bus which helps street children. Amongst other things were a signed England shirt and the gloves that Moheen Ali wore when he scored his ton in Rajkot. I couldn’t resist the thought of the gloves to decorate my TV room at home so I bought them – all in a good cause!
Day 4 - A day for the connoiseurs: Sunday 21 November
Broad bowled superbly this morning, taking four wickets. Rashid likewise including a stunning catch by Stokes diving to his right at slip and seemingly plucking the ball from the air as it passed him to take out Kohli who was on 81 and looked a cert for another ton. Lunch was delayed by 20 minutes for England to take the last wicket. There were plenty of grumbles that England hadn’t polished off the tail quicker but for me this game is about time not runs and the longer India were out there the better: their score is irrelevant. 405 to win or 5 sessions to get a draw.
After lunch there were two fascinating sessions as Cook & Hameed crawled along at less than 2 an over on a wicket that doesn't seem to be doing a lot. It was a day for the connoisseurs as England started to climb the long hill to a draw. Any hope of winning is so remote that it's not worth discussing. However, there are people, old and young, who want England to go for glory. The Boy Dave wants them to bat for glory and to die in the trying – Henry too, the old Yorkshireman from Perth who travels with the Barmy Army and makes Geoff Boycott look quite liberal. Jack, Gary and I though enjoyed the mammoth concentration and self-discipline that our opening pair, Cook and Hameed, showed this afternoon.
For a 19 year old Hameed shows amazing maturity. As soon as he has played a shot he goes through it again. He then walks 3 or 4 yards to square and back again, shouldering his bat military style on his return. His forward defensive is immaculate. He leans right over his bat with narry a cheap of light between bat and pad. His 25 runs after 3 hours and 144 balls was a marathon of concentration. At last England have another opener. He was finally out with ten overs to go. Sadly Cook was lbw in the last over. It’s 87-2. The score doesn’t matter. There are three sessions to bat. Can we survive the day tomorrow? Cook & Hameed showed how.
In the evening all the rest went to a sports bar somewhere to watch football. We stayed around our hotel, went to Quality Liquor for a couple of beers and then to the local restaurant for more delicious biryanis.
Day 5 - The last supper: Monday 21 November
I sleep well. Dozing in bed at about 4.30am in this predominantly Hindu town I can nonetheless hear the distant sounds of a recording of a muezzin wailing his morning call to prayer. When I draw the curtains to look out, the streets below seem very deserted compared to the rush and hustle of the day but even so there are a few tuctucs waiting for who knows what customers, there are always the sounds of hooting and there's a scavenging dog or two trotting down the street. A little later when I look down again I can see a man in black with a black scarf edged with gold lines on his way to the temple carrying yellow and orange marigolds and chrysanths in a large metal bowl.
To be honest we didn’t expect much today. In our sweep stake only Skip and Saint, in excesses of patriotism, had us down for a win. Needless to say, after 10 balls Duckett couldn't resist trying, completely inappropriately, a sweep, top-edged and was caught by the keeper. Root and Bairstow showed a bit of resistance but wickets fell and soon after lunch we were all out for 158. To lose by 246 runs is a big defeat but it's been an enjoyable and at times absorbing game. The toss was crucial and India, particularly through Kohli who was imperious, made the most of it. Ashwin, man of the match, was too good a spinner not to take advantage of the runs he had to play with. Hameed has cemented his place in the team but Duckett, who has failed four times in India and three in Bangladesh, must be in for the chop. So too is Ansari who wasn’t given a bowl at all in the 2nd innings and also failed with the bat. Will Ali move up to four in Mohali and Buttler come in to replace Duckett at, say, six? Word has it that Bayliss has hinted as much. Woakes will surely replace the injured Broad, and Batty for Ansari?
We asked our tuctuc driver, Srinivas, to take us to the fish harbour near the centre of the town. On jetties all along a bumpy road to the end of the harbour are lines of yellow motorised fishing boats. The road is lined with piles of fish, mainly small boney things that look like anchovies or sardines, which are drying in the sun. Here and there thin, dark black women in saris squat amongst the fish sorting them out. We saw four knarled old fish wives sitting together at the end of the harbour who seemed to be taking a rest. One of them was smoking a bidi, one of those nasty, little cigarettes that give you ling cancer in one puff that they used to smoke a lot out here but which we have hardly seen. They were happy to have their photos taken and even let Jack sit amongst them, though they expected a tip which he duly gave.
In the evening Jack, Gazza and I bade farewell to little Ramesh at Quality Liquor. He wrote us a very touching few lines of regretful farewell in surprisingly good English. Then we walked on up to the Daspalla Hotel for a last meal with the Addis which was convivial and jokey. The Padstow pair joined us with Skip, The Boy Dave, Saint, Tremmers and Freddie. We sat bunched around two tables. This bit of the Padstow Pair’s travels has been Postman Pat’s but, when they leave Visag, Demelza will call the shots. She is threatening the Postie with two solid days of Christmas videos. He appealed for the sentence to be quashed. Saint acted as judge by placing an orange napkin on his head and heard depositions from claimant and plaintiff with interjections from counsel round the table which he dealt with harshly in very peremptory fashion. He found for the Postman. Demelza accepted the verdict with good grace and appears to have agreed to an extension of the travels to Mohali. This Cornish maid is a truly worthy addition to the Addis.
The party is over. Smithy is already on his way back to England and Blade has left for his complicated journey back to Adelaide. Gary Glitter goes off to try his luck in Mohali and I meet up with a friend in Mumbai from whence we make our way to Coimbatore and on up into the Nilgiris. The rest in their various ways fly back to England … till our next, farewell Visag - it’s been a good one.