India Tour 2016
The Mumbai and Chennai Tests
It’s Saturday 10 December and I depart from Heathrow airport for Mumbai full of confidence that it is possible I could witness England win in India’s largest city. England have put 400 on the board just as they did in 2006’s win, though India have made a positive start to their first innings with Pujara and Vijay adding 107 runs to their second wicket partnership by close of play on the second day.
Although this is my first visit to India, I did attend England’s 2 Test match tour of Sri Lanka in 2012 and nothing can quite prepare you for the full-on, life affirming experience of visiting the subcontinent. The experience on departing Mumbai’s airport is particularly stark (once you’ve joined the right passport queue, ooops) as my taxi drives past the vast slums located in the north of the city. It instantly evokes memories of Danny Boyle’s excellent Slumdog Millionaire film, only this is for real and it is shocking to see.
My Addis Army tour companion (sorry guide!) for Mumbai is PC Tintin. I meet him at our digs in the Fort area and we’re straight off to find some breakfast before the day’s cricket commences. I should say at this point that due to my 14 hour journey via Doha and + 5.5 hour time difference, it’s now Day 4 of the cricket – and things have taken a turn for the worse for England. Kohli has lead an Indian charge with the bat and they were 451-7 at stumps on Day 3 and therefore have a lead of 51 runs over England.
My tour guide PC Tintin has our route to the Wankhede Statdium sussed. He picks up his morning paper each day from the same vendor and importantly has found an ATM that distributes cash – still a problem after the Indian government’s demonitisation of currency last month. The highlight of the mornings walk though is past the Oval Maiden. It’s 8.30am but the grass is full of kids playing cricket as far as the eye can see. It’s some sight with the sun still low and the silhouettes of the neo-gothic and, somewhat surprisingly, Art Deco buildings surrounding the recreational ground. We pick up some street food here and PC Tintin takes me to the tried and tested stalls where we sip boiling hot spicy chai (10p) and eat a lovely thali (about 60p) and buns filled with fried veg and spoonfuls of spicy sauce (20p) that really pack a punch. The locals look a little bemused as we confidently tuck in. There are no westerners here either and it crosses my mind that I could be shitting through the eye of a needle within a matter of minutes.
We arrive at the Wankhede Stadium just in time for the start of play on Day 4. I furnish PC Tintin with an interesting fact. The Wankhede Stadium is the second sports stadium I’ve visited that has the word ‘wank’ in it; the other being the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, Switzerland. He is unimpressed and we turn our attention to the field of play. It was a torrid morning for England. Kohli and Yadav pile on the runs. First Yadav scores his second Test fifty and then Kohli secures his double-ton just before lunch. The locals go absolutely batshit crazy for Kohli and this score confirms that he truly is the successor of Sachin. It was great to watch in fairness, but from England’s perspective this is pretty damning stuff as India have just scored their highest ever 8th wicket partnership of 241 runs.
At lunch PC Tintin suggested we went for ‘a few scoops’ at a local bar he’d found 10 minutes walk away. We didn’t return to the Wankhede Stadium that day. The cricket was on the box and our waiter, nicknamed ‘Dhoni’ because his name was something that closely resembled Mahendra, kept the (relatively) cold beers coming. India are eventually bowled out just after lunch for 631; a lead of 231. Approximately 12 minutes later England have already lost their first wicket, Jennings first ball, and that familiar sinking feeling is already setting in. By tea we’re 49-3 and in real trouble. The evening session was more entertaining as we ordered some comically bad bar snacks, sang a couple of Wurzels songs and Root and Bairstow got their half centuries. This was as good as the cricket got for England though and what followed was a pretty pathetic collapse. England were 7 down by close of play and so would return in the morning needing to bat all day to save the Test – a Test we had to win to keep the series alive. It was a shit sandwich and we were about to eat it. Away from the cricket, thankfully we were continuing to eat well with excellent restaurants being both plentiful and cheap.
Day 5 and we awake a bit later than planned so a mad rush to the Wankhede. Not before fresh coconut water on the street corner by our digs. A young man literally risks shopping off his own knee by striking a coconut until he is able to pierce a hole in the top. About 50p for a coconut full to the brim of water, beautiful. Anyway, about that mad rush to the ground. We arrive fashionably late by about 20 minutes and as we walk in some English lads are laughing at us and pointing over at something behind us. We turn to look at the scoreboard showing that England are now 9 down. This is going to be a short days cricket. Thankfully, purely in the interests of spectators getting value for their money I’m sure, Jimmy Anderson starts chirping away at Jadeja and Kohli who react in kind. As a consequence we get a full 9 minutes of entertainment before Anderson chips an Ashwin delivery to Yadav and it’s all over. Frankly, England look tired already in the series after a pretty gruelling schedule over the last couple of months. Batsmen have just been giving their wickets away though credit of course has to go to India’s outstanding spinners. Their batting has been decent too to be fair.
We have a few days to kill in Mumbai before the flight over to Chennai where news has arrived of a cyclone hitting the city. Tufty Squirrel (a fellow Wurzel) was due to join us in Chennai however his flight from London Deathrow has been cancelled due to the cyclone and he sadly won’t be joining us. In Mumbai we visit the Gateway to India but it turns out we are the main attraction to Indian tourists and we are stopped every couple of minutes by excitable Indians desperate for ‘selfie selfie!’ with us. The novelty wears off pretty quickly I can tell you. From here we take a boat trip to Elephanta Island which PC Tintin has been banging on about doing for a couple of days. We finally arrive at the Island after the advertised journey time of 1 hour takes 1 hour 45 minutes. Now, imagine (if you’ve had the misfortune of visiting) if Weston-Super-Mare was a landfill site with no entertainment facilities whatsoever. That is Elephanta Island. I am fuming with PC Tintin and with the sole highlight of the visit having been watching a woman hit a pesky monkey with a slingshot we make a hasty retreat back to the mainland.
One final highlight of Mumbai is a trip to the Brabourne Stadium where we chance upon a game of cricket being played between an English schoolboys team and a local side. It offered some peace and quiet amongst the noise and chaos of Mumbai and was an enjoyable afternoon.
We bid farewell to Mumbai and fly out to Chennai the day before the 5th and final Test begins. At the gate we notice that Geoffrey Boycott and Jonty Rhodes are on our flight. Jonty is getting all the attention from the locals as he’s a well known TV pundit over here and coach (fielding, obviously) with the Mumbai Indians. An Indian chap tells me later on the trip that he named his daughter ‘India’ such is his love for the country. Now, I love cider but that doesn’t mean I’m going to call my soon-to-be-arriving child Natch or Cornish Rattler. But each to their own I suppose.
Boycott is pissing about in business class, he’s up and down like a jack-in-the-box trying to stuff that ridiculous panama hat with his name on it into compartment storage, but finally we are ready for take-off. As we approach Chennai airport it is clear to see the local area is still suffering from the effects of the cyclone as much of the outskirts of the city is flooded.
On arrival at our illustriously named digs, the Clarion Hotel President, we experience one of the most incompetently run reception desks imaginable. If they had half a dozen chickens running the show we’d of encountered a smoother check-in process. To cut a long story short we manage to negotiate a deal with the manager of the hotel that we won’t be paying for any of the several beers we’ve had to drink whilst waiting for Basil Fawlty and co to sort our room out. And a 30% discount at the bar for the duration of our stay.
So, the morning of the First Day of the Final Test and we find a lovely place for breakfast and eat a huge and delicious dosa (pancake) each before making our way to the Chepauk Stadium. Storm damage is also evident here as one of the stands roof canopy has been torn. Cook and Jennings come out to bat and it’s immediately apparent neither look comfortable, particularly Jennings. A pretty useless shot in the 7th over and he’s gone. A few overs later Cook succumbs to Jadeja AGAIN and its panic stations for England. Thankfully Moeen and Root see us through until lunch. Root has looked impressive but Moeen not so much. The latter kicks on after lunch though and the pair put on a valuable partnership until Root swipes at a shot which Kohli reviews. The review shows there was a bit of bat and Root has to go, he’s fuming and kicks the boundary rope on his way to the dressing room. Still it was a good knock of 88.
After tea Bairstow starts scoring rapidly and then frustratingly drives to Rahul at cover on 49! Shortly afterwards we stand to applaud Moeen who reaches his century. One thing that is noticeable is how much more sporting the locals are in Chennai compared to Mumbai. To our surprise the whole ground stands to applaud Moeen, whereas in Mumbai they were giving some of the England players dog’s abuse. The local’s have even been applauding England reaching 100, 150, 200 runs etc. At stumps England are 284-4. A decent enough today but me and PC Tintin discuss this and consider that England are still going to have to bat all day tomorrow to stand a decent chance of winning this Test match. We’ve been listening to the TMS podcasts throughout our stay and the ‘experts’ keep saying how 400 should put you in good stead. I disagree, out here 400 may be a par score – but that’s all it is: par. If you want to WIN out here, first innings you need to bat for 2 days and ideally put 500+ on the board. In my humble opinion.
The morning of the Second Day of the Final Test and we are joined by the Addis Army’s newest and most unsuspecting recruit ‘Convict Chris’. He joins us from his residence in Perth, the Penal Colony. He’s been held up at the airport so PC Tintin heads off to the Chepauk and I wait for Chris. News reaches the hotel foyer that Stokes has gone in the first over. Great. The lad who tells me does also inform me that you can use Uber in Chennai which will at least result in less tuk tuk rides where you are subjected to breathing in copious amounts of fumes in the hot, humid air. By the time we eventually reach the stadium PC Tintin informs us of further woe for England as Buttler has been dismissed by Sharma. That’s two key batsmen gone and this spells trouble for England.
Moeen Ali is still there though and PC Tintin is trying desperately hard to raise spirits with his “one man went to Moe, went to Moe-en-Ali, one man and his cricket bat, went to Moe-en-Ali” song. Desperate times indeed. Thankfully, we don’t have to hear his repetitive nonsense of a song for long as Moeen can’t resist the pull shot and is caught at mid-wicket by Jadeja off Yadav for 146. It was a brilliant innings from Moeen in fairness but a real shame he couldn’t have stuck around for longer on what has all the signs of a great batting pitch. Rashid and Dawson survive until lunch and England are 352/7. We head off to a lovely little eatery Firdouse for lunch and then to the ironically named Hotel Comfort for a few scoops. We don’t return to the Chepauk Stadium that day. Hotel Comfort has a screen so we watch the rest of the day’s play unfold and England have a pretty good afternoon. It turns out Dawson is a good batsman and him and Rashid put on a fine partnership of 100. Once Rashid goes however, the end is nigh for England who are eventually all out for 477. Although we haven’t batted for the whole 2 days 477 does feel like a good score and something for the bowlers to defend. India make an ominous start after tea though and are 60-0 at close of play.
Just an hour into the next morning’s play India are 120-0 with Rahul and Patel making things look easy. England finally get a wicket before lunch with Patel caught off the bowling of Moeen and then just after lunch Stokes bowls to Pujara who edges to Cook and things are looking up. Things get even better when Kohli plays a surprisingly sloppy shot off Broad and India are 214-3. In this afternoon session it becomes apparent that the locals are big fans of Jos Buttler. Whenever the England man comes over to a boundary fielding position they cheer and wave. Much to our amusement they also clap along whenever Jos is encouraging his teammates and also shout ‘oooooh’ when he puts his hands on his head. Following the loss of Kohli, Nair has come into bat. Who?? We are about to find out...
Nair begins by playing a supporting role for Rahul who brings up his 150. Just before the pair bring up their 100 partnership Cook drops Nair off Jake Ball – how that would come back to haunt us! One final bit of drama before the day is out sees Rahul giveaway his wicket when on 199, silly boy. But this is India’s day as they finish on 391-4 just 86 runs behind England. As we return to Hotel Comfort to mull over the days play over a few lukewarm 8% strength Fosters (grim) there is still some optimism that England can win, though a draw is also a distinct possibility.
Karun Nair is only three Test matches into his career but he is looking like a seasoned pro out there on day 4. His maiden Test century comes with a boundary in the morning. Shortly afterwards Dawson gets Vijay and local boy Ashwin comes to the crease to much jubilation. By lunch India are just 14 runs behind England and as we are in day 4 it is clear that at some point this afternoon India are going to go for it. We don’t have to wait long before Ashwin smacks Moeen for 6 to give India a first innings lead – here we go! Sure enough by tea India are 105 runs ahead but there is more to come. Just after tea Nair brings up his double hundred, the second hundred coming off just 121 balls. Then the madness really began, unshackled Nair went on to hit another hundred runs in just 75 balls to finish on an incredible 303 not out. India meanwhile declared having scored their highest ever Test total of 759-7. Impressive to watch but psychologically I think our players had taken one hell of a beating. We listen to Boycott on the TMS podcast that evening and he is claiming India only have a 1 in 20 chance of winning the test and that all England have to do is bat all day tomorrow to see out the draw. He has a lot more confidence than we do. This situation appears made for an England batting collapse.
Our final day in India and at the illustrious Clarion Hotel President. They are just dragging a Christmas tree into the foyer which instantly reminds me of the crap weather and pandemonium of Christmas I will face on return to the UK in 24 hours. Still, at least I’ll get to see England bat this Test match out and avoid defeat in the final match. WON’T I, Geoffrey?? Things are actually running almost too smoothly at lunch with England 97 without loss. Just two sessions to go then we can all fly back to England and enjoy Christmas. Unfortunately for Cook Jadeja has got other ideas and AGAIN claims the England Captain’s wicket just after lunch. What followed was really inexcusable as batsmen departed one-by-one, many of whom played daft, daft shots. Jennings for example, who was playing nicely on 54, just hit the ball straight back to Jadeja who probably couldn’t believe his luck. Root was unlucky, Bairstow stupid shot but good catch from man of the day Jadeja. Stokes and Moeen actually settled us well before tea and so we still had 6 wickets in hand to survive the match. One session, 2 hours of play. Turned out this was far too big an ask for the remaining England batsmen and we unacceptably capitulated. I understand the need to be positive and ‘play your shots’ but in this match situation some of the batting was just way too careless. The match ended with Ball going for 0 and the Indians in the stadium erupted with joy. A bitterly disappointing end to the series that started in such positive fashion in Rajkot and in many ways could have been so much better for England. The debate after this series has inevitably turned to Cook’s captaincy and it remains to be seen whether he will continue for the rest of this year. Whilst I think he has made a few questionable decisions in this series, I feel India were just too good for us with bat and ball in these conditions and it would be unfair to put the majority of blame on Cook for this. I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to India – the locals’ enthusiasm for cricket has to be seen firsthand to be believed. I rate Mumbai substantially higher than Chennai in terms of places to visit but the latter still had fantastic food, people and a nice cricket stadium – until next time India! Start the tuk-tuk....