Bowled by Travel – Air India in-flight Magazine
A detailed article about travel involved in a cricketer’s career, from domestic to international tournaments. This article appeared in October 2011 issue of Air India’s inflight magazine.
Bowled by Travel
It’s 2 am and the hotel lobby is busy as most members of the team are leaving for their early morning homeward flights. The last match of the tournament got over barely a couple of hours ago. The three month long league had them travelling from one state to another for back-to-back matches. The eagerness to be home is obvious. Another tournament begins in a few days, followed by another, and then yet another, and so goes the cricket calendar.
Travel : Perk or Curse
Originating as village cricket, spreading internationally through test match format, evolving into One-dayers and then Twenty20, the sport has come a long way from being a leisurely diversion to a challenging and lucrative career. In the 19th century, touring teams had to undertake long and wearying sea voyages but now cricketers are frequent flyers, trotting the globe for a slew of international and national matches which happen round the year. Cricket nowadays is a travel intensive profession. Some consider this aspect a perk while for others it is a downside.
Reminiscing about an English summer spent exploring the countryside, Aakash Chopra feels thankful to his profession: “I’ve been to such beautiful places that I would’ve never visited otherwise.” In much of a contrast, Irfan Pathan, when asked if he is fond of travelling, promptly denies the scope for leisurely travel: “There is no time, I am very busy with practice sessions,” he says. For a player coping with pressure from critics and fans, and trying to make a comeback to the national side, travel is not a priority. And for those playing at the top level, every action attracts too much public attention. Fans and media were as awed as disapproving of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and VVS Laxman doing a daring Sky Walk atop the Auckland Sky Tower.
Celebrity status makes it difficult for cricketers to move freely, especially in our cricket crazy country, dissuading most of them to venture beyond hotels or certain upmarket locations. In such a limited circle and with busy schedules, fellow cricketers, support staff, associates of the host team, and even journalists following the tournament become travel companions and the windows to local culture. The experience might be limited to tasting the local cuisine and buying souvenirs, or foster lifelong friendships amongst multicultural people. Having stayed in Delhi for a tournament, South African Morne Morkel didn’t just develop a taste for Punjabi cuisine (read Butter Chicken), but also picked a little bit of Hindi, something which Australian David Warner also loves to flaunt with phrases like “thik hai,” “bahut achcha,” and “chalo chalain.”
India dominates the cricket circuit. Many international players are attracted to the country’s vibrant culture. Here for the World Cup, South Africans Wayne Parnell and Hashim Amla squeezed in a visit to Agra. Parnell confessed being charmed by the romantic history of Taj Mahal. While a group of international players from Rajasthan Royals IPL team arrived a week before the tournament to spend time in the City of Lakes – Udaipur, almost everyone was treated to the grandeur of the City Palace in Jaipur.
Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh has also emerged as a favourite by virtue of its stadium which has seen quite a few international visitors. The ground with the backdrop of Dhauladhar mountain ranges and vividly painted stands is pitched as the most picturesque ground in India. Many players take time out to explore the hill station. A day’s trek to Triund and further to the snowline is popular amongst the cricketers.
While a stadium above 4000 ft is unique, all venues spread across the country inherit the distinctive flavour of each region, creating a nationwide playing field which is as diverse as India is known to be. Every year hundreds of domestic players travel through the country for various interstate and interregional matches, from the hubs in Chennai and Bengaluru, to metros of Mumbai and Ahmedabad, to historic cities of Gwalior and Lucknow, to apparent remoteness of Guwahati and Agartala, and to carnival capital of Goa.
The domestic circuit can take players around the nation in just one season. Says Venugopal Rao, “Each place has something special about it and I try to experience such aspects, be it sight-seeing or local culture.” Travel enthusiasts like him make excursions even though it takes a lot of willpower to find time amidst the chaotic tours.
The schedule for Ranji Trophy gives players just three days between matches including a day of travelling between venues which could be too far-off and without any direct connectivity. Sridharan Sriram recounts one such incident of a harrowing journey from Silchar to Jamshedpur with a few of his teammates. Their bus to Guwahati broke down midway and they had to hitch a ride in a lorry. After a 12 hour long road trip, while suffering from nausea, they barely managed the flight to Kolkata and the subsequent train, to finally arrive in Jamshedpur.
However the schedule was not so busy till some years ago. Aakash Chopra recalls being invited to a traditional wedding in Siliguri. The visiting team savoured warm hospitality even while the temperature was freezing. During the same trip he had relied on a borrowed film-camera which a local had gladly lent. The person also took the trouble to develop the roll and mailed pictures to Aakash’s home.
Anil Kumble was initiated into a lifelong passion for travel and photography when his brother gave him a basic camera for his under-17 trip to Srinagar. He has published a book of his photographs of people, places, wild life, and candid moments captured while touring with the national squad. He would take every opportunity to explore the host country, with teammates or at times alone. In a great career he has amassed not just wickets but also memoirs from whole of the cricketing world.
Besides international tours, many professionals play for England’s various clubs, leagues, and counties. For a player contracted for the six month long season there are plenty of options for excursions. Almost everyone explores the famed landscapes of Scotland and its fairytale castles. A venue for the British Open, the Old Course at St Andrews is also a favourite. Sridharan Sriram lists all the usual sightseeing points from Scottish lochs of Loch Lomond and Loch Ness to the Lake District, his favourite being Wastwater which flaunts England’s deepest lake, highest peak, and perhaps the smallest church. It could be due to the charm of English Summer or perhaps the prospect of moving around with fewer bodyguards, that Sachin Tendulkar has been spending summers in his house near Lord’s, “the Home of Cricket”. Since the last few years he has been a regular at Wimbledon’s Royal Box.
Australia’s cricket centres, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth, provide forks into heady urban pleasures and outdoorsy pursuits. However, indulging in coastal adventures is a must-do for all. Venugopal Rao vividly describes its coral islands and snorkelling into the multicoloured aquatic life underneath. He was there with his India-A teammates during the Top End Series of 2006.
In New Zealand, Sridharan Sriram explored the whole of the North Island while playing for one league. He has an exhaustive list of wonders of New Zealand, off which he picks the geothermal field of Rotorua for exceptional views of skyrocketing geysers and boiling mud pools. The untamed beauty of NZ inspired the touring Indian cricket team to indulge in some adrenaline pumping activities after winning the 2009 ODI series against the hosts. While one group did the Sky Walk, Rahul Dravid took a sailing trip in Auckland.
In 2009, India took IPL to South Africa and along with it, hordes of tourists . Soon many of the visiting cricketers updated their Facebook profile pictures to those with big cats in the frame. In Cape Town, the Table Mountain draws almost everyone who comes to Newlands to watch or play cricket. In fact, South African speedster Dale Steyn has earned a reputation as an adventurist, after he accidentally caught a crocodile while fishing near the Zimbabwean border. This was during a break from 2009 Test Series with Australia.
Most of those who’ve toured West Indies pick St Lucia as “prettiest of them all” amongst the numerous pristine and gentle beaches. Aakash Chopra affirms, having visited almost all islands during an India A tour. Sridharan Sriram recommends St Kitts and Nevis as well.
Harbhajan Singh, when asked about the tour that he looks forward to, replies — “Going Home” — a candid response from someone who is on the road for most part of the year. Being away from home affects even the most wanderlust struck of the lot. Venugopal Rao begins excitedly as he says: “I return home with a lot of stories to tell my folks. I am glad that my job allows me to travel so much. But, I do miss my family.”
Indeed, cricket can take players round the world, multiple times over. How much a person enjoys the travel is more a function of inclination than itinerary.
Three footloose cricketers share their travel philosophy
A bankable India allrounder, he was the star performer for Delhi Daredevils in the latest IPL season. He mostly travels solo or with friends in the place he would be visiting, but rarely with his kith and kin. “I firmly believe that one should travel with likeminded people,” he says. A rolling stone of a traveller he doesn’t even bother to take photographs. “My parents think it is strange that I visit so many unique places but don’t take pictures. I somehow never feel the urge to capture moments as photographs,” he signs off.
Known for his prolific run making in premier domestic tournaments, Sriram’s approach to travel is equally extensive. “Travel imparts a world view and puts our own lives in perspective. Otherwise we would stay confined to our daily routine like frogs inside a well, oblivious to the outside world,” he offers. He believes that travel is as much about a person’s own growth as it is about the people one meets along the way. “Most of the good friends I’ve made, have been in dressing rooms across the world,” he says.
His unbeaten triple century was a highpoint in Rajasthan’s Ranji Trophy win this year. While playing for the state Aakash made sure to explore all its places. He says, “Travelling helps us open ourselves to new experiences. Travel improves our judgement of people.”