Australian Cricket In Nagpur, India
Tour Report # 1
First Published: Feb 24, 2001
Edited For Better 2021 SEO
The decision to play the first tour game in Nagpur wasn’t as good as the original schedule, which is changed more often than the field of play, that was to send us to Vadodara. With that I am talking specifically of the train journey. Vadodara is only 6-hours north from Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) whereas Nagpur was 16 hours.
16-hours on Indian Railways is nothing to write home about. In fact, it was something of a pleasure considering the journeys of 40+ hours ahead of us on this epic Australian Test Cricket Tour to India. Mark ‘Buffy’ Smith and I found our berths at 7:30pm and knowing we’d arrive near midday the next day, leaving plenty of time to reach our hotel, was relaxing.
Training across India is the only true way to see and feel India. When over 10million people (a varying figure depending on whom you ask or which website you research) use Indian Railways every day, you will experience a side of India so unique to the world you question why anyone would fly if they had the time to go overland.
It is fair to say that 16 hours was hardly enough time to see the true value of the railways, especially when most of our journey was in the darkness, but it is life on the rails that makes it special; people, food, music, noise, bizarre! That said, Mark and I were fast asleep in our upper-berths by 9pm and awake at 8am. 11 hours gone in the rocking of the railways. We met nice people in our compartment, had a few laughs, a dodgy biryani, played our first game of cards and captured some priceless photos before rolling into Nagpur.
Mark’s first experience of Indian Railways was as enlightening as India, but he too felt the pinch of an uneventful journey that didn’t even require discussion with the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) because there wasn’t one! There have been many journeys when a TTE comes by seemingly every hour to ‘examine’ your ticket, and many journeys like this when one is left to their thoughts and expectation.
The hotel was the other good reason to be in Nagpur. I knew where it was and what to expect, even though Mark didn’t, having stayed at the same hotel when Australia played Zimbabwe in Nagpur at Cricket World Cup 1996.
Hotel Blue Diamond was one of Nagpur’s finest, for our budget minded souls! There was no hot water, blankets were thicker than pillows, the ceiling fan whistled endlessly, and mosquitoes dodged the draft to incessantly buzz your ears. Nevertheless, as a comfortable, inexpensive place to live, Hotel Blue Diamond, a very-simple four-floor hotel, is a diamond.
Interestingly, there is not a blue diamond in sight! Instead blue hexagons adorn the walls, ceilings and window frames. It is no surprise India has its own interpretation of a diamond, but one still might lie at night, unable to sleep for the mosquito dive-bombing, wondering how the name came to be.
From the hotel rooftop, views up Central Avenue and deep-orange sunsets may even be eye-catching if you could focus through the rancid, eye-stinging pollution that hung over Nagpur from 3pm until breakfast. Thankfully, you could not open the windows in the bar.
The hotel has a seedy popular bar and restaurant that required us to walk from the third floor, past reception on the 1st floor, to the ground floor, and then up a flight of stairs to the bar behind the wall of reception. We wrongly questioned this as we did the ‘diamond’ for in India any question asked will often end up with more questions.
Thus, if heading to the bar we would make the exercise without question, take a seat in the dark, sinister, low ceilinged hive, and imbibe whilst debating Indian rationale and logic. We never came to any logical conclusion but the diamonds and mazed entrance to the bar remain rational talking pieces.
The tour game itself was as interesting as Nagpur is ever likely to get, though there is never great controversy or excitement over success in warm-up matches. The tameness of the game didn’t bother us, as following cricket was our purpose and sitting out a tour game in the orange capital of India, which is as close to the dead centre of India, is probably the best thing to do.
Tour games for me, rate higher than a one day internationals, Cricket World Cup excepted. Except for the inordinate number of police, the turn-out at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium was nothing less than woeful, which was good! Tour games allow you to kick back and take in the game without huge crowds while generally allowing you to wander wherever one pleases. Nagpur was the exception to this case.
‘Highly strung’ is one way to define the security. 3000 police waited anxiously for ‘disturbance’, while preventing anyone from going anywhere without a ticket. The fact that there was only 1000 people didn't matter, yet they endeavoured to stop us taking photos, carrying water bottles, using binoculars, or distributing ‘wavingtheflag.com’ postcards to enthused locals.
We finally got through the members’ gate and up to the second level where we took our seats in perfect position to spy on India with our binoculars, take photographs to send to Pakistan, and use our water bottles purely as missiles to incite the quiet rioters, before promoting 'Waving The Flag' for Australian Cricket Tours. Paranoia personified in Nagpur. Again, with nothing to do in Nagpur perhaps the locals were just a little over-expectant.
In so far as the game goes, Australia took time warming to India with single figures for Michael Slater, Justin Langer, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Fleming and Colin Miller. Matthew Hayden 49 and Ricky Ponting 56 help slightly to reach a competitive total but it was Jason Gillespie 57 and Michael Kasprowicz 92 with 155 for the 8th wicket that got Australia to a competitive 291, until our bowlers conceded a 1st inning lead of 77.
Australia’s batsmen performed much better 2nd time around reaching 365/9 thanks to Justin Langer 115, Ricky Ponting 68 and Damien Martyn 53 before we all shook hands and went home with the honourable draw!
3 days in Nagpur was enough, but with little to do, one does have the chance to relax, which is not easy in India, so we’d stay a 4th or 5th day if we must. We had no eagerness to venture any further than the hotel bar after play, but perhaps being dragged into the wedding ceremony the night before the game was enough!
Climbing into our cots by 11pm with a skin-full of Kingfisher ensured we slept soundly and quickly until the cacophony from 4am stirred us more than last night’s dinner, indulged from the shacks lining Central Avenue between the hotel and station bridge.
Every train in or out of the nearby station sounded their horn for what felt like minutes at a time. The deep blare echoed through the early morning stench and orchestral movements in the dark of dogs barking, street workers digging, steel workers shaping, tuk-tuks buzzing, and truckers trucking among other sounds virginal to our ears.
Thankfully, there was never anything wrong with ‘last night’s dinner’. Lying in bed listening to Nagpur awaken from 4am was one thing without having to get out of bed for a movement before the noise started. With the first game done and very dusted, Mark and I caught the overnight Vidarbha Express back to Mumbai for the second Tour Game, farewelling the orange capital of India that didn’t sell any oranges! That’s India!