Archive for the ‘wide world of sport’ Category

we want a sixer

March 29, 2010

I’m writing this sitting in Varkarla, southern Kerala. After the hard yards of Tamil Nadu, I feel like I’ve taken off an iron suit after a few days of swims, fresh air and porridge for breakfast.

The Indian Premier League caused many a late night back at Bagot. So when we happened to be in the neighbourhood of the mighty Chennai Super Kings, it was decided the time was ripe to get along for some cross bat slog cricketing action.

The excitement began well before the game; after booking online, it was off to Chepauk Stadium to exchange the printout for actual tickets. This whole process turned out to be wonderfully Indian: exciting; banal; beautiful and bamboozling. It all started with a cross-Madras autorickshaw ride to the ground. On arrival, we accidentally wandered unhindered into the hallowed halls of the Madras Cricket Club, past long forgotten touring side honour boards; old trophies and mementos of more genteel cricketing days; members billiards rooms; squash, badminton and clay tennis courts and multiple bars. A true pity that we’re not members of the WACA, as we were told by the accommodating staff that they have reciprocal arrangements (being a West Coast member didn’t cut it). The MCC even has lovely old-fashioned accommodation, which we got to gaze at longingly as we remembered our Rs 250 ($6.25) digs where we were subjected to our first police ID check in the middle of the night – reckon it had something to do with the Hungarian fgitive types staying across the hall. Nice place.

We were entrusted to a baksheesh-seeking, safari suit-wearing groundsman and guided through the bowels of the stadium, past what looked like the team dressing rooms and into a lobby where we looked at pictures of memorable moments at the ground.* After being deposited outside the stadium manager’s office, we were then told to go to another floor and wait for the ticket dude; not surprisingly, the manager turned out to be responsible for managing something other than tickets for sweaty tourists. We eventually found the ticket dude behind an unmarked door in an inlaid wooden wall, like where you might expect a butler to emerge from, only to be told that the tickets hadn’t actually arrived yet. After all that adventure, we were almost disappointed when things went far more smoothly when we came back the next day.

After many years of watching tours of the subcontinent, I was a touch concerned about taking the small wife into the ground. Indian crowds are uniformly crazy; after all, the boundary is not a white picket fence but a 10 ft cyclone number topped with prison-style razor wire. As it turned out, the lads at the game were far more interested in MS Dhoni than CLES Parsons and our stand was populated largely by couples, kids and middle class types. However the cheapest, most passionate and exclusively male area was right across the ground from us – so we had a good few of the antics, fuelled by what could be the world’s most modestly dressed cheerleaders, that make the grassy hill at the WACA look like the members’ at Lords.

No soggy hot dogs or  Mrs Macs pies here: fresh coffee, cake, channa masala and biryani were all on offer. The latter was sold by a kid who must have snuck in with a pot that looked like a 44 gallon drum in relation to him. No pics sadly, as you can’t bring anything into the ground (well, except giant pots of biryani). Here I am after the game with my collection of free things:

Tonight the Deccan Chargers took on the Superkings. A good game for Australians to be at, with that great champion of the people, Adam “Gilly” Gilchrist, captaining the Chargers with help from the once great champion of the people, Andrew Symonds, while the Superkings have Matty Hayden to open the batting. Aside from Shane Warne, they are all the retired Australians going around the IPL this season.

Deccan won the toss and batted first making 159, a total that would see them winning by 31 runs.  It was a fairly pedestrian game of 20/20, the clear highlight of which was Gilly smacking two sixes in a row. The Superkings were never really in it but that didn’t seem to matter as the crowd went berserk for any boundary, six or wicket. The group of young boys seated behind us, accompanied by one dutiful mother, did a good job of working the crowd up with their almost clairvoyant ability to predict a six by shouting “We want a sixer!” and their adolescent enthusiasm for Mexican waves. Truly it seemed that cricket was the winner on the night. My lone cries of of “carn Gilly!” did cause a few slightly bemused looks but mercifully for all involved, I left calls of “do a merry dance” to the distant past of the WACA hill.

To spice things up, there were several pitch invasions throughout the game  – not streakers inspired by a dozen beers in the hot sun, but a couple of stray dogs. Much of grounds seating is being rebuilt in time for next year’s World Cup (I swear I saw them building the stand we sat in the Tuesday before our game) so I imagine they snuck in through a shoddily patched hole in the fence. Once on the pitch, a most glaring example of the Indian system of division of labour, a.k.a. “It’s not my job”, takes shape. I’d read in the local rag that there would be 600-odd police at the game – and there certainly seemed to be at least that many, along with multitudes of security guards, groundsmen and hangers-on, many of whom sat right on the boundary, presumably to get a good look at the match. Yet when four-legs ran onto the ground and the ump called for the game to be stopped, nothing happened. Nothing. The little hound was as happy as Larry with 50,000 people cheering him on while he trotted the outfield, occasionally pausing to lick his nether regions. At one point he even stopped to casually sniff a policeman’s shoe. This particular copper just looked around as if to say “What? Why are you (50,000 people) looking at me?” while completely ignoring the pooch who stopped the game again moments later as he ran back on the ground.

Comically and in an ultimate act of upwards delegation, a foreign guy with a clipboard – undoubtedly the  manager of ground operations or some such – came running out of the members’ at the changeover to chase the dog while literally thousands of underlings watched. Of course, said dog was right back five minutes later and in the “who really cares?” spirit of 20/20, the umps just let the game go on, leaving Fido to enjoy perhaps the most rickshaw and motorbike-free night of his life.

*I’ll just take a little narrative time out to expand here. Most of those who assemble around the Bagot BBQ would know that Chepauk is famous for being the site of one of the only two tied test matches in history (“Wow!”, I hear the rest of you say) . It was during this game in ’86 that my childhood hero, Dean “Deano” Jones made his legendary 210 despite acute heatstroke, constant vomiting and loosing control of his bladder on the pitch. He lost 7 kilos that day. Legend. The team put him in the shower at lunch (1980s sports science at work) to try and lower his body temperature. He tried to retire on 170 but Capt Grumpy Alan Border essentially told him he was a weak Victorian – so riled up, he staggered back out after being dressed by his teammates – who forgot to put in his box. Without that innings, India would have won the match (boo). Alongside that and in perhaps the greatest ever moment in Australian masculinity, Greg “Yeah Yeah” Matthews wore his cable knit vest for the whole game – in the stupefying Madras heat – in an effort to psych out the Indian team and prove that the Stralyans were unconquerably tough and/or crazy. Back on the mean streets of Swanbourne this game was talked about for years.

Linds at Lumphini – a night of Muay Thai action

May 28, 2009

Entering Lumphini Boxing Stadium was a sort of time warp to how I’ve always imagined 70s football: grubby standing room terraces leading up into the darkness; near compulsory cigarettes and booze; collapsing leaking roof; stands without a trace of advertising – how wonderfully antique. The crowd was exclusively male and all maniacally obsessed with their chosen fighters and following their punts.

Getting to Lumphini was half the fun. The last (only) time I rode a motorbike was on the Humphry family farm in 1992. What better way to reacquaint myself with two wheels than in Bangkok rush hour, in the dark, in a monsoonal downpour, on the back of a motorcycle taxi whose driver weighed 40 kilos less than me?

As soon as I jumped off the bike (happily still in one piece), I was immediately met by a lady who I presume worked for the stadium. We took off so (I think) I could inform myself of the seating options. Explaining that there are three classes, I was told in no uncertain terms that foreigners belonged in first, which was situated ringside (full of flashpackers and Thai property developer types). I suggested that I might like to sit up with the mug punters in third class: “No! Not wanting you! Thai people only!” A little bewildered, I decided to ignore her. Anyway after a bit of back and forth, and much to the chagrin of my new mate, I got my third class ticket and wandered in. As for the Thais not wanting me, as far as I could tell they were so absorbed in following their bets they didn’t even notice the big farang wandering around, looking a little nervous.

After sinking a couple of Changs in the bar under the grandstand, I settled in for the evening. Note that Chang was possibly the weak option; all the locals where smashing Song Sam and soda.

Before the bout there are three minutes of ‘dancing’ by the fighters, honouring their trainers and the spirits. For this part of the bout they wear a headband that sort of looks like a tennis racket without strings. If you’ve seen my attempts at dancing, it’s something similar – little bit of leg raise here, jiggly arm around there, ending with a fall onto the knees. Bouts go to five rounds so they are over relatively quick and are accompanied by music that sounds very much like a combination of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and a Bombay snake charmer.

It took me a while to figure this out but I’m pretty sure that the crowd selects a mode of cheering depending on who they are going for. So supporters of red trunks yell “Hooooooi!” when their man delivers a blow, while blue trunks yell “Wwwhhhaaaa!” when fists and knees are flying. Things dissolve into “Aarrrrrrrrrrhooo!” when they are going hammer and tong; it creates the most incredible din.

“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Hooooooi!”
“Wwwhhhaaaa!”
“Aarrrrrrrrrrhooo!”

The fights run on from each other really quickly, with the judges giving their decision seconds after the final bell (no KOs on this night). The fighters end by hugging and unquestionably accepting the decision. There is something dignified about two men who’ve just pummelled the buggery out of each other acting with such grace.

In a very Thai move, Lumphini Stadium is owned and operated by the military, so none of this tendering out rubbish – more 70s. Security inside the stadium is provided by the military police and like 70s cops they wear proper uniforms and carry big pistols (ok, so that was based solely on Dirty Harry).

For the fans it’s all about the punt, with this being one of the few legal places to have a bet in Bangkok. There is no TAB equivalent or even recognisable bookies in their ring. Bets are communicated to men who look just like everyone else via a series of hand signals that get more frenetic as the fight goes on – betting is allowed until the judges’ decision. The scene is reminiscent of pre-internet stock trading – so if you want an idea of what the crash of ’87 looked like, get down to Lumphini. The weird thing is that I saw no money change hands and nothing was written down; how the bet takers remember who, how much and what odds is beyond me.