What Akram, Agarkar did during rain breaks: Play tennis ball cricket, sip on tea
A few days ago, Hardik Pandya and physio Patrick Farhart turned reporters and gave viewers a tour of the dressing room.
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Watching rain drench fields is as boring as watching paint dry, the World Cup in England has shown. Respite from showers has been rare. On Tuesday, in Manchester, the Indian team was once again forced to practice indoors, two days before their clash against the West Indies.
An eternal curiosity of fans is what do players do during rain breaks once they are done with indoor practice. Some may think that cricketers get back to serving their master — their mobile phone. But cricket’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) does not allow phones in the dressing room till a match is over or called off. Players have to find alternatives to fill the wet hours.
A game of wet and watch
In Nottingham a few days ago, Hardik Pandya and physio Patrick Farhart turned reporters and gave viewers a tour of the dressing room on the BCCI website. In another interview, Wasim Akram spoke about rain breaks during his days of playing county cricket for Lancashire. “We’d play a lot of tennis ball cricket in the dressing room,” said the former Pakistan captain and 1992 World Cup winner.
Former Australian women’s cricketer Mel Jones was still finishing her education when she became a player. Rain interruptions allowed her time to study. On a cricket portal, Michael Hussey, a member of Australia’s 2007 World Cup champion side, spoke with a glint in his eyes about the wonders of hot soup on a rainy day. And India’s Ajit Agarkar confessed to the simple joy of putting his feet up and having some protein and a cup of tea. Former England wicket-keeper turned professional painter Jack Russell would pull out his paper, pencils and colours and make art.
In Nottingham, MS Dhoni and a few Indian players took over the room of Farhart, a ruddy, bald Australian with Lebanese roots. “That isn’t my physio room anymore,” Farhart complained good-naturedly. “It has been hijacked by these gentlemen. With the weather a bit inclement, some are waiting in here.”
Not a total wash-out
The first thing that struck viewers during the segment was that the dressing room was no longer just one room. It was like a small apartment, with different areas stocked up with water, sports drinks, fruit and cricket gear. Each player’s corner was marked with a poster size image of his.
While rain is unwelcome for the most part, at times players don’t mind it. It affords them time for some much needed rest.
“We never wanted it to stop raining, especially in county cricket because we were playing so many games,” said Akram. “[In addition to tennis ball cricket] Some would play cards. Some would practice indoors. Then we had (teammate) Ian Austin who had one job, to look at the clouds and see which way they were going (to gauge weather).”
Hussey, called Mr Cricket for his vast knowledge of the game, also found rain breaks restful. “I’d sleep,” he said. “You’ve been on the field 120 overs, it’s very easy (to fall asleep in the chaos of a dressing room). One thing I loved when I was playing county cricket was to sneak down to the lunch room and have fresh soup. They’d have mushroom or tomato soup, with some fresh bread and butter. Ah, it was lovely to have on a cold wet day.”
Stumped by the rain
Mischief was always in the air. “We once distracted a teammate – I’m not naming him – and then wrapped him up on a massage table with physio tape,” Hussey said. In the past , dressing rooms could be brutally hierarchical. Tradition demanded that junior players perform odd jobs for the seniors. When Viv Richards once got a new car, he tossed the keys to a young Brian Lara and virtually made him his driver. ( To keep things in perspective, Richards and other stars also attended the funeral of Lara’s father, even though Lara was a newcomer at the time.)
During rain breaks, the juniors had even more tasks. The former New Zealand keeper Ian Smith, in the same interview as Akram, said, “I hated rain because I’d have to do menial stuff like cleaning Richard Hadlee’s gear.” But Smith also used the halt in play to stand in front of the mirror and practice his technique.
Mostly, rain is a nuisance at cricket matches. But sometimes it makes a rainbow in the sky, and in the dressing room, brings out unseen hues of cricketers.