Saturday morning was a very early start. Our flight was scheduled to leave Hyderabad at 8am and as such we had to be checked out of our hotel well before 6.15am. We had a brief stopover in Mumbai (the city once known as Bombay) before arriving in the city of Ahmedabad around 1pm. I must say that I am a bit surprised at the flights and the airline industry in general here. The airline that sponsors the Indian Cricket League (ICL), and is therefore our choice of airline here, is called Jet Airways. It reminds me of a cross between Qantas and Ansett, with excellent service and very comfortable flights. I am not sure what I was expecting – maybe I watched one too many Indiana Jones movies – but there has not been a live chicken or sheep on any flight so far!

Things on the ground are a bit different however! After we arrived and settled into our new hotel, the Fortune Landmark we made our way to a local sports centre for a recovery stretch and pool session. I, along with Mitch Sturt (massage) and Leroy Lobo (physio) decided to walk back to the hotel and maybe find something to eat along the way. After just a short walk we are met by several cows ambling along quite a busy stretch of road. Cows in India are regarded as sacred animals and as such can do pretty much as they please. Whatever you do, don’t ask for a steak in this part of India, and a Big Mac is totally out of the question!

Anyway, these cows are just wandering along the road. Here I am clicking away and the locals are thinking I am strange – not these animals that would cause a fair bit of fuss back in Australia. Not too much further on we come across some stalls selling this brightly coloured powder for “Diwali”. This is a festival which symbolises the triumph of good over eavil and is held every year. And what do you know? We are going to be right here in India when the colours start getting thrown about! I will be sure to get a few pics away on that one. For now, you can get an idea from one of the stalls selling the dye that you mix up with water. Best not to wear the good clothes on that day….

Plenty of bright colours for Diwali

Plenty of bright colours for Diwali

Maybe it is our chosen route, but there is not one thing that you would classify as food on the hike back. So, after probably 30 minutes we get back to the Fortune Landmark and end up eating from the buffet in the hotel. The hotel itself is not bad – it just isn’t anything on the hotel that we have come from. There are other teams here as well and two teams have been put in a different hotel in the city.

From my perspective, the main thing is that we have access to a gym, a pool, quality (safe) meals and clean/quiet rooms. This hotel ticks all of those boxes.

The whole team is pretty tired from what had been a long day. I am in my room early, doing a bit of work but decide a movie followed by a book is the order of the day. By 9.30pm I am asleep. No dinner. Just sleep. I wake up at 7.30am the next day, ready to go. We have got a core strength session organised this morning in the hotel gym. Core work looks at fine control using the trunk muscles. Whilst the players have done this type of session before, it soon becomes apparent that this is an area that they can improve quite a bit in. Whilst Leroy takes the session, I talk to them about the fact that if you do not have a strong core section your prime muscles take over the movement action – that is you muscle a given task out. This may be ok in the short term, but as an individual fatigues, technique becomes worse. The catch 22 is that without the correct technique and the use of the wrong muscles possibly firing in the wrong sequence, this fatigued state comes on sooner. It also means that recovery takes longer after a game or session and this ultimately has an impact on the next session. I feel that it is important that the players understand this, as it is very often the smallest of things which in the long term, can make the biggest difference.

The afternoon is a skill session at a local cricket ground. The standard of the wicket is poor and the nets are held up by bamboo poles. It does not look like a training environment for an elite cricket team. There are a couple of groundsmen sweeping the pitch down with some straw brooms. The players just get on with the task of getting ready. The team captain, Habib Ul Bashir, comes over to me and comments on the standard of the training facility. I reply that it is pretty ordinary and he tells me that they will just have to put up with it – they need the skill practice. As if by example, he gets himself up and ready to go and in no time is encouraging his players to hurry up so that they can start training.

The venue for this session is next to a train line which has some of the slowest moving trains I have ever seen. Most of them are packed with people and do not have less than 13 carriages each. There is a freeway behind us which contains cars that insist on blasting their horns just to add to the constant noise that I have decided is my auditory memory of India. I recall watching “The Dukes of Hazard” as a young boy and thinking how cool their car horn tunes were. As I now put up with the Indian version of the Dukes on every road in this country, I have changed my thinking to believe that Daisy and the gang have a lot to answer for!

To complete the picture of this training venue, we have what appears to be a nuclear power station belching smoke and whatever else beside us. There are a number of very large black birds circling the plumes of smoke that pours out of the large chimney. My mind is torn between the thought of an Indian version of Homer Simpson at the controls of this large facility and the movie “Lord of the Rings” with the evil birds circling towers of Mordor. Either way, it is not a positive way to think before training begins.

I called the players in, and training starts. I take them over to the fence that overlooks the train line. The grass is quite long and even longer as it gets nearer to the actual train line. I make the idle comment that if I was in Australia, I would have to warn them to be on the lookout for snakes. “Snakes! What snakes? Where are they?” No matter how much I try to explain that I am only making a comment about Australia, the players look ridiculous as they try to get the stretch done and get away from that fence. If my power of suggestion is this strong, I have decided that I am going to tell each of them that they are the best batsmen in the world just before they head out to compete tomorrow night!

The session goes smoothly considering the venue and ends with a game of soccer and then a hybrid game of basketball (using a tennis ball). Then the group warms down and goes through a series of stretches. It is a good way to end the session and the players always respond to a different game that involves even the slightest form of competition. When we get back to the hotel I have all of the players come to the hotel pool to complete the recovery of the day’s session.

When evening comes our attention turns to dinner. It will be a good chance to get out of the hotel and see some of Ahmedabad. Jokingly I say to Mitch Sturt that the best restaurant is probably in our hotel. He decides to check out his tourist guide that he bought in Australia to see which restaurants that they recommend people to use when in the city. His eye goes straight to the only 5 star restaurants in Ahmedabad. And yes. It is in our hotel. How fortunate that it is here!

The restaurant is called the Khyber. Mitch, Leroy and I comment on jokes about the Khyber Pass as we sit down at this restaurant on the 7th floor of the building. We can see the cricket stadium just a short distance away with its massive light towers ablaze for a game of 20:20 that is being played. Tomorrow night it will be us in there playing the Delhi Giants. We all order different things off the menu and sit back and wait. It is no use ordering a beer or asking for the wine list – this is a dry state. There was a Heineken Beer in my fridge upon arrival which I was surprised to see as we had been told not to expect to find any alcohol whatsoever in this city. On closer inspection of the beer, it was a non-alcoholic variety. So for dinner, it was cokes all round and the most daring one could be was to order a full strength Coca Cola complete with 13 teaspoons of sugar. I think even that’s a bit much and order a diet coke.

Soon the food arrives. I must say that by now I am pretty much passed all the worry of bugs and bacteria. I think all you have to do is take simple precautions and in most cases you will be fine. That has been the case for me so far anyway….. The problem now is that everything is starting to taste the same. I live for breakfast when I can have some cereal, toast, a cup of tea and maybe an omelette. By lunch time, all familiarity is gone and it is just another version of another curry dish. Here we are at dinner eating three different dishes and I will swear they are all the same! Maybe it is an Indian conspiracy. We think that they have all of these wonderful foods when in fact they have about 5 and they just swap the names around!

I am happy to get to bed as I think I am still tired from the early start of the previous day.

Morning of our third game arrives. We are meeting at 10am to do an activation session, stretch, team meeting and pool. It will also give the players a chance to familiarise themselves with the stadium before tonight’s game. I have been quite big on this concept since my Little Athletics days with Peter Shinnick – he was a big believer in letting the players feel comfortable at the venue in which they had to compete. Here I am now on the subcontinent, some 20 years later, still carrying this belief. This time to the Dhaka Warriors.

Everything goes well and the players are pretty focused and energetic about the game later tonight. I do hope they win – it will provide them with a lot of confidence going forward. The problem for me here though is that I really have no idea about the team that we are scheduled to play. It is like having this naive optimism about everything that we do. It is either that or I will be wandering about like the “glass half empty man”.

As I am preparing and filling in time to go to the game I decide that I am not having another Indian curry for lunch. There is a Chinese restaurant on the lower level, and even the Indian version of that appeals to me. The food is not too bad. At the end of the meal the waiter gives me a fortune cookie on a plate. I know that it is a load of rubbish, but I eagerly read my fortune that has found its way to me here in this strangest of venues for a Chinese restaurant in India. It states: “All the preparation you’ve done will finally be paying off!” So it must be true then. If it’s positive we always want to believe it. Just think, if you were told that you had a 1 in a million chance of being struck by lightning if you went outside, would you consider that it could really happen? Not likely. Yet given the same odds for a lottery ticket, we excitedly tune in fully expecting to win the thing!

Maybe that’s it. We just have to expect that good things are going to happen – after all they usually do. As I move around India I see that people are all working towards making India a stronger country. Construction is going on everywhere. People are working, sometimes in the worst of conditions. And yet, everyone – even the most forlorn wretch on the street – has a smile for you. Maybe India isn’t that different after all. Could India be just another country going through growing pains? Is India really unique?

And then guess what? As I type this an elephant carrying a small man and a bunch of trees ambles past my hotel amongst the traffic with the incessant car horns and people and smog and cows and bikes and auto rickshaws and dogs and …………………No. India is definitely not like anywhere else. It’s different. It is embracing what makes it different that is the most exciting part of being here.

If you want to see this elephant on the move, click the link below to see the image that I have pasted on youtube: