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Sunday / July 3.
HomemitwocentsAs I See It: Now For Some Perspective

As I See It: Now For Some Perspective

It may come as a surprise to some, or maybe not, that I have been back on the Indian sub-continent for another stint of cricket coaching. This time I have been involved with a franchised team in the central Indian state of Maharashtra. The Torna Tigers are an aspiring group gathered from all corners of this vast state.

Mumbai is the capital city of Maharashtra with its 27 million or so striving, stretching, persisting people. More than the population of Australia in one single sprawling city of nine islands linked by bridges and causeways and a brand new sea arch that loops out into the ocean like a highway across Botany Bay or Port Phillip Bay.

The traffic here is a nightmare any time after 9am up until midnight, so if you want to get anywhere vaguely quickly, do so in the early hours or get a helicopter. A road marked for three lanes basically translates to five at least, with a couple of bicycles and push carts thrown in for good measure. There are over 100,000 two cylinder auto-rickshaws (known as ‘tuk tuks’ to foreigners) which create havoc with more illegal U-turns than a politician after the polls.

My opening bowler works as a waiter part-time so he can get enough money to concentrate of cricket, as his family could not even afford to buy him proper bowling boots

What Roads?

The notion of ‘peak hour’ is a completely different animal in this part of the world. ‘Bumper to bumper’ means exactly that, with plenty of hubcap to hubcap action to back it up. If you own a car without a dent, scratch or a scrape, then you never take it out of the garage, if you could afford one or find the space that is. Once you drive the roads of India you will never complain about peak hour driving in Australia ever again. I’m not sure why they even put the lane lines on the roads, it is a senseless waste of good paint, which many of the buildings could use more profitably.

The roads are dominated by public transport buses, millions of motorbikes and pedestrians who know no fear, which is also why the road toll in India is about 20,000 per annum (about the same number are killed by poisonous snakes). Footpaths are for conducting business or extending your lean-to, or a place to sleep, never for walking out of harms way. Roads, and often the railway tracks are much preferred places to stroll.

While the nation’s capital of New Delhi (it’s directly adjacent to old Delhi) has been the recipient of an expensive and controversial face lift for the Commonwealth Games including massive spending on a new metro rail system (similar to what Sydney needs); the rest of the nation struggles for infrastructure of a contemporary nature. Mumbai has a concept called “load shedding” which I became familiar with during my time in Lahore. It means that there isn’t enough power produced to go around for everybody all the time so they just turn it off, suburb by suburb, a bit like Australians do with water rationing.

On the flipside, Delhi has had new power stations built to impress the international visitors during the games, and so now has three times MORE power than it needs! The power of sport is not to be taken lightly.

The Mumbai rail system carries 3.5 million passengers a day, virtually the entire population of Melbourne. The debate over Australia’s population growth and density are so trivial when you live in a place like Mumbai. The people here just wonder why on earth we would want all that space. I have explained that we don’t actually have too much of anything in the centre of the continent, but the argument doesn’t carry much weight with people who cram into transport and dwellings all over the nation.

The Torna Tigers

Mumbai only has about 10 percent of Maharashtra’s people. Almost 200 million live in the state. In my team I have an eclectic bunch who come from all over the state. When you ask: “How far away do you live?” the answer always comes in time rather than distance.

One lad comes from 16 hours away, which is the time it takes in a bus to travel to Pune where we are based, the ‘Oxford’ of India. A university town of three million, about three to four hours drive from South Mumbai, Pune was a major garrison town during the Raj and it reminds me a lot of Lahore with a high proportion of green space and a much more sedate pace of living as compared with Mumbai.

Another lad is a policeman who had to get special permission to play the tournament; cricketers are often treated kindly by employers in this part of the world. My opening bowler works as a waiter part-time so he can get enough money to concentrate on cricket, as his family could not even afford to buy him proper bowling boots. The opening batsmen comes from Uran which is an installation for the Indian navy, his father is a mechanical engineer and he is in the final year of an organic chemistry degree. They are all sorts.

My star player is a local Pune boy. He played for the Delhi Daredevils in the lucrative Indian Premier League and is somewhat of a local hero. He owns his own (small) car. At 5’3” he hits the ball very hard. He is a strict vegetarian. When I asked why he was on that diet he told me that his parents had stuck to a diet of bananas and potatoes so that they could have a son. To honour their good fortune and to pay homage to the Hindu deity responsible, he too would eat only vegetables all his life. When I suggested that if he ate meat (even a little chicken now and then) he could have grown up to be a fast bowler, he strongly indicated that he had made the correct choice. He has recently been selected for the India ‘A’ team, and may even go on to reach the highest level. The veggies must be working.

In this nation of over a billion people, cricket represents both an altar to worship and a vehicle for betterment. The rewards for being an outstanding cricketer are generous; the competition for those positions is much like the competition to find some driving space on the roads or a seat on the trains.

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