The days have flown past. Arriving at the maidan in Mumbai now feels a lifetime away.. We are now battle-hardened veterans for whom 35 overs holds no fear or threat.
So when the opposition of academics ask to play 30 overs, we smell weakness. Sadly it is not to be. Apart from Dave Goring, none of the recognised batsmen makes much impression on the score book. Having virtually opened I am astonished to find, when I join him for the last two overs, that he is still rushing up and down the pitch. We scramble 14 runs but 119 never feels like a defendable total. His 37 will earn him some extra luggage.
Lunch is delicious, but we have to field thereafter. Before we can do so, we need solid countryman Dick Brown to deal unceremoniously with a crippled rat that is crawling around the kitbags . They don’t call him Chopper for nothing!
It starts promisingly with two seamers and then Thornie bags one and I induce three of the academic dashers to throw away their wicket and they are four down and not halfway there. The arrival of the 12-year-old son of one player offers the prospect of an easy wicket but he survives numerous snicks and pop-ups whilst Pop at the other end lets loose with a series of boundaries that quickly put the game beyond our reach.
The final over starts with two enormous sixes. And then there was tea and lookalike cucumber sandwiches.
The mood is not lightened by a misguided attempt at retail therapy on the way back which involves a three hour detour up to Panjim.
We are late back, hot tired and deflated and most opt for either a buffet in the resort Gardens or a short trip to the nearest beach shack.
There remains only Friday’s T20 to redeem ourselves.
An early morning cycle ride gives an energetic start to an otherwise very lazy day. Being out there with the scooters and cars whizzing by gives a good flavour of the traffic. And we have an impressive wait at a railway crossing. The trains are incredibly long,
The mist burns off eventually. The heat leaves you feeling in little need of food during the day time. A solitary packet of crisps seems more than enough.
A walk along the beach late afternoon shows it largely deserted. Closer inspection reveals endless alcohol bottles with lids on rolling around in the falling tide. Stopping off in a bar I am the only English speaker. It’s Russian rollout time. Watching their faces it’s hard to discern why they came on holiday. Glum and a lot of shouting at the staff.
Dinner is at a shack along the beach which is connected to the mother-in-law of someone in the party. A good meal eaten to the sounds of sixties pop. Memories trawled through reveal the names of most of the artists.
The opposition today do look marginally older, perhaps forties. We bowl first on a table top surface and feel we have done a good job in restricting them to 234. The sun is very hot and I spend quite a bit running the extra cover boundary. Steve makes two stumping off my bowling and I hang on to a hard-hit C and B.
The general consensus is that we do well to reach 199 after two outstanding innings from John Pigott (72) and Jim Basford (56)
As the total racked up, Thornie held sway over his assembled enthralled audience.
7.30am and I am at MAJORDA train station not far from the beach resort. It takes a while to buy a ticket as the same man selling them is also answering the phone, keeping a log and controlling the points and signals on this single line stretch. Fork out 10/-for the journey to Chandor about 20kms to the east. Train arrives 2 minutes late and clamber up the short vertical ladder into 2nd class carriage. No glass just metal bars which keeps it cool. Not really that much worse than Exmouth to Exeter in rush hour. The first house, Menezes–Braganza is in the throes of being used as a film set so there are bods carrying kit around and cables all over the floor. The main junction box for the lighting is a wonder of unHSE.
Will the house survive?
The current owner, an unmarried son in his fifties, introduces me to his mother and disappears to get washed and dressed. She is resting in a steamer chair with very long arm rests. The idea, she explains, is to put your feet up on them to relax. The men, that is. For the ladies it would be more akin to a gynae exam.
She has the sad aloof air of noblesse in reduced circumstances straight out of a Russian novel.
The dining room has been set up by props to resemble 19th century splendour, so is very different from the rest which is cluttered bits and pieces. The guide is perfunctory on detail though you can imagine how it would have been in its heighday. They struggle to find the income to maintain it and there is no National Trust India.
Teakwood furniture in Indo-portuguesestyle is heavy and hard. No mention is made of the other cousins’ branch of the family who live in the section adjoining. The sense of faded splendour is overwhelming and little prospect that he will be producing a new generation.
A ten minute walk out of the village past open fields reveals a variety of birds in the paddies.
The next house on first appearance is much less imposing but does seem older. A diminutive figure is by the old wooden doors and greets me enthusiastically. We go in to a darkened space that is bare and unlit. He points to a 2″ hole in the wall–“gunport”. The house dates to the 16th century when roving bands of brigands roamed the countryside. He is 15th generation living in the house. He is called Rajiv because he was born after liberation from Portugal.
His family were landowners and had rents from all the tenant farmers. Photographs of stern men hang on the wall. Z
The ballroom is a thing of splendour, huge chandeliers from Belgium and a sprung wooden floor. When was it last used for a ball? My mother’s wedding. We can’t do it now as the family is too big. He is the figure by the door on the left.
The piano is a good make and he offers to let me play it. Even if I knew how, the few keys I strike tell me it has not been near a piano tuner for many years.
A room upstairs has a walkin ladies’ wardrobe that houses a secret. The entire floor, 8X6, lifts up to reveal stairs that lead down to a passage connecting to the river. More holes in the walls at every change of direction The rooms above are spacious, well lit and cool on the first floor where living takes place.
He is keen to know about funding for cultural heritage restoration from UK. I explain, overseas development don’t really do crumbling mansions – not that I use that term. He is genuinely informative and chatty unlike the previous who had obviously lost faith in the whole process. Shades of Gormenghast.
A walk back into the village expresses its status by the absence of any transport other than a bus. It had been the capitol of the region before the Portuguese decided it was too disease ridden and far from the coast. A bus appears and a kindly uncle hops on to show me the way. I can use Google maps to track our route as we go eastward away from my goal of Quepem. Life here is invariably circuitous. He gets off, assuring me the ticket man will point me in the right direction. He does so when we reach a town with an actual bus station. Tuktuk ride ensues to the door of Palace do daeo. Built in the late 18th century it has been carefully restored by the current owner Ruben who gives a whirlwind 5 minute tour but an open invitation to then look around on my own. The deao was not a Dean but virtually second in command to the Bishop. He came from a wealthy family and could build an entire village from scratch at Quepem for the avowed rehabilitation of sinners.
Ruben had spent three years in Portugal researching plans and drawings in order to carry out a restoration that took only two years.
A stroll into town immediately yields a bus to Margao where I soon arrive in time to miss the train to Majorda. An initial of a taxi ride on a motorbike is refused in face of a helmet with no strap and a tuktuk soon has me back in Utorda.
We assemble in the foyer on cue at 7.30 for the flight to Goa. An hour and ten minutes later we are finally on board the coach ready to leave – what’s an hour here or there in India. We now hit Maximum City rush hour and get to the airport at 9.45. The flight is 11.20. The tour guide has not checked everyone in as promised and its starting to get a bit tight for offloading suitcases and getting through to Gateside. Plans to write up the blog long gone. I reach the boarding gate just as my batch is called up. Four people were initially told to step aside as the flight was overbooked. Happily an agent from another tour company – ours had slunk off- persuaded the check-in girl that leaving four of a group behind was a bad idea and we all got on.
Looking down on the city you can see the full extent of the smog that hangs over it.
Goa is hotter but drier and the air clearer. And the trees flashing past the window are a relief and a pleasure. Coconut palms, rice paddies, rivers not choked with plastic. It was definitely better this way round.
We are in a resort 100m from the beach. Usual pool, gym, lounge area. Attendants everywhere for every conceivable purpose.
Slight hiccup with the rooming arrangement but the double is fairly quickly turned into a twin.
A quick shower and head for the nearest beach shack. The theme is decidedly Caribbean. After spending time drinking in the Mumbai Hotel, everyone is happily shocked by the price of drinks here. The menu seems to offer the prospect of a decent supper.
And so it proves. Goan fish curry, good dal and veg, enormous G and T for £1.65. And so back to the hotel where England v Windies is in the television. Waking in the morning will bring the news of England scoring 290 or not.
A long coach ride up to the Air India Sports club right under the flightpath for the domestic terminal. It is quite luxurious compared to Tuesday, a lush outfield and a/c in the changing room. Their ages though are rather similar to the other day. We are again ably supported by the full crew.
New captain, new tactic, we bat first on what seems to be a flat track. At 72 for 1 Martin’s approach is paying off. At 143 all out we are feeling rather less positive.
A long lunch break with delicious food is a boost and we resume with two left arm spinners opening the attack – ie Phil and me. Phil bowls meanly and I somehow get three wickets, though at a price. The opposition then proceed to smite the ball over the field and two of the youngsters are soon on the brink of being retired. Some loose shots and a sharp stumping from a wide produce 7 wickets but they always looked like cruising to pass a low total. Awards to several people for doing stuff include Man of the Match for Dick Brown. John Barrett is slightly relieved that he does not have to take possession of the enormous Winners Cup. I now have a smallish bronzish bowling figure that will not fit on the tiny shelf in the hall, nor in my rucksack.
They have been entertaining opponents and are clearly inawe of us playing still. Suggestions that they have thirty or forty years of cricket to look forward to are met with dubious shakes of the head.
At breakfast you can feel the tension amongst the players as the moment rapidly approaches when the whole tour becomes solid reality. Perhaps not all, one of us has been on over 90 tours of one sort or another. All aboard the coach for a short drive to the ground. The ground is not the Police Academy but the municipal maidan. Eight pitches all in a row. Stones and paving slabs on the outfield. A 3″ ridge dropping down from the square. One boundary almost twice the other. A bivouac sheeting facility with a few chairs and tables, no toilet and the average age of the opposition is 35. Tour leader starts to erupt and petrol thrown on the flames by the guide claiming”they wanted to show us how ordinary Indians get to play cricket “
Today’s captain Glyn elects to field and after a brisk start they are whittled away pretty much by some good fielding excellent catching and a very laid back approach to scoring. Unless the single can be taken leisurely it is declined in preference to taking a four. I bowl the opener through the gate in my first over and thereafter am treated with unmerited respect! Two good catches at deep mid off and a crazed charge down the track for a stumping leave me with 4 for 32. This is a relief as I am virtually an unknown quantity to the others and most of them are 50s rather than 60s or 70s. Thorny takes three Wickets, so Room 205 bags 7 in all. “Take the pace off, they don’t like it. ” A total of 143 in 35 is eminently gettable.
We reach 61 for 1, partly thanks to a generous two overs from their captain which produces 27, mostly wides. You could say it was our age handicap. All seems well.
Then the LBWs start. Wickets fall regularly and I find myself unexpectedly padding up. My 12 includes two boundaries and is extended when they overrule the umpire who has given me lbw after an inside edge goes unnoticed by him. He is quite unabashed. I run myself out taking a quick single to Point. Too used to Seniors’ type fielding! We end up 6 runs short which is almost like a losing draw.
The apres-cricket was brief given the absence of a bar though a fully–signed bat was handed to their captain along with a cap.
Dinner is alcohol-free in Delhi Darbar but totally delicious and ridiculously cheap – 600/- each and its not all eaten. Too much biriani. And John said he was hungry. Even Keith was impressed and he’s a scorer.
On the walk back manage to locate Theobroma for a piece of rich chocolate patisserie. Delicious though eating it on the way back to the hotel creates problems with small prying eyes following you hand outstretched. You have to remind yourself of the reasons for not giving anything.
The alarm set fot 5.30am for a (very) early start to go round the old Sassoon Docks nearby where the daily inshore catch is sorted unloaded and bought by the women who are the wholesale merchants. They are the power and the money. Though the fishermen are also rich. An astonishing variety of fish of all sizes is disgorged onto the quayside in a maelstrom of bodies rushing around the Quay with huge baskets of fish or buckets of ice. We are continually in the way and quite rightly brushed aside with a delicate flick on the arm and a muttered “sala”. What is the point of a bunch of gawking foreigners? The fish is shipped out pronto all over the region and even as far as China.
The boats go out for a day or several days depending on the size
After that it all went downhill rather, traipsing around in an almost deserted city looking at men sorting newspapers for delivery to shops, a very narrow fruit and veg Market where we really got in everyone’s way and a flower market where there were lots of cut flowers, mostly hothouse roses and wallflowers used for making temple wreaths. The guide rather lost our attention, initially by telling us how much she disliked cricket, and then by invariably slurring the punchline of her anecdotes. We spent 45 minutes on the coach driving back through rush hour just in time to get breakfast.
Seven of us decided a trip to a Bollywood studio plus dance workshop did not appeal in contrast to the chance to go and watch England Ladies play a warm-up in the Wankhede against India A. On arrival it was hard to make out the correct entrance. A uniform opened a door and asked England? Thinking he meant Where you from I said yes. It was only when we were shown into their changing room that the misunderstanding became apparent! A very polite coach ushered us out and we joined the three other people sitting watching in the 33000 seat arena. We spent an agreeable few hours watching, chatting and eventually cheering the girls loudly as they squeaked home with two wickets to spare. During the last over a trail of teenagers and a few adults from Bristol trailed in. They were on a cricket tour from Gloucestershire and their leader was Glos over50s captain whom Phil has been trying to contact! Cricket makes for a small world.
In the evening we resolved to try a different restaurant, Leopold Cafe, which was very grand compared to Bagdadi. Food was good, less messy to eat as forks were provided and if we hadn’t had alcohol not so hugely more expensive.
Big day tomorrow, our first game. Looking at the satellite map it will be a far cry from the original promised venue. The maidan is a long strip of municipal pitches all butting up to each other. So a game at your back as well as your own. And of course no sightscreens. And traffic hurtling past.
Cricket in the raw as experienced by the natives. A far cry from Dean Park.
Almost too good to be true, the journey from cold misty Exmouth to hot sunny Mumbai went so smoothly as to presage some awful occurrence. And so far the only forgotten item seems to be the tiny tube of toothpaste and sawn off brush. Coming out of the airport into 30 degrees, your nose is instantly assailed by the pungent heady smell of India – part heat, part spice, part sickly sweet hint of rot. A new dual carriageway and a bridge reminiscent of the M49 carry us swiftly in the coach to the Fariyas (instantly rechristened by Phil Thorn) Hotel. Superficially very swish with turbaned doormen and pretty girls in red saris floating around collecting passports and handing out mango juice and room keys.
The group seem to be a disparate section of the world. One went to school in Exmouth. Whispers that the tour leader takes no prisoners when it comes to organisations. The two guides are attentive though heavily-accented, which is tricky when announcing several changes to the itinerary. An unexpected visit to a local, very old, cinema to see a Bollywood hip hop rap movie evoked varied responses. Some just fell asleep, others baulked but most were intrigued by repeated laughter in the audience at apparently inappropriate moments. A girl behind me in the intermission asked how much of it I understood.””the bits in English and the faces told their own story in hindi” The cinema itself was pure 1930s.
But the wedding party being staged down by the waterfront was pure Disney. And people were still pouring in dressed up to the nines.
We skirted round and headed towards a cafe I remembered from my last visit in 2011 that continued to receive good reviews. Room-mate Phil Thorn and fellow tourist Ian had agreed to take the plunge as well. It is definitely a cafe but fellow of enthusiastic locals. Service is efficient and food tasty though a couple of dishes were a bit spicy. I think we did it justice and it was 800 /-S well spent. They both professed to enjoy it. Politesse?
Tomorrow we meet for an early trip to the iconic fish market on Coloba Quay at the Sassoon Dock.
The itinerary is receiving customary Indian metamorphosis. Tuesday’s game is now at the Sachavalay Stadium and nets tomorrow have vanished. Who needs nets at our age? We should know how to play by now!