Off field with the Indian cricket team

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The touring team enthralls the local Indian community at their official social engagements

Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

If Bollywood sweetheart Anushka Sharma had any plans to keep a low profile in Australia as she joined her special friend Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli on tour here, she certainly did not do a good job at a recent Sydney Harbour cruise.
At an event organised by the High Commission of India in Australia, the touring Indian cricket team mingled with guests from Australian politics, cricketing greats, cricket tragics and a few members of the local Indian community.
As the Indian team walked down King Street Wharf in their dark blue T-shirts and black pants, the hottest actress on the Bollywood circuit, enjoying the phenomenal success of her current movie PK, stood out in a beautifully tailored white knee-length dress and high heels. Towering above the other partners and wives of the cricketing team, one feels that if the role for a female secret service agent is on offer, Anushka would bag it hands down.

But once on board the cruise ship, Anushka charmed everyone with her ready smile and grace. Perhaps part of that rubbed off on the Indian captain Virat Kohli who willingly posed for photographs with the guests as he chattered about his time in Australia.
“I quite enjoy my banter with the Australian team,” he told me with a twinkle in his eye.
“I do not want to take a step backwards on this tour and want to give it my best,” he said, as he moved backwards to allow girlfriend Anushka to be photographed by a couple of adoring fans.
Only a few days earlier, on New Year’s Day, the Indian and Australian cricket teams were hosted by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and wife Margie at Kirribilli House on a bright and sunny afternoon.

Kohli has just been named as the Indian captain, after MS Dhoni’s surprise resignation, and it was clear that he was relishing the role. Speaking on the occasion, he expressed his happiness in his new position and then, putting on his diplomatic hat, had words of praise for Australia and its people, adding that his team loves touring down under and exploring the country.

“We love the competitive nature of the people – in general,” he concluded, perhaps ensuring that arch rival Mitchell Johnson did not give him a New Year’s hug.
When I mentioned this to Mitchell Johnson later, he smiled cheekily and said, “Oh, but I sent him a Christmas card… seems like it got lost on the way.”

Perhaps to create a better understanding between the two teams, Prime Minister Abbott had a few words with the two captains, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, a moment captured famously by the photographers. As to what was discussed is anyone’s guess: suggestions for yoga and meditation sessions for both teams, perhaps, to help create a more harmonious atmosphere out in the middle?

Till that advice is followed, it seemed that the Indian cricket team spent more time on the east side, while the Australian cricket team was happy on the west side of Kirribilli lawns.
The only person who sauntered across for a banter was Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan who played the doting dad with his one-year-old son Zoravar in his arms. The name Zoravar means ‘brave’ and ‘powerful’ and as such, perhaps the tot gave dad Shikhar some moral support! Both Indian cricket ambassadors were received warmly by the Australian side.

There were a few cricketers at the PM’s house who were strangely silent, or it may not be that strange in hindsight, as they may have been feeling the effects of a late night at the Ivy night club on New Year’s eve at a Bollywood dance party organised by Sydney party king Raj Khanna. The bachelors of the team such as Ishant Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvenshwar Kumar were seen shaking a leg and enjoying their champagne as they welcomed 2015 on their day off on tour. Captain Kohli and Anushka did drop in but decided to head off to Café Sydney for a more intimate dinner.

Back on board the Sydney Showboat cruise ship, team director Ravi Shastri chatted amiably with Hornsby MP and a great friend of India, Matt Kean and his fiancée Gabrielle… and turned out to be quite the storyteller.
“One of my favourite memories in Australia was the Man of the Series award in 1985,” Shastri revealed. “I took home the Audi, but did not even have a driver’s licence when they handed me the key! Still, I decided to drive it around the MCG. Before I knew it, Kapil Dev and Sunny Gavaskar had jumped onto the bonnet… and in some way, the entire team was able to fit or cling on to the car, as an unlicensed driver drove around the MCG (kids, do not do this at home)! In fact, it was a bit of hassle to take the car back home. There was a duty of 320 per cent on imported vehicles to India and Rajiv Gandhi, then a minister in the Indian Government, was able to waive it through a special amendment to the constitution. In fact, when the car arrived in India, 10,000 people gathered in the docks to see it unloaded. Audi got such great publicity that since 1985, I have been the brand ambassador for Audi in India.”

Meanwhile, dinner was being served and at the main table were India’s very own Posh and Becks, Anushka and Virat. The organisers had cleverly scattered the whole team across the tables, so that there was a chance for the guests to interact with the cricketers and their families. But all eyes were on You Know Who.
While Virat chatted with the guests around him, turning his considerable charms on Bollywood star Anushka was the Chair of the Community Relations Commission and former head of Cricket NSW, Dr Hari Harinath. With wife Gayathri keeping a close eye on the proceedings, Dr Harinath was happy to do his bit for community relations between NSW, Bollywood and cricket. One suspects that there were others on board who would have fought him for his place.

The cruise was a fantastic way for the Indian cricket team to relax and enjoy Sydney Harbour. Good weather, food and wine along with a roaming magician who kept everyone entertained, made it a very special evening. Having the Australian cricket team on board as well, would have resulted either in someone being thrown overboard, or lots of Christmas-Diwali cards exchanged next year. After all, on a boat, you can run, but you cannot hide!

Read PAWAN LUTHRA’s editorial ‘It’s game on (hopefully)’ HERE
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Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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