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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 April, 2005, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Tough test at India v Pakistan match

By Nick Bryant
BBC South Asia correspondent, Gujarat

The Indians may be bereft at losing against Pakistan at cricket, but there is general delight that the series seems to have helped with a breakthrough in relations between the two rivals. The Indian prime minister joined the president of Pakistan, in saying the peace process was now irreversible. Nick Bryant, a cricket enthusiast remembers the day he was asked to comment on one of the games between the two sides.

Pakistani cricket fans
The series was characterised by ceaseless chanting from both sides

I am sad to report that my sub-continental cricketing career has much in common with my ongoing search for an Indian bride:

I have yet to bowl a maiden over.

With bat and with ball, I have been an abject failure, and owe my continued place in the Foreign Correspondents' Eleven to a small, but salient, technicality:

I am the only foreign correspondent.

At the lunch interval, I come into my own, polishing off plate after plate of mutton biryani. But, with the season nearing completion, I have yet to feast on runs.

In younger days, I used to be a belligerent - if somewhat agricultural - middle order batsman, peppering the famed "cow corner" with one inelegant boundary after another.

But as age has dulled my reflexes, I am finding it increasingly difficult to locate that sacred part of the ground.


Luckily, I am enjoying much greater success as a spectator, and the other day found myself in the enviable position of being dispatched to Gujarat to cover the one-day international between India and Pakistan.

So not realising quite what was happening, I was beckoned to a vacant chair and handed an open microphone
Things were going swimmingly well when mid-way through the morning session I sneaked into the commentary booth of Radio Pakistan, to record some atmospheric sound effects.

Little did I know that I timed my arrival just as a real-life BBC cricket reporter was scheduled to provide a spell of carefully-considered expert summary.

So not realising quite what was happening, I was beckoned to a vacant chair and handed an open microphone. My commentating career was about to begin.

Here I should pause for a brief moment to tell you the exalted seat I had just levered myself into.

One of the most popular television shows in India right now is a cricketing version of Pop Idol, where thousands of young people compete not for the chance of a record contract but the opportunity to become a full-time commentator.

Then, there's my favourite advert, where a young woman spends all her life longing for the chance to climb into the commentary gantry, a dream that comes miraculously true when she applies a coat of Fair and Lovely skin whitener.

The final scene shows the young women, with an unblemished wheatish complexion, in the test match commentary box, with her mother at home proudly wiping a tear from her eye.

I fear my mother would not have been so proud of my own, fumbling efforts.

Sticky wicket

True, things started off well enough, since I was invited to pass judgement on the blossoming innings of the great Sachin Tendulkar: an easy delivery, the gentlest of full tosses.

Indian cricket fans
Indian cricket fans were jovial despite losing the Test match
But then I found myself on a distinctly sticky wicket.

A winning total of runs - on this unthreatening pitch?

"Oh, 300-plus," I ventured, a statement of stunning banality for listeners used to much more finely calibrated statistical calculations, which sometimes resemble the square root of pi.

What did I make of the weather?

"Oh pristine blue skies," I said, again stating the obvious, when I was really expected to talk about the moisture content of the Gujarat climate, and its possible impact on how a carefully polished cricket ball might meander through the air.

Should Younis Khan be batting at number eight?

Here, I should have been able to recite the Pakistan player's batting averages since his schooldays in Peshawar, but the truth is I couldn't even remember his last innings.

By now, I was flailing wildly, with only a limited repertoire of cricketing bon mots.

Asked to pass judgment on the batting form of the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, I trod the dark path of sporting cliché.

"Form is temporary," I said, "class is permanent."


Fearing other awkward deliveries, and other rookie errors, my mind started to race: I must remember the difference between a doosra, a type of bowling action, and a dosa, a delicious south Indian food.

And that when the crowd shouts "aloo, aloo," they're not calling for 47,000 platefuls of curried potatoes, but chanting the nickname of Pakistan's corpulent captain, Inzamam ul-Haq.

There was only one thing for it, of course. In the great traditions of British journalism, I made my excuses and left.

I did, though, have one regret in making my silent escape, for I had missed the moment of culinary delight savoured by every British commentator, and envied by every sweet-toothed listener of Test Match Special.

For at that very moment a magnificent chocolate cake was no doubt wending its way from Rawalpindi, and I didn't have a chance to scoff it.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 21 April, 2005 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


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