When cricket stars Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman made a quiet appearance at Mughal Indian restaurant in Collingwood, they preferred the floor-sitting arrangement of the modest restaurant and sip a few soft drinks. Dressed in casuals, the stars shook hands with the few guests who were present, signed autographs and gave photo ops.
“It is always good coming back here,” said Dravid who was as laconic as he could. At times he looked confused whether to smile or look serious. When prodded about cricket, he said it was the management’s rule that they could not speak to anyone without prior permission. Fair enough, in a country where cricket is prime entertainment and cricketers treated next to Gods, there was very little surprise in this.
But for the brouhaha surrounding cricketers in India, this week the Indian cricketers have been enjoying relative anonymity in Australia. In Canberra at Manuka Oval, while adulation from scores of fans who lined the Indian players' race was a reminder of their star status, there was respite away from the venue, a media report said. “Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were able to walk from their hotel to Manuka Oval one day without being bombarded by autograph and photo requests. So comfortable was Laxman, he even accepted a ride to the ground by a fan from his home town of Hyderabad after missing the team bus.”
It is a summer of cricket here. The Australian media has been making much of the Boxing Day Test and various multicultural forums have been roping in as many cricketers as they can to gather the crowd and make the numbers. In Etihad Stadium Melbourne, for instance, when Shahid Afridi was felicitated by the Pakistani and other South Asian communities a special announcement was made to inform patrons that halal and curries would be served at the food outlets of the stadium. Etihad Stadium will be host to the KFC T20 Big Bash League, which is the Australian domestic Twenty20 cricket tournament. Afridi is one of the star recruits for Melbourne Renegades, one of the teams.
Meanwhile, the Boxing Day Test, a day after Christmas, is touted to be a memorable test with the famous batting trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman playing their last series on Australian soil at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Cricket Australia is said to have sold more than 75,000 tickets for the first day of the four-Test series.
India have never won a Test series in Australia, but with the big three playing together for the final time here, there is a huge sense of impending success. While Indian cricket fans are waiting with bated breath, it is sure that chants from supporters such as the Swami Army, India’s answer to England’s Barmy Army will rent the air at the MCG.