High up the mountains in McCleod Ganj the Indian team ate. Word broke among the people and they came to hold vigil and chant Kohli’s name. Armed guards thronged the square and held back crowds of locals, Indian tourists, Buddhist monks and taxi drivers.
Hundreds gathered in the hope of seeing Virat Kohli and Team India. They waited patiently and were rewarded with a glance and a wave before Kohli and the other players escaped to sleep further up the Himalayas.
It was the night before last. We had taken a taxi to a striking restaurant spotted earlier in the day. A mountain pine tree grew through its small front balcony, which fronted the main square of this small township connected to Dharamsala and myriad other towns by busy spiraling lanes full of people, traffic, markets and stray animals. We didn’t know it would be the same restaurant chosen by India.
Unable to enter until the team had finished we took up residence at a bar high above the square, on a level opposite the Indian team. Absorbing the scene while sipping the 8% ‘extra strong’ Kingfisher beers we chatted cricket, the IPL, the popularity of Test Match and the scandals of the series. It was great fun.
The Indian team departed amid huge cheers, screams of joy and chants of Kohli and India.
Himachal Pradesh has exceeded our expectations. It is a thoroughly striking landscape and its towns, people and infrastructure unfold all around you in a topographic labyrinth.
Although it has been warmer than expected, snow still caps the highest peaks. Home to the exiled Buddhist Tibetan Government – which was invaded and been under Chinese control since the 1950s – the region has a strong Tibetan and Buddhist influence. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple and Monastery and other sacred sites, military bases, Anglican churches from the British era and natural beauties define the area. An extraordinary setting for one of the most highly anticipated Test Matches this century.
In big news today, a replacement has been called in to cover Virat Kohli. Mumbai bastmen Shreyas Iyer will arrive in Himachal on Friday in case Kohli does not recover from a shoulder complaint. Mind games or not it has stimulated anxiety among locals. Surely Kohli will play.
In other news, which no doubt has reached Australia and beyond, the pitch is expected to favour quick bowling. Fast and bouncy is the word and India has also brought in Mohammed Shami who has had success this season on the Dharamsala pitch.
Australia is claiming that all the pressure is on India. But that card no longer seems valid. Before the series Australia were not expected to win anything and the pressure was on India to prove their vast superiority. But the Pune thrashing changed the game. Australia is under pressure because the holy grail of a series victory in India is within its grasp. Both sides are under the pump.
We’ll make our way down to the ground for the first time tomorrow to pick up match tickets and perform a reconnaissance of the area ahead of day one. Probably have a few more of those ‘extra strong’ Kingfishers too!