Blog - Nagpur Corps on Parade
A trip to India with several like-minded individuals following Scotland in the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup was the activity of choice in early March 2016. Nagpur deep in Maharashtra state being the location of those three Scotland matches against Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong in Round One on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday 8th/10th/12th respectively.
So who were the Nagpur Corps? Well, there was RECRUIT1 (an Aberdonian and self-appointed Commander-in-Chief for the group), RECRUIT2 (from Aberdeenshire but now living in Cheadle Hulme in Shameless country, being a colleague on previous cricket playing Tours of India in 1987 and Spain 1989 & 1990), RECRUIT3 (a Blue Mogganer by origin but now dwelling in Mauchline, an Honest Man and raconteur extraordinaire) and RECRUIT4 (now based in Dornoch, a Shrewsbury lad and another colleague on that earlier Tour of India). The Nagpur Corps had duly been recruited!
What qualified RECRUIT1 to be the Commander-in-Chief? More than a dozen business visits to Bangalore, Mumbai & Chennai when his bean-counting prowess evolved into being the “voice-coach for helpdesks in India” (ken fit ah mean like?) and that earlier trip in the squad from the Aberdeenshire Cricket Association that took in two ODIs in the 1987 Reliance Cricket World Cup and played nine games against local teams across New Delhi, Jaipur, Bombay (as it was then) & Goa. Having an insight into the idiosyncrasies of Indian life certainly helps smooth the “Passage to India”; RECRUIT1 was in reality no expert but he had indeed had more exposure and thereby more opportunity to learn from earlier mistakes. Could RECRUIT1 live up to that billing? All would be revealed!
The Cricket Scotland squad included four lads of Aberdeen origin including two from RECRUIT1’s club so local interest was there from the outset. Optimism was there too but not overly so as we all know that Scotland can grab defeat from the jaws of victory at every sport. RECRUIT1 had gotten the lug of the Tour Manager of the Cricket Scotland squad for “comp” tickets but the admission prices were relatively low in any case. Roughly £7 for the best tickets in the house for two Twenty20 matches each day or just over £2 for the cheapest tickets.
Recent experience of India meant that RECRUIT1 had slight doubts over whether those “comps” would be accessible as tight security combined with literal thinking that bears no resemblance to the common sense we would recognise has been noted as a speciality of many in authority. So as a backup plan RECRUIT1 opted to go wild prior to travelling and splash out just under a tenner on the official ICC Ticket Website for four tickets for the first day of competitive play. More of this later…
Getting a tourist entry visa for India had been a cumbersome process for that 1987 jaunt and business visas had involved an even more unwieldy process but in 2016 a new approach exists whereby there is a simple online option of applying for an eTourist Visa for $60 of the US variety. Magic indeed as these visas were obtained within a couple of days of application by the individual RECRUITS. These eTourist Visas only allow entry to the major cities in India and Nagpur aint one of those major cities so travel would include hops, skips and jumps.
RECRUIT2 set off first from Manchester with a stop off in Dubai for a few days and arrival in Nagpur via Mumbai on Saturday 5th March. RECRUIT1 set off from Dyce to Heathrow then an overnighter to Mumbai arriving in Nagpur mid-evening on Sunday 6th March. RECRUIT3 set off on Thursday 3rd March from Darkest Ayrshire to Glasgow for a flight to Dubai followed by another to Hyderabad and a train journey (Brave lad!) to Nagpur arriving late evening on 6th March. RECRUIT4 set off by train from Dornoch to Glasgow then flew via Dubai to Mumbai arriving in Nagpur on Monday 7th March. RECRUIT1 had recommended that RECRUITS 2, 3 & 4 contact their hotels to ensure that a “hotel car” was at arrivals to whisk them to their chosen hotels thereby eliminating the standard scrum of drivers outside Indian airport terminals trying to get a fare.
The RECRUITS had set up a Private Group on Facebook for scheming, sharing info and general support and this had been fairly active as rendezvous time approached. Our brave Mauchline RECRUIT had intimated his intention to go to the station in Hyderabad on the Friday to purchase tickets for Sunday’s rail journey eliciting a “helpful response” that the process of obtaining train tickets in India might be more troublesome than that to which he was accustomed. And so it proved as he was shunted from pillar-to-post into queues where he could obtain a chit to entitle him to join another queue to get another chit, etc. resulting in frustration aplenty and a stamping of feeties by RECRUIT3 with a resultant throwing in of the towel… well, he was warned! The next day, with a clear head and having done further homework RECRUIT3 returned and successfully navigated the convoluted process to make the required booking. RECRUIT3 was off and running travelling Second Class on an eleven hour journey in a Sleeping Car.
RECRUIT2 was already ensconced in the bar in the Radisson Blu Hotel when RECRUIT1 checked-in mid-evening Sunday. A few Kingfishers later and it was through the house to partake of a magnificent Chinese Buffet (in central India?). RECRUIT3 had confirmed his arrival in Nagpur and had reached the optimistically named Majestic Manor Hotel which he had just discovered was a “dry hotel”… schoolboy error! RECRUIT4 was due to arrive next morning and head for the Hotel Ashok. The Radisson Blu also turned out to be the chosen residence of a veritable army of ICC drones, the umpires for the First Round of the tournament, TV commentators, several journalists and of the families of several of the Scotland players.
A lazy morning on Monday 7th March for RECRUITS 1, 2 & 3 gave time for RECRUIT4 to get settled into his hotel. Experience accumulated in India led RECRUIT1 to recommend that we get a car from the hotel, skip around the hotels to gather the full Nagpur Corps then proceed to “the stadium” to pick up the tickets RECRUIT1 had ordered online. It all seemed quite straight forward… aye right.
Meanwhile, a perusal of the local paper revealed consternation amongst the riders of two-wheelers. The wearing of helmets has recently become compulsory for these riders (not that many pay much heed to this law) but the VCA has decided not to allow helmets into the stadium “for security reasons” whilst also stating that there would not be storage arrangements at the VCA for helmets. Front page news and continued onto page 2… it all makes the P&J look rather dull. The olde worlde English writing style of Indian journalists has a certain charm.
Driver sorted, fare agreed, troops gathered and we were off to the VCA Stadium Jamtha on the outskirts of Nagpur (in the middle of nowhere) to collect our tickets or so we thought. Driving in India is fairly straight forwards as they drive on the same side of the road as us… or at least most drivers do. Drivers of large vehicles like cement trucks are liable to be found hurtling towards you on the wrong side of a dual-carriageway – let’s just call that a feature of Indian roads. It is rumoured that the application form for an Indian driving test has “Tear Down Dotted Line” printed on it and so long as the learner can tear down the dotted line (in the middle of the road) a “Pass” is guaranteed!
Security was very tight at the VCA Stadium Jamtha. We thought they were rehearsing for the big off the next day. After a few false starts we were sent in the direction of the VCA Members Club only to be greeted by security jobsworths who wouldn’t let us anywhere near said Club and tried in vain to shoo us away. Our persistence eventually gave us a chance to talk to a uniformed chap who could understand us but he gave us unexpected news… aye, the Ticket Collection Point was at the old VCA Stadium in Nagpur city-centre around 18km away. Marvellous but hey hoh not totally out of the ordinary for Indian style logistics; there is a certain charm to the way India functions.
Off we toddled to the old VCA Stadium and hey presto we had briefs for the next day’s play in our sweaty little mitts. What to do next? Could the driver recommend a good eatery? He certainly could and we enjoyed a great feed at the Ashoka Restaurant which had a sign on the door saying open all day but closed at 4pm. Not to worry, our driver was coming back for us at 4.30 so we had a wee explore before being reunited with our car. RECRUIT4 was a tad weary and adjourned to his hotel whilst RECRUITS 1, 2 & 3 opted to avail themselves of the bar facilities at the Radisson Blu which suited RECRUIT3 as his gaff was “dry” remember.
Tuesday 8th March = Matchday One. The Cricket Scotland Team Manager had dropped off “comps” for us so the precautionary purchase had proved unnecessary (albeit sensible). We had fixed it for the same driver to take us to/from the stadium. Radisson Blu to Hotel Ashok to Majestic Manor and we were off towards the stadium. We all wanted to see both the Zimbabwe –v- Hong Kong game which started at 1500 IST (Indian Standard Time) and the Scotland –v- Afghanistan game which had a scheduled 1930 IST start. We were smart enough to arrange for our driver to come back out to the stadium to collect us at 2230 or thereabouts.
The gates for the North Wing had a sign above them saying that they would be open at 1430. Did they buckies! We were standing outside when we heard the National Anthems starting up. Still no movement. Fit’s going on? Eventually at 1455 the gates opened but there was more drama to come. Where to start?
RECRUITS 1, 2 & 4 had been to ODIs in India in 1987 but only RECRUIT1 recollected not being allowed into the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in New Delhi with bottles of water, cameras and rucksacks resulting in auto-rickshaws being commandeered to take such items back to the hotels. Well, well… surprise, surprise we ran into much the same routine in Nagpur in 2016. RECRUIT2 was first in with contraband in the form of tabs and his lighter secreted in his titfa. RECRUIT1 was next minus his bottled water but with a lighter belonging to RECRUIT3 secreted in the instep of his trainers and the flags (including his prized “The Red Final” flag) which a security goon had tried to separate him from stuffed into his sunhat. RECRUITS 3 & 4 contemplated their navels outside (staring wistfully into their rucksacks, trying to figure out what to do) ending with RECRUIT3 grabbing a taxi to/fro his hotel to drop off their rucksacks. RECRUIT4 entered the stadium about 30 minutes after the start of the ZIM-v-HKG match with RECRUIT3 missing the first hour’s play. There were about 500 spectators rattling around inside a 45000 seater stadium as locals turned up expecting to either be able to pay at the gate or buy tickets only to be told to go back 18km into town to get tickets. Once in you were penned into the area your seat was in with no opportunity to circumnavigate the stadium.
The above photo shows the view of the pitch from the £7 seats referenced on the tickets – OK we got them as “comps” for which we were indeed grateful. It would have been like trying to watch cricket through the Brandenburg Gate (OK we know it’s in Berlin nae Nagpur) whilst using one’s imagination to work out what was happening when the ball got beyond the 30 yard circle at the near end and straining our eyes to see replays on a miniscule big screen and read a manually operated small scoreboard at the corner of the East/South stands but… given that the stadium was nearly empty we went down to sit at the front row of our stand. “Free water” was available inside the stadium along with various items of food/drink from hawkers who were wandering around the stand. The water, however, was in sealed plastic bags (see snap below) around the size of a beanbag… these bags being covered on the outside with a film of dust and grime so we were slightly wary of taking on board any nasties which might not agree with Western softies’ guts. Meanwhile Zimbabwe defeated Hong Kong in the first match.
So to Scotland’s first game. The Nagpur Corps appeared on the telly due to RECRUIT3’s huge Saltire flag during the National Anthems that preceded the SCO-v-AFG game. The Afghans batted first and got off to a flyer which we clawed back. Then when we batted we got off to a flyer then it all sort of fizzled out Scotland style and we were still waiting for that first victory in an ICC World Cup proper. Our driver was outside waiting for us as pre-arranged and he duly returned us to town.
Our view from the 4th Floor of the North Wing did, however, allow us to case the joint and work out where the best views would be elsewhere in the stadium… sitting in the Ground Floor of Section F in the East Wing (top left in the photo) would cost 200 rupees (just over £2) and allow us to see the whole playing area, get a clear view of a big screen and a readable scoreboard. A trip to the Ticket Office at the old VCA Stadium was duly factored in for the next day.
RECRUIT1, the RECRUIT with most experience in India, had regaled his fellow RECRUITS with do’s/don’ts including saying “if you ask the wrong question then you’ll probably get the answer you deserve”. So when the bold RECRUIT1 ventured into a bank to replenish his stock of rupees he confidently asked “where’s your ATM?” and was guided to one in the corner complete with a large “Out of Order” sign. Dopey git, he should have asked “Do you have an ATM that is fully functional”! RECRUIT1’s gas was at a peep that day.
RECRUITS 1 & 2 got their driver to collect RECRUIT3 and take them to the Ticket Office in the old VCA Stadium for the purchase of tickets to sit in the cheap seats. When we got there there was a throng of locals at the gate around the corner from that which we had used when we picked up the tickets ordered online but we were ushered in the same gate as the previous day and got right up to the counter. Then there was a noise like the thundering of hooves which prompted us to turn around to see a tidal wave of locals whose names had come up trumps in the ballot for prized IND-v-NZ tickets hurtling towards the counters. The exuberant mob displayed a lack of awareness of the very British concept of queueing but the sharp elbows of RECRUITS 1, 2 & 3 ensured that they emerged unscathed and in possession of a handful of cheap tickets. I say a handful and not one each (i.e. four) as the smokers in the Nagpur Corps (RECRUITS 2 & 3) had encountered challenges at the first round of matches as tickets only allowed one pass-out/return so they bought several £2 tickets each so that they could leave the arena on multiple occasions to have a smoke.
Next stop Chez RECRUIT4 to check up on his wellbeing and (notionally) take the waters in his hotel’s bar. Notionally you ask? “Can we have four Kingfishers please?” “Yes Sir, we are having two bottles”. “Naw, we want four bottles says RECRUIT3 in broad Ayrshire-speak”. “We are only having two bottles Sir”. After several more rounds of verbal ping-pong we abandoned ship and headed off in search of grub. A restaurant by the name of FIONAA (sic) had been recommended so off we toddled with a driver from the Hotel Ashok.
RECRUITS 1, 2 & 3 were dropped off outside FIONAA and got the driver’s number for the later trip back to our respective hotels. We soon established that the restaurant was on the 3rd Floor and RECRUIT3 spotted a shop selling combat-shorts to give him a means of carrying in supplies that would habitually be carried in a rucksack. More of that clothes shop later. Up we climbed and upon reaching the 3rd Floor we encountered two men sitting at a table at the top of the stairs with options to go right or left. Suspicion existed amongst the Nagpur Corps but hey right-turn and we were into a dimly-lit FIONAAs. As we entered staff popped out of every neuk’n’cranny and the lights came on. There was no one else there which often isn’t a great sign in foreign restaurants but we were in so we were there to stay.
“Three Kingfishers please” whilst we perused the menu. The waiter recommended a Mixed Veg Platter to share as a starter and we ordered our respective main courses. The starter was superb and when we eventually got the main courses they were substantial and very tasty. All the while the restaurant had been filling up with locals – now that is a good sign in foreign restaurants. A quick call to the driver from the Hotel Ashok and we were off in the direction of our hotels.
Thursday 8th March = Matchday Two. A change of plan with RECRUIT4 taking an auto-rickshaw out to Hotel Pride for a pre-match refreshment, RECRUIT3 walking there from his hotel and RECRUITS 1 & 2 engaging the driver again from the Radisson Blu for the outbound journey and the return around 2230 IST. A couple of refreshments later, the secretion of ticklers in the brims of the hats of the smoking RECRUITS and we were off to the Ground Floor of Section F in the East Wing. Security invented some new random prohibited items with the smokers encountering and overcoming these different challenges but we were all inside the stadium long before the anthems this time. We’d cracked it… the view was perfect. It was a tad hot down at the front but it was possible to take shelter further back in that section.
The cameras sure homed in on the Nagpur Corps before and during the Scotland –v- Zimbabwe match. In the match itself Zimbabwe had a stodgy start and eventually posted a reasonable total whilst Scotland got off to a poor start and never quite recovered to finish again without that elusive first win in an ICC World Cup proper. FB comments from back home suggested that we had been on TV for longer than the first four Scotland batsmen combined. FB even went into meltdown when commentator Mel Jones mentioned having had a chat with RECRUIT1 (“that chap’s from Aberdeen”) in the foyer of their hotel as several doubters seemed to suggest that the former would have struggled to understand the latter’s accent. Ken ‘is, fit a damned chick min!
Afghanistan then soundly defeated Hong Kong to complete the day’s entertainment. The Nagpur Corps had been quite vocal throughout with encouragement to the Scotland players as they went about their business in soaring temperatures. We were also much more adventurous in what we bought from the food vendors than we had been on the first day. Two tasty pakoras with sauce for 40 rupees being the star buy.
The next morning was spent at leisure with RECRUIT3 being the only one to venture far as he sought to buy a train ticket from Nagpur to Jaipur for his further adventures across India. His earlier experiences in Hyderabad enabled him to navigate the intricate labour-intensive process and emerge with the desired ticket… he’s some man is RECRUIT3; even being called an “expert” by an Indian Railways ticket office wallah.
The usual round of inter-Nagpur Corps PMs on FB led to a decision to rendezvous with RECRUIT3 in an establishment close to FIONAAs for some refreshments. RECRUITS 1 & 2 got a hotel car to take them into town with RECRUIT1 dropping off RECRUIT2 prior to nipping to the old VCA Stadium to purchase tickets for Section F again and RECRUIT4 took an auto-rickshaw for the short hop to the meeting point. After the refreshments we toddled off up the road to the clothes shop referred to above (but below FIONAAs) from which RECRUIT3 had purchased a pair of cargo shorts which were slightly on the tight side. OK, they were so tight that it was impossible to fasten them or to get anything into the pockets. RECRUIT3’s minders spotted a sign saying “No Exchanges, No Garantees (Sic), No Refunds” but their presence provided the menace required whilst RECRUIT3 negotiated the swap of the under-sized shorts for ones that fitted and were made of better quality material. Next up another visit to the trough at FIONAAs for another slap-up meal.
RECRUIT2 had spent a significant amount of time in the “Smoking Room” at the Radisson Blu and made some interesting acquaintances including Gunner Gould who asked if RECRUIT2 knew his pal (famed ex-groundsman) Derek Traill, the father of one of the Hong Kong players of NZ origin who asked if he knew Bob Barnett who of course had been a teammate of RECRUIT2 at Crathie CC and the fathers of several of the Scotland squad but they won’t be named to conceal their dependence on tobacco products. RECRUIT2 also fell in with a mysterious Glaswegian who claimed to be an undercover cop whilst outside the VCA Stadium for a fly puff during Matchday Two and they went off with an Indian doctor for a sneaky beer at a nearby roadside stall.
Saturday 12th March = Matchday Three. The Nagpur Corps now had a routine; foregather in the Hotel Pride for some lunchtime refreshments, toddle out to the stadium and try to work out what new adaptations of the security rules might need to be negotiated and hey presto we were into Section F without any major hitches.
Game one of the day featured the two countries with 100% records and Afghanistan fair trounced a lacklustre Zimbabwe. Game two saw Scotland face Hong Kong and an opportunity to get that elusive first win in an ICC World Cup proper. The Nagpur Corps were universally supportive of the Scotland selectors’ decision to give game-time to squad members who had thus far not taken to the field of play. It wasn’t about “getting shotties”; it was deserved outings for players who had been giving their all in training and had been totally supportive of their colleagues in the earlier matches.
RECRUIT3’s large saltire flag and a series of other flags were tied together and deployed across barriers halfway up the lower level of Section F. There, slap bang in the middle of the line-up of flags was the afore-mentioned “The Red Final” flag. The Nagpur Corps (L>R: RECRUIT3, RECRUIT2, RECRUIT4 & RECRUIT1) featured prominently behind these flags on Sky Sports 2 during the singing of the National Anthems.
Scotland bowled and fielded like demons and kept Hong Kong to a total which we felt was very achievable. That was all fine and dandy until rain decided to pour down out of the darkness. Some Keystone Cops style behaviour from the local groundstaff and some equipment malfunctions led to frustrations as the rain eased then came back again then eased off enough again to allow a reduced-over D/L chase by the Scots. And… that elusive first victory in an ICC World Cup proper was duly achieved!
With that the Nagpur Corps stood down, returned to their respective hotels for an early night prior to heading off the next day on the next stages of their respective adventures. RECRUIT4 stopped off in Mumbai for a few days visiting a former overseas player at Inverurie CC; RECRUIT3 headed off to continue his Indian adventures by train to Jaipur, Agra, Amritsar, the John Cleese choreographed India/Pakistan border dance-off ceremony at Wagah & Delhi; RECRUIT2 was off to Dubai for a pre-season three-dayer between his beloved Lancashire CCC and neighbours Yorkshire CCC and RECRUIT1 reversed his journey back to the “Silver City by the Sea”.
It had been a blast. Ups and downs on the field of play but that win made it all so worthwhile.
RECRUIT1: Alan Barron (Stoneywood CC, Stoneywood-Dyce CC & 1987 Tour Veteran),
RECRUIT2: Steve Brady (Mannofield CC, Dyce CC, Westburn CC, Crathie CC & 1987 Tour Veteran),
RECRUIT3: Stephen Massie (Unattached, raconteur, explorer & Scotland follower par-excellence),
RECRUIT4: Jerry Bishop (Inverurie CC, Ross County CC, NoSCA President & 1987 Tour Veteran).