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RMJ: Being a Champions League megastar

October 11th, 2009 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket, IPL

I know I’m not the first person to observe that India is a cricket ‘tragic’ country but every time I visit here I’m astounded at the part the sport plays in the its narrative. It hits you square in the face, like a Brett Lee bouncer might.

Turn on the TV and every other channel is showing cricket (this morning they showed highlights from a recent IPL game followed by highlights from an India v Australia ODI from 1985 with no apparent connecting theme – apart from cricket) and every other advert sees Virender Sehwag or Yuvraj Singh putting Tom Cruise to shame with their subtle acting skills. Then you open any newspaper and at least three pages are devoted to the game.

Following our net session yesterday alongside the Delhi Daredevils, there appeared three columns in the paper this morning; one describing how the ball seemed to be coming nicely out of Glenn McGrath’s hand; another on how Sehwag looked to be timing it well and the third about how Owais Shah and Piyush Chawla seemed to be having some excellent banter about who had the better bats in their bag. British journalists couldn’t dare even to dream of such column-inch luxury these days.

Within hours of landing in the country to play in the inaugural Champions League T20, my Sussex team-mates and I quickly realised how big a tournament this is. If the business-class flights, courtesy of the tournament’s organiser, Lalit Modi, hadn’t given it away, then the security cavalcade that escorted our bus from airport to hotel might have done. And then we had our first press conference.

In fact it was our second press conference. The first had been at Hove the day before we left. Attendance: nine journalists; one photographer. The second saw at least 100 journalists and a babble of cameramen dying to get an exclusive shot of the stars of English cricket. They soon realised that we didn’t have any stars as such and so crowded around Chawla and Yasir Arafat, leaving the rest of us to twiddle our thumbs and watch as they were bombarded with questions.

While I was looking on I received a text from a good friend of mine at home, asking what I was doing next week and whether I would like to go out for dinner. And this friend is a cricket lover too – his unawareness of my whereabouts just highlighted the divergence in attitudes to this tournament in the two countries.

And then I noticed a couple of the journalists looking my direction, finished with asking Yasir what he likes on his toast in the mornings. They chatted animatedly to each other for a couple of minutes before approaching my table eagerly. Looking closely at my name badge one of them asked:

“So how are you able to combine playing cricket with your commentary and writing?”

I let them down gently by saying that I know I look a lot like my father but sadly I was a mere cricketer and son of the famous man. Completely unperturbed by the mistaken identity he carried on, eyes flashing with excitement:

“A truly great writer and a legend here in India. I have all his books and read everything he writes in the paper. He once gave me a pen, on England’s tour of India in 1986, and I have the photo of him presenting it to me on my mantelpiece still. My favourite writer of all time. Well – him and Simon Barnes.”

By this stage several more people had come to my table, probably also thinking I was CMJ, and once they’d established who I actually was, hiding their disappointment only quite well, each of them asked me the same question in a variety of formats: what was it like playing cricket with such a famous father? And either out of politeness, or actual curiosity, they seemed to be eagerly lapping up my utterly unenlightening replies, for all I know scribbling gobbledigook down on their notepads.

Somehow though I suspect my words may just appear in newsprint somewhere in India over the next few days.

[Editor writes: It did appear, Robin, in the Sunday Times of India. Your father was described as "the authoritative and influential multiple award-winning cricket writer-father Christopher Martin-Jenkins".]

Robin Martin-Jenkins is a Sussex allrounder who writes regularly for The Wisden Cricketer

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