Saturday, March 7, 2009

Far away from security fears, Indian players roam free in NZ

Test series against England, Zaheer Khan had got into an argument with police officials outside the team hotel in Chennai. The Indian paceman had snapped when his friend and former international bowler, T Kumaran, was stopped at the first checkpoint of the multi-layered security cordon. Later, during the Mohali Test, Yuvraj Singh was pulled up for driving in his hometown without an official escort. While the security debate again rages in India as the IPL nears, down here in New Zealand, the only barrier between the Indian cricketers and the outside world is the automated door of the team hotel.Some sign of security personnel is visible only when the team moves out together in the bus-one or two unarmed man from a private security company, who usually end up organising the queue of autograph hunters at the nets. So used to elaborate police cover back home and in most other countries they visit, the Indian players are making the most of their window of opportunity in this calm corner of the world.Sachin Tendulkar can afford to sit in a roadside cafe near the Wellington city centre, Irfan Pathan can shout to his brother Yusuf from across the street to ask for his fruit juice of choice, and Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir can have lunch together at a crowded food court above the Christchurch bus terminal. The manager of the Indian team, Niranjan Shah, says that unlike most other tours, there are not many dos and don'ts on this trip."It's a different scenario when we're at home. Everybody has security guards provided by the police or the government. Here we don't need much security. New Zealand is a good country to visit-there is very little crime here. Even at airports, nobody disturbs us and we can move around freely," Virender Sehwag told The Sunday Express.Though airports here give almost total access even to non-travellers, there is no fuss when international cricketers are in the midst of the general public. As the first boarding announcement was made in Wellington, for instance, the players gingerly got up from a table next to a coffee kiosk to head towards the designated gate. Munaf Patel and Gautam Gambhir decided to stray away for a few minutes, checking out sunglasses at a nearby counter, while Zaheer decided to pick up a few CDs from the music shop next door. Fans occasionally asked for pictures or autographs, and the players happily obliged.On Saturday afternoon, Suresh Raina sauntered out of the Christchurch hotel at the sun-basked Cathedral square to have a look around. "This is so relaxing, being able to walk on the streets without any problems. It helps us get into a better frame of mind for matches and it's good for bonding with teammates. The other day, we all went to Nando's, and the team and had a really good time. In India, doing these things is tough because there is so much emphasis on security," he said.Expat Indians cricket fans also have it easy. At a net session at Basin Reserve in Wellington, Ganeshram Sridharan, who claims he's Tendulkar's biggest fan, managed to get an autograph from the batsman on his shoulder for a tattoo. "Anywhere else, it may not have been possible. On the first day that Sachin was here, I asked him to sign on my shoulder with a marker pen. The next day, I got it tattooed. At the second net session, Sachin asked me if I'd got the tattoo done, and he posed for pictures with me," Ganesh said.

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