India v England Cricket Tour 2012
Tour Managers' Reviews
Des' Tour Review
The wonderful world of test cricket and the busy human mass that is India, once again provided us Howzat Travellers with a unique holiday experience and a tour that we will talk about for years.
How can one explain that the aim of the game is to score runs and take wickets and yet, on the last day of the tour, having witnessed four days of the slowest most turgid (some would say boring) cricket you could ever wish to see, we all made our way to the ground in Nagpur with great alacrity and a spring in our steps, hoping not to see any wickets fall and not caring if we saw any runs scored. All this in a country of beautiful architecture, elephants, a constant 32 degree hazy heat and 1.2 billion people, most of whom, it seems, like cricket.
That is the bigger picture which is built by a series of test matches and why fifteen clients spent more than five weeks travelling around India. Those fifteen, who made up The Peacock Tour, saw the highs and lows, thrills and spills (not too many alcoholic ones, luckily) and the other sixty-odd joined us at various points to enjoy their own part of the Indian adventure.
Our first stop was the industrial area of Ahmedabad for the first test match of England’s tour of India, a country where they had not won a test series in 28 years. This test I will call the ‘starter’ because, much like a melon and lemon dish, it had a slightly bitter taste for the England fans; they suffered both a heavy defeat by ten wickets, despite captain Cook making 176 in the second innings, and the fact that they could not buy any bitter, or alcohol of any type for that matter. For Ahmedabad isn’t just a dry state in the sense that it very rarely sees any rain, but also because it is against the law to sell or make alcohol there. Luckily, the Howzat travellers had been forewarned and came armed with plenty of supplies. The non-alcoholic beer served there was actually very nice, or maybe that was the vodka that had been added to it by our intrepid group. The fact we had to mainly meet in someone’s hotel room to have a drink, much like teenagers on a school trip, was actually very good for the camaraderie of the group, as well as our spirit(s). We were certainly more prepared than some Barmy Army fans I met; they didn’t have any alcohol but found out that they could legally obtain it by having themselves declared alcoholics by a doctor. This they had duly done and they had been allowed to go to a warehouse and collect 24 beers, that were covered in cobwebs, or bottle of whiskey for a week’s supply.
The Peacock Tour stayed at The Pride Hotel and I liked to ask them ‘is my pride of peacocks ready’ before cricket each day. The BBC commentators and production team under Adam Mountford were also staying at this hotel, having chosen Howzat Travel to manage their travel arrangements, so we enjoyed the company of the superb Jonathan Agnew and the irrepressible Henry Blofeld. Even more wonderful than Henry was his wife Valeria who joined us for one of the days at the cricket and enjoyed experiencing the passion of our group’s support. Our seats at the ground were well positioned right in front of the England dressing room which allowed us to watch the comings and goings with great interest and have front row seats at the presentation ceremony. While at the ground we were also the stars of Star TV – with Margaret Watton, Rob Buckler and myself and, more importantly, the Howzat Travel banner featuring in a live interview; they say a picture paints a thousand words and I think the picture of our group enjoying the experience certainly did this.
Those clients who had been in Dubai and Abu Dhabi earlier in the year must have thought they had booked for a repeat performance; once again there was no Monty in the team and England were getting resoundingly beaten. The second innings did give the fans some hope and both Cook and Prior were great, however, the Indians must have been convinced they were heading for a 4-0 series win.
As our thoughts were turning to the next test match in Mumbai, there was a very real concern that it might not take place. The funeral of Bal Thackery was taking place and, in true Indian tradition, it was to last a few days and everything in the city was closed down and the possibility of rioting. There was talk that the next two tests might swap over (Kolkata and then Mumbai) and, therefore, throw all our travel plans into chaos.
Luckily for us these concerns were never realised and we proceeded smoothly to Mumbai, The Gateway of India which was also to become a gateway to English victory in the field.
I will describe this second test match as our main course. We were now in the main body of the tour, at a popular and famous venue; the city itself was beautiful with classically grand colonial architecture, the tour to the Elephanta caves was a fantastic trip and the players produced a sumptuous win. It was the equivalent of eating perfectly cooked meat and a complementing wine would have been chosen perfectly by our speaker at the Indigo Restaurant, the brilliant Blowers. We enjoyed a literal meal with high tea at the Taj Palace Hotel and also a visit to the magnificent Temple of the Hanging Gardens where the Parsis sect of people leave their dead to be eaten by vultures thus giving back to nature in return for everything that they have taken from it in their lifetimes.
We had been upgraded from the Trident Hotel to the adjacent Oberoi, and could use both venues’ facilities, so had the wonderful advantage of first class accommodation and two pools overlooking the Arabian Sea. Both these hotels, the Taj and Leopold Restaurant had been blown up in the terrorist atrocities a few years previously and provided a sobering reminder of the tragic past and the thought that maybe all those airport checks were not so irritating after all.
From the hotel we were able to walk to The Wankhede Stadium, round the station, over the bridge, and through the security cordon. The grounds in India were not full, but the noise could be incessant. It wasn’t cheering as such, more screaming every time a player walked towards the boundary; he could be fifty yards away and they would scream and scream. This would stop immediately the player turned his back. When an Indian came out to bat they would go totally mad if he practiced a forward defensive push shot, let alone a full practice swing. There was, however, total silence when the English did well – which they did rather. Another century from Cook, eleven wickets for the recalled Monty and eight for Swann made sure the English evened up the series. But despite all these great efforts, for me, and I am sure for many others too, the main performance was that from Kevin Pietersen; his batting was quite supreme and there are no rules (but lots of boundaries). He is quite simply a genius.
Following on from back to back test matches we took a mini holiday, in the middle of our holiday, to Goa. This was not just a test match tour of India, but also a visit to an Indian Ocean paradise. Many people would dream of such a trip and here it was sandwiched in the middle of our test matches, like a sweet chutney. Our hotel was in the middle of the small village with bars and restaurants serving food and liquor at much reduced prices and some of us hired scooters to explore the area easily as there was hardly any traffic. We were also lucky enough to witness a traditional Indian wedding with the groom arriving on a magnificently decorated horse. We enjoyed a few days staring at the miles of beach, the cute little café-bar shacks, the huge swimming pools, the warm water of the sea , the jet skis and parasailing, as well as fresh food on the beach at a party to celebrate Bob’s birthday, before returning to the hustle and bustle of the tour and Kolkata.
And what a city Kolkata is. It heaves. Our city tour took us to the old colonial centre where the architecture is something to behold; the Governor’s Estate, St John’s Church with sides that can open, huge overhead fans and the memorial to the men that died at the Black Hole of Calcutta, St Paul’s Cathedral, the awesome Victoria Memorial known as the English Taj Mahal and the chaotic flower market displaying a rainbow of colours, all not to be missed.
For cricket fans Eden Gardens is a special treat and something that has to be experienced; it is one of most iconic cricketing venues in the world and we witnessed the England team pull off a tremendous victory. This was the dessert of our tour; a pudding filled with 190 from Cook and wickets from all England’s bowlers – Anderson, Finn, Panesar and Swann.
The final leg of our trip was for the fourth test match in Nagpur. This spread-out city is located exactly in the middle of India – there is a signpost saying ‘Mile Zero’ – and is famous for its oranges. We went on a tour of an Orange Grove out in the countryside and saw oranges squeezed in front of our very eyes which slaked our thirst before a walk into the orchards; here it was explained to us about all the different types of trees. We went for a tour of the estate visiting the Chief’s house returning to a truly tasty freshly home-made meal.
On its own this match it could have been a bore-draw but, as I mentioned earlier, the fact it sealed England’s test series victory meant it was a very special match to be at. We had sampled the starter in Ahmedabad, the main course in Mumbai and the dessert in Kolkata and this was like we had gorged ourselves so well on food and drink that the spread and entertainment on offer was intensely satisfying to us; the company was great and our team won. The supposedly dull cricket didn’t take away from our enjoyment and we found every one of those dot balls immensely exciting, the climax building for a magnificent England victory.
Our farewell dinner was held, al fresco, at the local colonial club of Gondwana where Jonathan Agnew entertained and regaled us in his usual inimitable fashion, except this time from under a tree.
Our group had experienced so much in such a short time and our shared adventures, sporting, cultural, historical and geographical, allowed us to mingle and enjoy each other’s company. The two smallest members of our party participated with particular enthusiasm, Holly and Harry managed to capture the feel of touring and hopefully will have caught the fever like the rest of us and have many more tours ahead of them.
If you wish to read about more of Des' travel experiences, you should check out his book 'Sporting Travels of a Karoo Son'.
"A great read. It took me right back to my growing up years, working alongside and playing cricket and rugby against Des, so real. It then took me on a tour to some of the countries I played in and showed me that while us players are out in the middle we are only a part of the action as other stories are unfolding all around the game." Allan Lamb
You can buy it here -
Laurence & Helen's Tour Review
Helen and I realised a lifelong ambition by travelling to India with Howzat last November. However nothing prepared us for the culture shock we experienced on arrival in Mumbai. We came from freezing dreary conditions in Gloucestershire, to the maelstrom of heat, noise, traffic and a seemingly countless population. From the airport, the road followed the Indian ocean around the bays, past huge slum dwellings, through the heart of old Bombay to our first hotel, the magnificent Oberoi.
The following day we welcomed our guests and were soon embarking on our first excursion. This took us through the “Gateway of India” and then by motor launch out to the Elephanta Caves. Here I got my first taste of what it must have been like to be a Maharajah as I was transported up the countless steep steps in a huge sedan chair on the shoulders of four incredibly powerful but extremely spindly locals. On our return to the mainland we were escorted on a city sightseeing tour taking in the Victoria Terminus, the bustling flower and vegetable markets and the Hanging Gardens of Bombay.
In the evening we hosted a welcome drinks reception in the Oberoi and joined forces with Des Newton’s advance band of intrepid stalwarts, who had been in Ahmedabad for the ill-fated first test.
After several exhausting scouting missions by Helen and Des, Friday the 23rd. found us making our way to the Wankhede Stadium by various means and ways to witness the first day of the second test, and the incredible sight of the devotion of the Indian population to their cricketing demi-gods.
Their desire to see them beat the might of England was thwarted though, by a wonderful performance from our boys which took us to a great, if somewhat unexpected victory.
During the test one pleasant evening we were entertained by the inimitable Henry Blofeld under the stars on a candlelit terrace. Des M.C’d the evening with his usual aplomb and Helen presented our honeymooners, Pete and Gill with an autographed card from the group. Many of the group then moved on to Leopolds where we shared a beer tower or two and met up with a couple of past and present England cricketers.
Helen helped Diane Sutton to celebrate her birthday in style at the “Taj Palace Hotel” by having a posh afternoon tea with many of the group, following another successful city tour.
We spent the final afternoon in Mumbai with a visit to Kotachiwadi, a Heritage village in the heart of the old city, where we enjoyed delicious home-made cakes and biscuits, experiencing old Mumbai.
The group then split with some going with Des for sea, sand, “R & R” and the delights of Goa, whilst the rest of the party made for the more cultural tour of the Golden Triangle.
After landing in the beautiful Pink City of Jaipur we made camp for the night at the Trident Hotel, before embarking on an early morning Elephant ride to the top of the Amber Fort and the surrounding countryside. We witnessed some amazing displays of carpet weaving, block textile printing and the incredibly skilled art of inlaying marble with semi-precious stones. Lots of our merry little band came away with souvenirs they didn’t even know they needed at the start of the day.
Friday dawned and we were on our way again. This time by coach through some wonderful Rajasthan countryside to the wondrous Samode Palace hotel; a former home of one of the areas fabulously wealthy Maharajahs, complete with labyrinthine passages, swimming pools and its very own hall of mirrors. Helen was so taken with all this, that by the end of our short stay here, she had given all of our guests their own private tour. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
Back on the coach on Saturday morning for another slice of rural India on our way to the ancient city of Agra. Particularly memorable for me, were the endless thousands of Camels, forming road trains migrating across the country. Strange, we don’t seem to get many Camels on English motorways these days!
Sunday 2nd December. No matter what anybody tells you or how many photos or films you have seen of it, nothing prepares you for your first sight of the Taj Mahal. It is definitely the top of the “WOW” factor list. The Emperor Shah Jahan took 22 years to build it (with a little bit of help from 3000 artisans) in honour of his wife, Mumtaz. She must have been some kind of lady!
Monday-another day, another Delhi. More wonderful sights to see, the Tower of Victory, the Red Fort, the President’s house, but for me and several others the highlight were the death-defying cycle rickshaw rides. The tour guide says you will be taken through the ancient city of Shahjahanabad, where “time has virtually stood still for hundreds of years” Well the cycle rickshaws certainly don’t. What an experience, with the drivers ranging from 14 to 85 years old, pedalling furiously through impossible gaps in narrow lanes, narrowly missing other delivery men with precariously piled mountains of fruit, vegetables, cardboard boxes and every other commodity, bells tinkling incessantly, and yelling colourful profanities at anyone who dares impede their progress.
After this furious activity it was time for refreshment and more peaceful pursuits and the city tour was completed at a more leisurely pace.
Tuesday 4th December brought another flight transfer, this time to Kolkata and back to the main event, the Cricket. We teamed back up with the Goan revellers and the newly arrived David Stewart with his Eden & Tiger tourists. Kolkata is an incredible sprawl and therefore we were some way out of the old city in our accommodation, the Swissotel in Neotia Vista. After a tentative start the modernist style hotel proved excellent, with Marco Saxer, the General Manager and his multinational staff providing for our every need.
The coach transfers to the match each day gave us the opportunity to regale one another with our exploits from the previous week, and to fill in the daily “Guesser” to anticipate the outcome of the third test. Helen and Olivia triumphed with some unlikely forecasts, prompting me to put my foot in it, by suggesting the fairer sex’s knowledge of the game had nothing to do with the outcome. I was gently, but, suitably upbraided by Olivia when she informed me that not only had her Great Grandfather and Uncle played for England at cricket, her brother’s godfather was none other than E.W.Swanton. Lesson learnt!
Some great performances by the Skipper and the rest of the top order together with Panesar and Anderson ensured another thrilling victory at Eden gardens to give England a two-one lead in the series, and everything to play for in Nagpur.
Meanwhile as off-field activities progressed, the glittering Sapphires held their farewell bash in the form of a barbecue at the Swissotel, with an amazing variety of Indian and international dishes, and supplemented by an entertaining hour in the company of cricketing journalist and aficionado, Stephen Brenkley. He answered many questions at length with refreshing insight and a delightful sense of humour.
Once again the city tour proved to be very popular, such that we did it twice to accommodate everyone. The highlights were the Victoria memorial, the flower market, the like of which I have never seen anywhere else in the world before, the boat ride on the Hooghly river, and for Mick Cooke at least, an almost coma-inducing walk of pure pleasure around the Howrah railway station.
With the Sapphire Tour drawing to a close, we said farewell to the dedicated Peacocks who with the Eden and Tiger tourists were heading for the final test in Nagpur.
In conclusion, another extremely successful tour, not only for the England cricket team, but for the great band of “Howzatters” who Helen and I were privileged to accompany. We thank them all most sincerely and look forward to seeing them all again on future tours, but for now, bring on New Zealand. Helen and Laurence.
Laurence & Helen Brown