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India savour Caribbean calm
March 09, 2007 11:38 IST
The Indian cricket team are savouring an unusually calm build-up for the World Cup in West Indies, untouched by the fever pitch that surrounds them at home.
Their fortnight-long stay in the Jamaican tourist hub of Montego Bay is almost like top athletes retiring to the serenity of hills for altitude training before plunging into a busy season.
There are no fans around practice venues or hotels harassing them for autographs or photos. This has allowed the Indian players, celebrities back home, to mingle freely with hundreds of foreign tourists in their beach resort.
This week, Sachin Tendulkar did something which would have caused a mini stampede at home.
The premier batsman, India's biggest sporting icon, was about to board the team bus after practice in Discovery Bay when he saw a group of young Jamaican fans waving.
"Hey maan, Tendulka", they shouted and he walked up to them smiling, punching fists with each one of them. One fan rushed in to join the group and Tendulkar waited to do the routine with him.
In India, security personnel grapple to keep overzealous fans away from the players, who are treated like the stars in the nation's Bollywood film industry.
Captain Rahul Dravid has said he enjoyed the calm in the Caribbean before hundreds of fans descend to cheer them when they start their group matches in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on March 17.
On Wednesday, batsman Yuvraj Singh relaxed on the lawns of the team hotel while speaking to journalists, enjoying the calm before the storm.
"In India, if we were doing such an interview there will be thousand people standing behind," he said.
"Sometimes it is good for your mental peace that there are not too many people bothering you.
"It is a nice place to hang around," he said. "Come to the beach, go to the pool, restaurants. The weather is really nice and the boys are enjoying it."
A day earlier, only a few dozen spectators watched India outplay Netherlands in a warm-up game at Trelawny stadium.
However, cricket fever has gripped India for weeks, in the game's commercial hub.
Newspapers and television have provided saturated coverage. Indian players enjoy commercial endorsements worth millions of dollars and companies have launched several new advertisement campaigns featuring them.
The tiny Indian community in Montego Bay benefited from the changed atmosphere in Jamaica last week with some of the players at their beach party to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of colours.
Wicketkeeper Mahendra Dhoni and paceman Shanthakumaran Sreesanth danced with them to leave them purring.
"I was playing music at the party but I got married only last year and my wife was very excited to meet them," said Vijay Sadarangani, who runs a merchandising store in Montego Bay.
"I've been here for 15 years but she has just come and all her life she could not do such a thing in India.
"In India, their celebrity image has stuck," he told Reuters. "It makes us proud they were so down to earth."
Jeetendra Jetley, a restaurant owner in his 30s who came to Jamaica from Pune 12 years ago, felt the same.
"They were very happy," he said. "Everyone wanted to take pictures with them but nobody was pushing them around.
"People understand, they didn't bother them when they are busy or eating.
The quiet will be shattered before long.
India play hosts West Indies in a high-profile warm-up game on Friday and then move to Port-of-Spain, which has a sizeable expatriate population with more expected from the U.S.
Then it would be back to the barricades.
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