Chittagong: a week in the ‘gong

Thursday:

Most journalists have travelled from Dhaka to Chittagong by train- a seven-hour journey (£2.90, first-class) through Bangladesh’s scrub plains and paddy fields. On the way, apparently, The Sun causes a near riot at a station after attempting to buy a bag of oranges. The oranges cost 50 taka (about 40p) but in a moment of uncalled for generosity, The Sun offers 500 taka. This causes consternation and the orange seller looks deeply offended and refuses the money. Is he a regular reader, I wonder?

Kevin Pietersen is in a poor trot and the day before the third one-day international he practises furiously. As the formal practice ends, he remains in the nets batting against a posse of local bowlers, none aged more than twenty. A lovely ten minutes follows: Pietersen engages with them fully, asking them what fields they would have and they set him a stiff target to chase. He hits some massive sixes but just fails in his task which brings great joy to the bowlers. At the end, he shakes their hands, signs autographs and poses for photos. Pietersen has been the subject of many unflattering portraits in England, but I have always found him to be unfailingly polite and respectful and well-mannered.

Friday: 3rd One-day International

The host broadcaster is stretched to the limit because of cricket that is happening concurrently in India and so they are using some cameramen here who would not normally cover cricket. During the first one-day international, our director called for a shot from one, only to find that the cameraman was absent from his post. Another, camera 13, was sacked summarily after the second match for incompetence. Now we hear that camera 13 has been given a reprieve and before the match he went to chat to the director about his troubles. ‘I am fifth generation photo wallah,’ he says, and thrusts a business card the director’s way. The card reveals that he is a 33rd Emmy winner, but when quizzed about this remarkable achievement he admits that it was printed from the internet.

The National Selector, Geoff Miller, watches the match from the television gantry, where he engages in some banter with The Times and The Telegraph. After surprise is expressed about the decent standard of the Peninsula hotel here, a Monty Pythonesque sketch ensues, where instead of Northern businessmen competing with each other about their exaggerated childhood deprivations (an outside loo! Luxury!), we reminisce about sub-continental horrors of the past. Miller trumps everyone with a story about the Sarjeez hotel in Hyderabad where he once roomed with Ian Botham and John Lever. After unloading their bags, they noticed a gulley running the length of their room covered with wire meshing. As they were wondering what it could be for, a flushing sound was heard from above and seconds later the waste came rushing through. Modern touring: luxury, indeed.

Saturday:

To the Firingee bazaar, riverside. A posse of street urchins latch onto us, bags filled with street-side scraps slung over their shoulders, their Fagin waiting lazily, no doubt, for their return. Deep inside the maze of old Chittagong, we are surrounded by friendly, smiling people who reflect the face of moderate rather than fundamentalist Islam. I’d feel far more threatened walking around Leeds or Nottingham or Manchester at night.

Sunday: 1st day v Bangladesh ‘A’

A long chat with Richard Halsall, England’s fielding coach makes me realise (again) how far the game has moved on since I played. In a televised match, every aspect of a fielder’s performance is now logged. He has statistics at the push of a button for catching, clean stops, diving stops, aggressive throws, run-saving opportunities taken and direct hits from throws. In the Twenty20 match against Pakistan recently, his statistics tell him that England saved six runs in the field whilst Pakistan gave away four- a net gain of ten runs. More than that, he can compare England’s stats against fielders from every other country. Apparently, no-one else has this software. Ground-breaking stuff.

There is no doubt that England’s fielding is more aggressive, more physical than it was and that the players are fitter (in a physical sense) and more athletic than before. But it is not so much what the stats show that interests me but that the players know their every action in the field is being recorded. This is a remarkably good motivating tool. Sportsmen are naturally competitive animals, and no-one will want to lag behind in an area that previously, unlike batting and bowling, was hard to measure.

As we are talking, Graeme Swann is nearby, tending to twelfth man duties, iPod docked and Morrissey’s ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,’ playing. Can a song have ever less reflected the man listening to it?

Monday: 2nd day v Bangladesh ‘A’

That Pietersen is worried about his problems against left-arm spin is clear from watching his furious net practice at the end of the second day’s play. He is working on a couple of adjustments: normally, his initial ‘trigger’ movement (that is the movement prior to the ball’s release) takes him across the crease, so that his head is outside the line of the ball, making him more vulnerable to lbws. Now, he is trying to stand stiller, to make sure his movements take him down, rather than across the pitch. He should also remember what a fine player he is, and that he is at his best when he follows his inclination to attack. Maybe he should envisage Peter Moores’ face on each ball that is sent down. Afterwards Geoff Miller says to Pietersen: ‘don’t worry, you’ll come good.’ ‘I know I will,’ says KP, ‘and when I do, someone’s going to pay.’ They will, too.

Tuesday: 3rd day v Bangladesh ‘A’

England engage in some filthy declaration bowling just before lunch. With the scoreboard spinning faster than a roulette wheel, confusion reigns, as the press box scorer, an amiable fellow who refers to sixes as ‘over-fours’, struggles to keep up. With fours and sixes marked in red ink, his formerly neat and tidy book morphs into a giant splodge of red.

The Editor of The Sun, no less, is intrigued by the news that the rock hard beds at the Peninsula hotel have caused Stuart Broad’s back to seize up. He demands that his man on the spot pose for a photo on one. England, understandably, refuse to play ball with this request and since I am the only print journalist staying at the team hotel, The Sun sheepishly asks if he can come to my room and use my bed. It’s the best offer I’ll get in Chittagong.

The Chittagong Club reveals that even in these far-flung corners of former Empire, British customs die hard. Waiters buzz around in bow-ties and natty red waist-coats and patrons are reminded that a jacket and tie must be worn in the bar on Thursdays after 7 p.m. There is wine in the restaurant, though, which is why we are here. After a week without, The Telegraph (normally a stickler for wine) sniffs with satisfaction at a rather thin Australian merlot as if he was shoving his snout inside the barrel of a first growth.

Wednesday:

Alastair Cook brings his own chair to the press conference which takes place on the outfield, since, as he says, he’s damn well sure no journalist will give up theirs for him. He has become noticeably more assured in his role throughout this tour, and speaks more confidently than before, not afraid to crack a funny or two. No, he says, he’s not going to be England’s second spinner on Friday, since he didn’t feel he landed them well enough during the practice (match figures 5-0-111-0). He shares one thing in common with Andrew Strauss, though: he gives little of importance away. Tomorrow, lucky fellow, he will become the 79th man to lead out England in Tests.