Camp John

    The 25 Indian probables, and a few special invitees, have been working out in Chennai, preparing for the upcoming series against Australia. Faisal Shariff spends a couple of days with the team, and reports on their activities...

    Johnny come lately

    It's a sunny morning at the IIT-Chemplast cricket ground, where the 25 India probables have assembled for pre-tour training. And a very pretty backdrop it is, too -- thick grass on the ground, dense foliage all round.

    Lots of green everywhere -- and, seemingly everywhere all at once, is a certain John Wright, India's national coach.

    This is the first time the national squad is training under Wright in camp-mode. So how are they liking it? You ask around, and you find that the Indian players are too exhausted to spare time, and effort, to form an opinion.

    "I have never felt so exhausted at any previous camp, ever," says a very senior player. And that is perhaps the best comment one can find --considering that it comes from Anil Kumble -- the 26th, unofficial, member of the team. Anil has been going around with his right arm in a sling, where it will stay for another two weeks before he can use it to comb his hair with, or eat, or sign an autograph. "I am tired," he says, "and I am not even doing the drill!"

    The players make their way onto the ground around 9.15 in the morning. Saurav Ganguly is spotted in deep discussion with deputy Rahul Dravid. Shiv Sundar Das is kicking a soccer ball around. And Surinder Singh, the left-arm pace bowler from Punjab, goes around with a smile that says 'Happy to be here'.

    But the lull doesn't last for long.

    By 9.30, John Wright has the 25 probables -- and the 26th man -- assembled in the middle of the ground, for a talking-to. I watch from a distance, but I am not allowed to get close enough to listen. So I pass time thinking back to past coaching camps I have covered -- like the first one, three years ago, at the Brabourne Stadium.

    It was a wierd experience, to be there, to watch professional cricketers behaving like truant schoolboys. Learning cricketing lessons seemed to be low down on the agenda, that time -- the focus was on finding ways and means to hoodwink coach Anshuman Gaekwad and team doctor Ravinder Chaddha. Ajay Jadeja was busy playing to the galleries, skipper Mohammad Azharuddin had taken permission to skip training to deal with "family interests", the other senior players went through the motions when the coach's eye fell on them,and the juniors just hung around, looking bewildered.

    After two days of attending this particular camp at the IIT-Chemplast grounds, I realise that everything has changed.

    Welcome, folks, to Camp John!

    Design: Lynette Menezes

    Make the effort, to heck with the results!