Insect bites and missing luggage
Into my third week at the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup - and from Bangalore to Chennai to Chittagong... sometimes with luggage!
Thursday 3 March
The morning after the night before! Producer Steve Houghton makes his way to the Ireland team hotel in Bangalore to try to coax hungover Irish heroes onto the radio after the remarkable victory over England. Record-breaking Kevin O'Brien agrees to appear on 5 live Breakfast and the Radio 4 Today programme. Although he says he has no intention of following the likes of Eoin Morgan in trying to play for England, he does fancy getting a contract to play in the Indian Premier League.
The rest of the TMS team has the rather unenviable task of travelling to Chennai with the defeated England side. Journeys like these are always rather tricky as you are not quite sure what to say to players after a dramatic defeat like that. Graeme Swann is selected as the official team spokesman at the airport and starts by taking the mickey out of myself and Aggers for our choice of pastel-coloured polo shirts. "You look like a pair of children's TV presenters," he jokes before going on the offensive. "All those former players in the commentary boxes forget they used to make the mistakes on the field that we did last night," he says.
Overall, the mood on our short flight east is pretty good and the journey goes to plan with the plane on time and luggage in tow. Word reaches us as we travel in a minibus from the airport to our hotel that Pakistan are struggling in their match against Canada in Colombo. Surely not another World Cup shock on the cards?
We are all anxious to catch up with the action when we arrive at the hotel and we gather in the bar to see the conclusion to the match. The room is decorated with the flags of the 14 competing teams and the hotel staff are all decked out in cricket gear. There is a big screen in the corner and a huge poster alongside urging everyone to enjoy all the World Cup action in the hotel. But Aggers notices that the match being shown is actually an old one involving Pakistan. Ironically, Salman Butt is batting.
This may be an official ICC World Cup hotel but guests are unable to watch the matches because the subscription fee has not been paid! Instead, the choice of entertainment is either a restaurant with an out-of-tune saxophonist or a bar playing the greatest hits of the Bellamy Brothers on a continual loop. Well, I say the greatest hits... When I hear the words "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?" for the eighth time, I retreat to my room in protest.
Friday 4 March
Set-up day at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The last time we were here was for the remarkable India v England Test match that took place a few days after the Mumbai terror attacks. Graeme Swann took two wickets in his first over in Test cricket, Andrew Strauss scored centuries in both innings to put England in a strong position before Virender Sehwag and Mumbai-born Sachin Tendulkar led India to a huge victory total.
England beat South Africa in Chennai
The ground is almost unrecognisable from 2008 following an amazing amount of redevelopment in time for the World Cup. There are new umbrella-style covers on top of the seating areas reminiscent of the Mound Stand at Lord's, while the media facilities have been revamped. A certain amount of last-minute drilling is taking place in the TMS commentary box but I am thrilled that our broadcast lines have been fitted and work first time.
While things are going relatively smoothly in Chennai, I find out that one of our other producers, Tim Peach, is battling against the odds in Dhaka to get commentary of Bangladesh v West Indies on air. This is the first time Tim has been on a cricket tour and everything had worked perfectly at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium for days. But on the morning of the actual match, all the broadcast lines fail. It adds to a growing tale of woe. Commentators Simon Hughes and Simon Mann suffer a nightmare journey to Dhaka the day before the game, delayed at a mosquito-ridden Kolkata airport for nearly 10 hours.
Tim manages to find a way of broadcasting just as the first delivery of the match is about to be bowled, gathering the commentary team around a laptop. But having gone to all that trouble, the match is over in less than three hours. Tim and the team do a remarkable job to get the commentary on air but I receive a forlorn-sounding text from Tim later that night. It read: "Quite a day. Now computer broken, phone broken and voice broken. Have to get up in two hours to fly to Colombo."
Saturday 5 March
The day before England's match against South Africa in Chennai and I get to the ground early because our reporter, Alison Mitchell, is unwell and I have some press conferences to cover. Firstly, International Cricket Council chief executive Haroon Lorgat responds to the incident in Dhaka, where stones were thrown at the West Indies team bus. We had learned about the incident as it happened, thanks to some fairly colourful tweets from Windies batsman Chris Gayle.
Then it is the turn of South Africa captain Graeme Smith to address the media. The highlight is the moment a journalist's mobiles goes off - the ringtone is a loud sheep noise. I go to our commentary box to send the interviews... only to find that the broadcast lines that were working perfectly yesterday are now as dead as a dodo. I spend the next six hours getting them working again.
Back at the hotel, I get a text from Tim Peach, who has made the long trek from Dhaka to Sri Lanka. "Arrived in Colombo. Luggage missing. Voice missing and it is raining. Going to spend the evening counting the insect bites on my legs." A couple of hours later, my phone beeps again. It's another text from Tim: "74 bites on my left leg... 39 on the right."
Sunday 6 March
Arrive at the stadium at 7am to get things ready for the commentary team ahead of a 9.30 start. We record the toss interviews shortly before going on air. Host Nasser Hussain remembers the first name of the South African captain... something he failed to do when he came across Graeme Smith as England captain. Then we watch in disbelief as England lose two wickets in the first over of the match. England stutter to 171 all out, a total that looks woefully short as South Africa stroll to 63 without loss in 15 overs.
It looks like we are in for a fairly low-key match. In fact, the only real drama takes place at the back of the TMS commentary box, where a large number of angry-looking officials have gathered. Like a naughty school child, I am summoned by the angriest of these officials, who starts to shout at me. At first, I don't have any idea what the problem is but eventually work out that he is upset because of two bottles of water that have been brought to the ground from our hotel by Vic Marks and our cricket organiser, Shilpa Patel. The water, I am told, is not the official brand recognised by the ICC and, much worse, is apparently manufactured by a rival organisation to one of the ICC's main sponsors. Having offered huge apologies and thrown the offending items into the bin, we just about avoid being removed from the ground. The ICC are rightly concerned about the threat of ambush marketing but to make such a fuss about two bottles innocently brought to the ground seems a little extreme.
Suddenly there is some excitement out in the middle as England start to fight back, reducing South Africa from 124-3 to 127-7. Unbelievably, England pull off a six-run victory and have now been involved in the four best matches in the tournament. After the match, Sir Geoffrey is in excellent form on the TMS podcast. On struggling South Africa batsman JP Duminy, he remarks: "His footwork is all over the place... I've seen giraffes crouching down at water holes show better footwork than he did today."
Monday 7 March
Not sure I get any sleep as my alarm goes off at the unearthly hour of 5am ready for our journey from Chennai to Chittagong. I also realise that my phone is full of messages about a rumour that Kevin Pietersen is flying home because of a hernia injury. Fortunately, I know the England team are also getting an early flight, so, as I carry out some last-minute packing, I make an urgent call to the team media manager, who tells me that an announcement will be made in the next hour or so. Confirmation that KP is out of the World Cup comes via a text message from the ECB just as I put my luggage through the X-ray machine at Chennai airport.
Alison transmits Aggers' voice piece back from Chennai airport
I manage to call the office and get the news out on Twitter before putting my phone through the security checks. Then there is a mad rush to file a report to BBC Radio 5 live as I attempt to get on a plane. While I argue over excess baggage charges at check-in, Aggers is writing a 30-second voicepiece on his laptop. After clearing security, he tries desperately to find a quiet corner to record his report into a small tape machine. He has to find a rare 30-second gap between airport announcements and just manages to get the last word in before the next "bing bong".
Meanwhile, Alison Mitchell is firing up her laptop ready to send the Aggers voicepiece online. We are called onto the bus waiting to take us to our plane but Alison is not giving up. She continues to try to send the piece, balancing the laptop on a seat. Only 75% of the file downloads, so Alison crouches down on the tarmac by the plane in an effort to get the final part through. Just as the cabin assistant shouts that final passengers have to board the flight, the download is completed and the report is on the radio less than five minutes later. It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with technology these days. We change flights at Kolkata airport and Aggers manages to grab a word with England coach Andy Flower. That interview is also sent on the laptop, while Aggers chats live to 5 live Breakfast, standing in the check-in queue.
More drama follows. Because we are taking a small plane to Chittagong, we are told that all the baggage cannot fit on the plane and a heated debate begins about whose luggage is more important. I decide to sacrifice my cases on the condition that I am given assurances they will arrive at my hotel in Chittagong later that evening. As I wave goodbye to my bags, all I can hear in my head is the Three Degrees singing: "When will I see you again?". At 2am, I am pacing around my room in Chittagong like an expectant father still waiting for my bags - and the thought strikes me that I may have to borrow a pair of underpants from Aggers. Fortunately for me - and for Aggers - I am eventually reunited with my own boxer shorts.
There is also an added benefit to staying up late. I discover that Test Match Special has been named Radio Programme of the Year at the Sports Journalists' Association Awards. This is a real honour, especially as we were up against such excellent programmes as 5 live Sport and the brilliant commentary of the Ryder Cup.
Tuesday 8 March
We are staying at the same hotel as both the England and Bangladesh teams. Security in and around the hotel is very tight. It is not just the cricketers who have armed guards, there are several soldiers in the corridor where the TMS team are located. It is rather odd exchanging pleasantries each morning with a man wielding a Kalashnikov rifle.
Today, one of the heroes from Sunday's Chennai victory, Stuart Broad, is nominated for media duties at a press conference at the hotel. With Broad running more than an hour late, we find out that he has suffered a side injury. Later that day, he becomes the second England player to be ruled out of the World Cup in successive days. It is a real blow to Broad, a player we got to know well when he joined the TMS commentary team in Perth during the Ashes series.
Wednesday 9 March
Set-up day at the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium ahead of the Bangladesh v England match. The journey to the ground, located 20 minutes or so outside the centre of Chittagong, is always enjoyable. Brightly coloured rickshaws and an amazing array of market stalls populate the route. Chittagong houses one of the largest ship-breaking yards in the world - a graveyard for huge vessels. Thousands of dismantled bits of boat are sold at stalls across the city. Nothing goes to waste, from doorknobs to toilets. Even the last drops of oil from a tanker's hold are drained and resold.
When I arrive at the stadium, I am again amazed at the extensive redevelopment work. There are new stands and a completely revamped media centre. Although the work to the ground is very impressive, it is a shame we no longer get as good a view of the surroundings as we did when England toured here last year. Then, we could see mountains, animals and even the beach from our commentary box. I get back from the ground in time to see Simon Hughes on local TV. Simon is no shrinking violet but tonight has met his match. He is on the panel alongside the legendary Navjot Singh Sidhu, famous for his "Sidhuisms" like: "Statistics are like miniskirts - they reveal more than what they hide."
Just about to go to bed when I receive an e-mail from Rachael Boycott, Geoff's long-suffering wife. After hearing about Test Match Special's award on Monday night, I sent an e-mail notifying the rest of the TMS team. But Boycott "doesn't do e-mail" so I had e-mailed Rachael instead. This is what she sent back: "Dear Adam. Congratulations. I have read the e-mail out to GB over the phone and he says to tell you 'Thank You' and well done to you too. He has always known he was brilliant! xxx Rachael."