Murali's eyes, pigeons and a memorable final
So after 50 days, 17 flights, 49 matches and 25 Test Match Special ball-by-ball commentaries, my 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup experience is over. Here is the last of my behind the scenes glimpses into life on the road with TMS which I hope you have enjoyed!
Friday 25 March
The day before England's quarter-final against Sri Lanka and Michael Vaughan calls to confirm that he's managed to persuade the most successful bowler of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan, to do an interview with him on the eve of the game. I wait alongside Vaughan in the hotel lobby and when Murali appears Michael shouts out "Here comes the eyes".
Vaughan told me earlier that it was always a nightmare facing the record-breaking spinner not just because of his variations but also the way his eyes pop out at you from the bowling crease. Just before I switch on the microphone, Vaughan admits that this will be the first interview he has ever done... not a bad name for starters. The chat is a fascinating one and Vaughan ends by cheekily saying "all the best on your last match for Sri Lanka tomorrow!"
The interview is played during the South Africa v New Zealand quarter-final which dramatically turns around as the Black Caps somehow complete a remarkable victory. I see Jonathan Agnew who has just arrived in Colombo after a few days at home. "I knew South Africa would stall somewhere in this tournament," says Aggers, "Remember how the rickshaw carrying Graeme Smith broke down during the opening ceremony - they were doomed from then on."
Saturday 26 March
Arrive early at the R Premadasa Stadium to set up the TMS commentary position and to find somewhere for Mark Pougatch to present 5 live Sport from. Today the show is being billed as coming from Cardiff, Colombo and Chiswick with European football, the cricket and the Boat Race. There is a battle for space at the ground and all we can find for Mark and Deepak from the BBC Asian Network is a seat in the media dining room, so their updates are accompanied by plates being scraped, and knives and forks crashing to the ground.
I also have to sort out the TMS rota which is one of the main duties of my day. For this game although we have three commentators in Aggers, CMJ and Sri Lankan Roshan Abeysinghe, we only have one summariser of our own in Michael Vaughan as our resources are spread thinly with four quarter-finals in three countries on successive days. This means I have to go begging to the host TV broadcasters ESPN who are very helpful in lending some of their commentary team. As well as Russel Arnold who played in the last World Cup final, I also approach former England captain and broadcasting veteran Tony Greig. I have to admit I was rather nervous, having never spoken to him before. I have always found him a little intimidating, partly because of his legendary status and partly because he is enormously tall. But Greig is absolutely charming and agrees to help out, although I am very disappointed that at no point does he utter the phrase "Welcome to this Telecast" or "Look at those Sri Lankans in their smart blue uniforms."
It turns out to be not the only disappointment of the day as England's World Cup campaign comes to an ignominous end as the home side register an easy 10-wicket win. Although it was always going to be a tough ask to beat Sri Lanka at home, after the exciting games played so far I wasn't expecting such a limp exit. Before packing away there is an argument brewing with the ICC apparently because our post-match interview with Andrew Strauss lasted too long. I am summoned to a telling off from numerous ICC officials because we spoke to Strauss for four minutes rather than the three we are supposed to do!
Sunday 27 March
England's defeat means that Aggers and Mark Pougatch will be diverted to Mohali for the India v Pakistan match. There are a few concerns as we hear people are being thrown out of their rooms to make way for VIPs and Indian cricket officials, and that others are being removed from booked seats on flights. Aggers' journey doesn't start well as he reports a long delay at Colombo airport - but spirits seem to be lifted when I receive this tweet: "Pougers and I have made a shrewd investment. For $12 we are now members of the Palm Strip Club and can sit in their exclusive lounge..."
Wednesday 30 March
The day of the second semi-final in Mohali. Steve Houghton is the producer for the game today and I discover it is not just the incredible level of security which is a concern for him when he arrives at the ground. Rather than having time to set up the equipment ready for the TMS broadcast I find out that Steve spends most of the morning trying to coax an errant pigeon out of the commentary box. I get a text later from Steve saying "the return of Wendy" (another one for all you Twelfth Man fans). I text back saying that I never had a pigeon problem in our commentary box in Colombo, but that is probably because we were using pigeon nemesis Tony Greig!
The TMS team in Colombo find different ways to follow today's action. Michael Vaughan decides to hit the gym ahead of a charity bike ride he is undertaking soon and he tweets: "To prepare for my cycle in May, I am staying on the bike in the gym until Sachin is out." It doesn't look like this is going to be too much of a hardship at first as the 'Little Master' does not seem in great form and starts to give some chances. But amazingly he keeps getting dropped. This leads to this tweet from Vaughan: "Pakistan fielders clearly feel that I need to sweat for little while longer... (going slowly now)". But the errors keep coming and the tweets from the gym become more and more desperate: "Seriously blowing now... Come on Sachin, save your hundred for the final please." Finally, after at least a couple of hours Vaughan has to admit defeat. "Enough is enough... Sachin has the better of me... underestimated the Little Master... schoolboy error."
Thursday 31 March
Fly from Colombo to Mumbai and decide to employ an old trick to help smooth my way through immigration. At Colombo Airport I cheerfully declare that I hope Murali wins the trophy for Sri Lanka as the man at passport control waves me through. Once in Mumbai, I declare that I am dreaming of a Tendulkar century on Saturday which helps speed up the checking of my luggage by a customs official! On the journey there is plenty of talk about the "team of the tournament" I was asked to pick, especially the selection of Ross Taylor over players like JOnathan Trott and Upul Tharanga. My selectorial confidence is slightly dented when late in the evening Taylor himself tweets me to say he was surprised that he made the team!
Saturday 2 April
There is no doubting how big today is going to be here in Mumbai as I switch on the TV to find almost every channel running a 24-hour build-up to the final, whilst the front page of the Times of India has the headline "A nation holds its breath". Having heard horror stories about the level of security expected at the Wankhede Stadium we leave our hotel at 9am ahead of a 2.30pm start. It is a bit of an adventure getting into the ground but after negotiating several bag checks and disturbingly intrusive body searches we make our way to the TMS commentary box.
Even several hours before the match starts the atmosphere is one of great excitement and it is on days like this I realise just how fortunate I am to be at such a venue for such an occasion. Michael Vaughan arrives having made one Indian taxi driver very happy. Vaughan was determined to help a genuine supporter get into the final and managed to secure a ticket which he handed over to the startled young man as he dropped him outside the ground. Aggers arrives with a cold brewing - but nothing is going to stop him and the rest of the TMS team enjoy this magical day.
The drama starts as the toss is made... well, should have been made... and all sorts of conspiracy theories start to sweep through the media centre as the incident becomes quickly known as "coin gate". Fortunately the excitement of the match overshadows this controversy as first Mahela Jayawardene strokes a beautiful century, applauded unusually by all in the press box. Then Tendulkar is dismissed, ending his dreams of a historic 100th international century on his home ground before India start to recover.
To be honest, while the game is twisting and turning I am busy negotiating with other broadcasters over which expert summarisers will be available when. Ideally I would like a representative of the winning country on air on TMS when the cup is secured - but this is rather difficult when you have no idea which team is going to win. In the end I plump for an Indian victory and organise that 1983 World Cup winner Sunil Gavaskar will be with Aggers at the end. The decision pays off as Mahendra Dhoni provides an amazing climax leaving Sunil very emotional on air: "What a way to win the World Cup, with the Indian captain hitting a six! Look at Sachin Tendulkar out there, he's like a little kid - this was the one medal missing from his collection. This is great for Indian cricket, and for India, as the country has had a few problems over the last few months - hopefully it will bring everyone together."
Flag-waving fans celebrated India's success long into the night
After we pack up at the ground we walk through some amazing scenes of celebration outside the stadium with cars overloaded with delirious fans, hundreds of flags waving and shouts of "India, India". It is a fantastic way to finish what has been an enthralling last seven weeks and even though it is 3.30am before we get back to our hotel - we will never forget today.
Thanks so much for reading through my musings over the tournament and thanks especially to all of you who have listened to TMS over the past 42 days. And the good news is that you only have to wait until 26 May for the next TMS broadcast!