World Cup diary: Of curry trails and Tendulkar tales in England
Sachin Tendulkar watches on as India's league match against Leicestershire is washed out during the 1999 World Cup. (AFP Image)

LONDON: Pakistan vs England, Trent Bridge’s second World Cup game. Entry was denied since the media accreditation for the match was unsuccessful. Still, I pushed my luck, trying at every media gate, hoping one of the guards will miss the big RED CROSS – X which appears on the screen of the accreditation scanner.

*BUZZER* Wrong. “Sorry, it says you can’t get through. I’m afraid I can’t let you in,” the guard at the last gate I try tells me. That’s it. There’s no space in the overflow zone either. A fellow journalist tells me he’ll try convincing the ICC representative of the venue. The call never came, the match was underway.

It had been two hours of walking without a purpose. Just outside the Trent Bridge cricket ground, are six restaurants lined up – a few serving Indian food. Among them is Delhi Nights, which carries a tag Authentic Indian food (brownie points to it uniqueness). As I pass by, the place reeks of butter chicken, or something similar. Dropping by isn’t a bad idea.

Inside the restaurant, the song Tu Hi Haqeeqat from Tum Mile is being played quite loud. As good as the song is, it’s been 10 years since the movie released. I had the lyrics memorised I used to listen to it so frequently back in college. But it had been a while and I did not need anything reminding me of Noida, at least not in Nottingham.

“Are there no new Indian songs,” I ask gently. A woman near the bar answers: “Not sure how or where the music operates from. I’ll call someone.”

Two minutes later, a burly dude walks in, quite intimidating. His first look reminded me of The Undertaker’s WWE debut, when on commentary, Gorilla Monsoon’s hilariously said: “I don’t think he has a lot of friends.” Those words were going through my head, but as soon as he said his first lines, I questioned my first impression: “You want to hear something else? Sure, you have any preference?” he says. “Something that is a bit more recent,” I reply. “No problem…” He goes back inside and few minutes later it feels like 2019.

Rahim Karim is a Notts guy through and through and manager of Delhi Nights. The place just opened about a month back so it’s gaining pace. He couldn’t have hoped for a time to launch the place better than the World Cup. Since there is a considerable amount of Indian and Pakistani population in Nottingham, on match days, the restaurant does quite well. Into the catering business for almost two decades, Karim has been a Commis Chef, a junior member of staff that works under the main chef”

As a veteran, Karim revealed he had a say in deciding the location of the place. But more importantly, it was Karim’s love towards cricket because of which he went out of the way to ensure Delhi Nights did not leave Trent Bridge’s vicinity. In fact, Rahim has grown up playing cricket for local English clubs, his claim to fame being taking Sachin Tendulkar’s catch during an exhibition match in 1999.

“I have played a lot of local club cricket around the country as I was growing up. Along the way I came up against a lot of first class and international professional players. Mike Atherton, Mark Butcher, Mark Ramprakash. I’ve played with and against them,” Karim said.

Rahim Karim, aka Ray, fondly remembers an exhibition match he played against the Indian cricket team in 1999. (AFP Image)

“The last time around the World Cup was here, I played an exhibition game up against India. Against your Tendulkar, Ganguly, Jadeja. Dravid was here, as were Prasad and Srinath. I was playing for Leicestershire’s Under-21. We played them after India’s warm-up against Leicestershire was washed out. It was a very good experience; India were going to win, obviously. But more importantly, I suppose it was a chance to see how good these guys really were.”

“To play against them, one, is an honour, and two you actually realise how much they put in, how good they really are. I don’t think everyone can see that. As part of my achievement, I can say I played against Tendulkar and I bowled against him. He batted really well, and as part of my performance he got dropped by the wicketkeeper. I ended up catching him out. But yeah, different class.”

Those couple of overs to Tendulkar, Karim explains, served as an “eye-opener.” At 21, he had already taken up Hotel Management but was in a fix. His family wanted him to have a more stable career, but Karim was fixated on cricket. But those two overs to the “world’s best batsmen”, Rahim admits, was a wake-up call.

“I played for Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire under 16, Sawley and Long Eaton Park Cricket Club and many more,” he said. “But I was a medium-pacer bowler who didn’t have pace to be honest. 12 balls I bowled to him and he smacked me for four boundaries in a row. In my mind, my career ended there. I went on to play for local clubs till 2005 and went full time into catering.”

***

India had beaten Pakistan for a seventh time in the World Cup. The Old Trafford in Manchester, the venue for the match, has more than a fair share of British Indians and Pakistanis. And where there are Indians, there are restaurants specialising in its cuisine.

One such place is Shahi Masala, located at the Salford Quay tram/metro station. After repeated intakes of bacon, hash browns and sausages, and almost a month away from home, the craving for Indian food increases.

Upon entering, a warm smile welcomes me and takes my order. Maroof Abbas, from Lahore, is the assistant manager of the restaurant but takes orders occasionally. The accreditation card hanging once again serves as an ice breaker and we indulge in general conversation.

Maroof came to England in 2007. Initially, he kept visiting Lahore for once every year before Maroof decided to bring his family here too. He’s been in the food business since 1994 and used to run a restaurant called Memsaab in Lahore, which was often visited by the likes of Salim Malik, Ijaz Ahmed, Imran Khan, Aqib Javed with their families.

Our talk turns slightly somber when Maroof is reminded of the previous day’s game. Like many Pakistan fans, Maroof too is disappointed at Pakistan’s abject surrender to India, but admits he wasn’t surprised at the result.

Maroof Abbas still hopes to visit India and and meet Tendulkar

“We have grown up watching India-Pakistan games. But when the team performs this badly, we do get a little upset. Pakistan used to be quite competitive in the 90s. Back in the day, every name in their line-up was intimidating. Saeed Anwar, Aamer Sohail, Inzamam, Yousuf. Razzak was so good he won a motorbike as prize for being Man of the Tournament in Australia,” Maroof says.

“I agree with the fan that appeared on the internet. Cricket is one of the few sources of joy in Pakistan and when the performs like this, it breaks your heart. But it is something we Pakistan fans have gotten used to. There is a huge gulf between India and Pakistan now. IPL has made a huge difference.

Maroof informs that having watched Pakistan stumble over the years has actually made him a keen follower of Indian cricket.

“I have gotten to like Indian cricketers. Their batting has always been so great. I don’t compare any other team to them in terms of batting prowess. From Day 1, India’s batting has been unmatched. Your captain Virat Kohli is such a gentleman, I have heard stories about him in our close circle. MS Dhoni is loved by each and every one in Pakistan. When he first came to Pakistan in 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting him.”

Kohli and Dhoni aren’t the only reasons behind Maroof’s fondness towards Indian cricket. It dates back to 2004, the year of India’s historic tour of Pakistan, the first time since 1989. The tour is engraved in Maroof’s mind because of a gesture by the great Tendulkar had bowled him  over.

“Tendulkar I’ve been a massive fan of. I had met him during the tour of 2004 when India had come. He once came to Memsaab and but we did not charge him. But he insisted but I was firm on my stance. Finally we came to a pact. He said to me “Here is my manager’s number. When you visit India, come over and I’ll cook for you. I’ve heard he’s a fine cook. He makes mean steaks. I haven’t got the opportunity to come see India yet but I have always remembered our deal.”