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India Tour Diary: Behind the scenes on the 1st XI’s trip to the subcontinent

By Keiran Downer

Day One – 26th December

After a day full of festivities, the 19 strong contingent of staff and students congregated on Boxing Day to jet off to India. The flight gave us our first taste of India, with the majority of the plane food being surprisingly palatable.

Day Two – 27th December

Landing in the early morning, we then drove through the humid and sleepless city of Mumbai to our hotel. After a short yet necessary nap in an attempt to counter the jetlag, we boarded the coach to the prestigious Maidan Oval (a vertical stretch of eight cricket pitches in the middle of the city). Seeing the city in daylight awakened us to the mass poverty and grey, polluted sky surrounding the city.

On arrival we ducked through a door in the metal fence and began to train and ‘net’ on the southern-most pitch of the Maidan – meaning that we weren’t swamped by games going on either side of the pitch. A stark difference between the Maidan and pitches back in England is the lack of boundaries – meaning that our seam bowlers began their run-ups in the middle of ongoing games on the next square!

The session, although tiring due to the humidity and temperature, was hugely beneficial as it made us more aware of the bumpy outfield and more accustomed to Indian wickets . After the net session, we travelled back to the hotel to cool off in the pool.

Day Three – 28th December

Vengsarkar Academy Mumbai 185 all out (39.5 overs, Seth 3-15, Kiritharan 2-31)

Hampton School 132 all out (31.4 overs, Avant-Smith 41)

Vengsarkar Academy win by 53 runs

So after a mixed selection of Indian and Western breakfasts, we made the short journey back to the Maidan to play our first game of the tour on the same square that we trained on the previous day. After losing the toss we were put in to bowl against a strong ELF Vengsarkar Academy XI.

Despite some lacklustre fielding and distinctly average bowling accuracy, we managed to skittle the opposition for 185; with Kyle Seth taking three wickets, Mikey Ford and Pravin Kiritharan taking two each, with Tanmay Thanawalla taking four impressive catches.

Hampton responded strongly with top order batsmen Arjun Bhat and Jack Berg laying a foundation, yet wickets fell at a steady stream with partnerships being hard to sustain. That said, Matt Avant-Smith’s aggressive counter-attacking reignited some hope in the Hampton tent – hitting 42 runs off 28 balls. This married with patient, fighting performances from the likes of Sandy Mitchell, helped provide longevity to the chase as wickets tumbled.

Unfortunately Hampton were not able to chase down the total, being bowled out for 132 on a turning, bouncing wicket after just 32 overs. There were definitely lessons to be learnt after the loss – nonetheless a great experience to play on the Maidan surrounded by the constant noise of Mumbai.

Day Four – 29th December

The following day brought our guided tour of Mumbai, where we visited iconic landmarks, such as the Gateway of India, Mani Bhavan (where Gandhi stayed on visits to Mumbai) and the Hanging Gardens. At these landmarks we found ourselves taking lots of photos yet also having lots of photos taken of us with the friendly locals. 

Day Five – 30th December

Hampton School 114 all out (49.1 overs, Ford 29*)

Jwala Academy Mumbai 122 – 5 (26.3 overs, Seth 3-34

Jwala Academy win by five wickets

Game two saw us head back up towards the airport to face off with Jwala Sports Foundation. Following Denil Manuel’s second coin toss loss, we were thrown in to bat on a damp wicket that benefitted the opposition’s strong seam attack – ultimately leaving Hampton at a feeble 29-4. Then the Mumbai sun led Hampton out of the frying pan into the fire as the wicket dried up for their impressive spinners to turn the ball sideways.

Despite this a lower order resurgence, led by Mikey Ford (29no) and Tom Chandler (16), meant that Hampton managed to reach 121 by the time thirteen wickets had fallen. The start of the second innings saw bad balls mercilessly punished on a wicket that now seemed all too easy to bat on, all the more frustrating for bowlers after a catch was put down at mid-on.

Yet it was eventually leg spinner Gurmehar Samra who set Hampton off with a breakthrough. This led to fellow spinners Kyle Seth (3-34) and Matt Avant-Smith (1-11) providing some fight back for Hampton. Ironically the Man of the Match award went to Jwala’s opening bat Henry Hamilton – who lives less than 20 miles from Hampton.

Day Six – 31st December

Vengsarkar Academy Mumbai 203 all out (40 overs)

Hampton School 187 all out (38.2 overs, Manuel 42)

Vengsarkar Academy win by 16 runs

New Year’s Eve saw us return to the Maidan Oval to play an altered ELF Vengsarkar side. After winning the toss we headed out onto the Maidan for our last game in Mumbai. The match began with a good contest between our seamers and their top order, with the home team struggling at 57-4 at one point.

Eventually the academy reached 203 all out with Pravin Kiritharan, Alfie Simonds-Gooding and Tom Chandler taking two wickets each – and Tanmay Thanawalla taking another set of four impressive catches. At the interval we had the chance to talk to Dilip Vengsarkar himself, who had been watching the first innings unfold.

Hampton began the second innings strongly with the bat, with Jack Berg (29), Will Greenall (33) and Denil Manuel (43) playing assured knocks to push the team up towards the target. Yet in true Hampton style, unnecessary wickets combined with impressive fielding efforts from the opposition led to a collapse of our tail, leaving us an agonising seventeen runs short at 187 all out. After the loss we headed back to the hotel before going out for a meal to celebrate the new decade.

Day Seven – 1st January

Hampton School 159-7 (20 overs, Chandler 48)

SGVP School Ahmedabad 117 all out (19.5 overs, Avant-Smith 2/8)

Hampton win by 42 runs

Shortly after this celebration, we checked out of the hotel at 5:15am on New Year’s Day (whilst it was still 2019 in London) to board the Shatabdi Express, that would take us to Ahmedabad for our final three matches. The 325 mile journey gave us time to have some more sleep or look out of the windows at rural India. The rest of the day and the following morning were spent recovering and relaxing in the hotel.

Game four was a T20 match played against SGVP International School. The immaculate pitch was surrounded by three grand, authentic Gujarati buildings: the school, the hostel and the religious centre.

Batting first we accumulated 159-7, with a lavish 100 run partnership shared by Denil Manuel (46) and Tom Chandler (48) arriving just in time after more early wickets falling. As the sun set and the second innings began, our opponents leapt to 60-0 off the first seven overs and looked set to overcome our total. Yet key wickets from Pravin Kiritharan (two wickets and a run out), Matt Avant-Smith (three wickets) and Keiran Downer (one wicket and a run out) and exemplary catching meant that Arjun Bhat was able to secure the win with the 10th wicket. This left SGVP 117 all out, meaning a gutsy 42 run win to Hampton. Afterwards, there was a post-match ceremony led by their religious leader Swamiji, as we all received a bindi and SGVP vestments.

Day Eight – 2nd January

Hampton School 138 all out (38.4 overs, Berg 50)

St. Kabir School Ahmedabad 141-2 (31.2 overs)

St. Kabir School win by eight wickets

The penultimate game was played against St. Kabir School. After winning the toss, our top order reached 111-4 with solid knocks from Jack Berg (50) and Pravin Kiritharan (27). Despite a strong start we then succumbed to 138 all out due to reckless batting and tight spin bowling from the opposition. Our bowlers then set out to try to pull off a miraculous victory on a very good batting track.

Unfortunately this proved impossible as the opposition’s top three batsman (who were dwarfed by our opening bowlers) played out their innings slowly but assertively, arriving at 141-2 in 30 overs. This was despite the bowlers’ best efforts, with the pick of the bowlers being tidy leg spinner Pranav Pandey and quick bowler Miles Patience, who took the first wicket with a piercing in-swinging delivery.

Day Nine – 3rd January

Gujarat Lions 184 all out (45 overs, Avant-Smith 1/9)

Hampton School 183 all out (35.5 overs, Greenall 71)

Gujarat Lions win by one run

The final match of the tour was played at the same venue as Game 5, The Shantigram, against a Gujarat Lions XI. Fielding first the new ball was counter-attacked by one of their openers, who scored a quick 41 – despite being put down in the 20s. Yet the hosts managed to post a first innings score of 184. After lunch, and a pitch invasion from a barrel of monkeys, Hampton surged towards the target, with the highest score of the tour attained by explosive opener Will Greenall (71) and another assured middle order innings from Tom Chandler (32).

Yet old habits died hard for the 1st XI who again succumbed to a collapse that could not be miraculously saved by dogged number 11 Pranav Pandey who offered our last glimmer of hope. In a dramatic finish we fell just one run short as we were all out for 183.

Day Ten – 4th January

On the last day of the trip we toured the city of Ahmedabad. We visited Jain and Hindu temples, having to wear dhotis (traditional Gujarati trousers) to enter. The tour enlightened us as to the history of the city, yet also the current poverty suffered by many of its inhabitants.

Later in the day, we went to Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhi lived, before heading for an authentic vegetarian Thali lunch.

Day 11 – 5th January

At 3:45 the next morning we departed our hotel to head to the airport to fly home following an inspirational, eye-opening experience – having learned important lessons regarding our cricket, yet having also enjoyed playing at unforgettable locations. Hopefully we can take on these lessons and implement them in the summer – perhaps managing a chase with no collapse.

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