Mark Mason

Forget Eton. This Mumbai team should play Harrow at Lord’s

Mark Mason has narrated this article for you to listen to.

The first thing I do is turn my watch upside down. India is five-and-a-half hours ahead of the UK, so the trick does the conversion for you. Well, sort of – a time like 11.40 works perfectly (becoming 5.10), but anything on the half hour leaves you guessing which number the short hand should be pointing to. Still, it feels appropriate, because I learned it from Christopher Martin-Jenkins on Test Match Special, and cricket is the reason my son and I are here.

Our first match is in Jaipur, where the Rajasthan Royals host the Delhi Capitals. Ever since I was Barney’s age (14) I’ve wanted to visit this country and experience its national religion, and these days that means the Indian Premier League. The match is an evening one, so the temperature has dipped to a comfortable level. Samosa and fizzy-drink sellers wander the stands, music pumps and the announcer yells, and everywhere is a sea of pink flags. There’s a roar as the Royals’ openers walk out, one of them Jos Buttler. Barn and I feel guilty for jinxing him (he only makes 11), but Riyan Parag holds the innings together, and in the last over he really pulls the trigger: three fours and two sixes. Each time the white ball soars into the night sky, picked out by the floodlights, the entire crowd rises to its feet as though they’re tied to it. The assault proves decisive – the Royals end up winning by 12. The fans are ecstatic, and I feel 14 again.

‘Drivers in India need three things,’ we’re told. ‘Good horn, good brakes and good luck.’ But actually they’re wrong about the last one. The roads are as entertainingly chaotic as I’ve been promised, but we don’t see a single collision. We should all drive like this – knowing you’ve got to keep your wits about you means you keep your wits about you. It’s pleasing evidence for the libertarian case, rather like that town in Holland that abolished traffic lights. There are cows lying across the road, and at one point we see a tuk-tuk carrying a motorbike on the back. I bet the reverse is out there somewhere too.

I once published a book called Lost in Translation, a collection of unintentionally funny English from around the world. The trip provides plenty more material, from ‘We believes in quality’ (shop in Agra) and ‘Ladies Frisking Point’ (security check on the Delhi Metro), to a restaurant called the Charcoal Chimney and a brand of fireworks called Cock. As Barry Cryer used to tell us, ‘Never lose touch with silly’.

Favourite aspect of the Taj Mahal: the bartering monkeys, who steal sunglasses and wallets not because they want them, but so they can return them in exchange for food. One sits contentedly chomping on an ice-cream with flake.

In Mumbai we visit the Oval Maidan, the public park with eight cricket pitches down the middle, their outfields overlapping so that long-on in one match stands next to fine leg in another. A youth team from Mumbai CC proudly tell us of their tour to England last year – the only match they lost was to Harrow, though they did beat Eton. Surely this means they should be allowed to take the latter’s place in this year’s fixture at Lord’s?

It turns out that our hotel (the Trident) is where the Mumbai Indians stay. Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah get huge cheers whenever they walk through reception, but then Sachin Tendulkar appears and it’s a different level. He walks quickly to the lift before anyone can register he’s there, and as the doors close everyone crowds it like iron filings round a magnet. They’re left comparing photos on their phones. You can see why Sachin used to need disguises to go out, and would drive his Porsche on the freeways at 4 a.m. just to feel alone.

Mumbai’s opponents are the Delhi Capitals, who again come off second best. The announcer is even better than the one at Jaipur, a cross between Brian Blessed and the guy who does the boxing in Vegas. ‘I say “boom boom”,’ he instructs us, ‘you say “Bumrah”!’ Thirty thousand people obey, then Jasprit himself starts that quirky run-up – he walks most of it, only running the last eight paces because that’s all the room he had in his backyard as a kid. But the ball comes out like a rocket, and Prithvi Shaw’s leg stump lights up red as it smacks against the ground. The stadium erupts. Bumrah’s earning his money – about £1.2 million for the tournament.

On our drive to the airport we pass a shooting location for Slumdog Millionaire. ‘But in India slum people are not the poor people,’ says our driver. ‘They are middle class. Poor people are the street people.’ I remember the guy who told us – incorrectly, but with a broad smile – that this year the value of the IPL is greater than Pakistan’s GDP. Boom boom indeed.