The other day (during the rest phase between the first two ODIs), I received this strange call. “We have been deputed by the PMO to discuss something very confidential. Can you meet us tomorrow morning at 10 at the Leisure Inn Hotel. It’s near Hyde Park. Ask for Jaishree Bhaicut. Also, wear a wig and a false beard so that no one recognises you,” a voice said. I confirmed I would be there. Later I asked Munaf (Patel) to organise the stuff for my disguise. He must have thought I had either gone kinky or was trying to avoid the pesky Indian media.
Anyway, when I reached the Leisure Inn, I was welcomed by a portly gentleman (Mr Bhaicut) who introduced me to a mean-looking fellow—Dravid Floyd. Well, the first thought that struck me was that their names had a false ring to them. (Later, it was revealed by a friend in the PMO that they had changed their names and travelled on false passports). Bhaicut explained the purpose of their London visit. “Mr Dhoni, we work for the Defence Research & Development Organisation and we have been instructed by the PM’s office to sort out a problem the Indian team currently faces.” I wondered whether he was referring to our poor form. “No,” said Floyd, “form is something you and the coach have to sort out. But what the entire nation is worried about is the spate of injuries that has been plaguing the team. Eight members down with some problem or the other is just not on.”
I admitted that injuries were an issue. But what could be done? The duo had apparently come up with a remarkable solution. “This is inspired by Aldous Huxley,” said Bhaicut, lowering his voice. Not to appear ignorant, I offered “Yes, I know of him, that great English cricketer....” Here Floyd cut me short: “He’s no cricketer but a famous writer. And his 1923 novel, Antic Hay, has a character, Theodore Gumbril, who designs a trouser with a ‘pneumatic (air) cushion’ in the seat so that one can sit comfortably on wooden benches and hard surfaces. We are trying to take Huxley’s idea to the next level.” I couldn’t quite figure out what he was saying and sought an explanation. It seems a tentative design had been done for a head-to-toe cricket gear made of metal with an air cushion inside to soften any fall or blow. “Except for the eyes and the nostrils, every inch will be covered,” Bhaicut said with a glint in his eye. With this he rolled out a sheet of paper which had an artist’s impression of the new gear. When I looked at it, my jaw fell. What I saw before me was someone dressed as an astronaut with a willow in his hand. “Don’t get me wrong,” I said rather apologetically, “but this outfit may be good on the moon, not on a cricket field. It will immobilise us.” Both of them brushed aside my objections and said that the nation knew best.
Before I left, I cautioned them not to discuss their design with any US diplomat. “They may send a cable to Washington and WikiLeaks will leak it,” I said as I downed my coffee and bid them farewell.
(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)