It’s Sunday morning and outside St Mark’s Church of England primary school a preacher in brown tweed, with cordless headphones and mike, is extolling those willing to listen about Jesus’ power. “Compassion, mercy, empathy, kindness, brotherly love…” he goes on breathlessly. But sadly for him the St Mark’s is right at the entrance of The Oval’s Alec Steward gate and today the only gods are the eleven on the field inside, with these virtues he is gushing about what’s least on their minds. The crowds could be the scene outside Wankhade or Chinnaswamy—the snatches of conversations in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali—except for the black London hackneys, white policemen in blue uniform and the grey sky.
As we wait to take the lift up to the fourth floor to the Corinthian Roof Terrace, there is a chant of ‘Sachin, Sachin’ and sure enough there he is a few paces ahead, neat and compact in a dark suit, his security right behind him. He turns and gives a little wave sending those in the reception area to ecstasy. Corinthian, after passing from the usher to the concierge to the lobby manager and finally to the stadium in-charge through walkie-talkie, turns out was the name of the first club to play cricket at The Oval some 150 years ago before Surrey County made it its home. This stadium is, as often repeated, the oldest in the world where cricket has been played without a break. As we come on to the terrace about an hour before the start of the game, the grand view of the stadium with both India and Australia warming up on two sides is breathtaking. Equally inviting is the smell of frying bacon, crackling sausages and bubbling omelettes wafting over the sumptuous breakfast spread. What, is that…vada pav? It is indeed, specially made for the India game, it’s more of a vada in a burger bun, but pretty close to the original complete with tamarind, coconut and garlic chutney. The menu says for lunch, apart from the heaps of cold cuts and cheeses (here’s a sampling from the menu: beetroot cured salmon, dill marinated Atlantic prawns, mussels and peppered mackerel served with Marie Rose dressing and saffron aioli, rare roasted sirloin of beef, terrines and pates, hand-raised meat pies, Clara goat cheese, Winterdale Kentish cheese, Oxford blue cheese…), there is kadai chicken, rogan josh and chhole-alu.