The portrait of a hero

Our correspondents are not only taking in the drama and excitement of the IPL in the stadiums but are also enjoying the local cuisine and the sights (and traffic) in each city. We've asked them to share some of the flavour with us. Here's our Reporters' Diary.

April 27
Nagraj Gollapudi witnesses an unsuccessful, but touching, mission at the Kotla in Delhi:

On Saturday afternoon, another 43-degree burning summer's day in Delhi, a lean and lanky young man, standing near the dressing room inside Feroz Shah Kotla, is attracting passersby's attention with the portrait of Virat Kohli he's holding up.

Shaurya Shahi, 19, is a fine arts student at the Vidya Insitute of Fashion Technology in Meerut, although he is originally from Sitamarhi district in northern Bihar.

The portrait, a black-and-white sketch that took him four days to draw, captures the intensity and sparkle in Kohli's eyes.

It was Shahi's second visit to the Kotla this year in the hope of catching his subject. Unfortunately, Kohli was absent from training that day and Shahi is yet to meet him.

"He is an inspiration," Shahi said. "He teaches you that if you work hard and have belief you can achieve what you want." Shahi will no doubt be back. And Kohli will continue to inspire him, whether he gets to meet him or not.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo


April 25
In Chennai, Deivarayan Muthu spots some sweet CSK merch at their official store:

Chennai Super Kings have been trendsetters when it comes to catering to fans. In IPL 2018, after matches were moved out of Chennai to Pune following the Cauvery river water dispute, Super Kings' management arranged a chartered train called 'Whistle Podu Express' for about 1000 diehard fans. This year they have set up an official merchandise store right next to the Pattabiraman Gate at Chepauk for fans.

The store usually opens at 11am on match days and closes by the time the game finishes late in the night. Needless to say, Thala MS Dhoni's No. 7 jersey is the one item that sells like "hot cakes". A Super King official said that the kids' jerseys and Whistle Podu watches are also in high demand.

The store sells a variety of other merchandise, including mobile covers, water bottles, diaries, fragrances, laptop sleeves and even action figures of Dhoni and Suresh Raina.

Super Kings' management is planning to expand the store next year and "make it more fun" by opening a cafe with virtual-reality cricket games.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


April 15
In Kolkata, Sreshth Shah sees something totally unexpected:

Before the game on Sunday, vendors at the maidan outside Eden Gardens had more Super Kings accessories than that of Knight Riders. Kids lined up for yellow face paint, while adults haggled for the best price on CSK flags.

Inside, it seemed like we were in Chepauk. Every Knight Riders wicket - barring Andre Russell's, because even Super Kings fans love the big man - was celebrated with shrieks of joy, and the decibel levels went through the roof when MS Dhoni walked in to bat. When Super Kings needed two runs to win, the crowd came together to shout "CSK, CSK".

I've been to the Eden Gardens nearly a dozen times now to watch IPL games, but never have I witnessed an away team's fans make this much noise.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. You can follow him here on Twitter


April 10
In Chennai, Deivarayan Muthu finds an army cleaning up their home stadium. He reports:

Ahead of IPL 2019, Chennai Super Kings batsman Suresh Raina - also one of the brand ambassadors of the Swachh Bharat Mission in Ghaziabad - launched a campaign to promote clean stadiums across the country. Following Super Kings' home matches against Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders, members of the Whistle Podu Army, the official fan club of of the franchise, showed their support for Raina by disposing of garbage and cleaning the F-lower stand at Chepauk.

After Super Kings secured their fourth successive victory at home, against Knight Riders, several fans stayed back till 1am and cleaned the stands.

ARR Sriram, president of the Whistle Podu Army, thanked the Super Kings management for providing them with disposal kits and bags. He also hinted that the fan club will continue to promote the campaign whenever Super Kings play at Chepauk this season.

"Raina had tweeted about the Swachh Bharat Mission in partnership with the Gracia foundation [which is run by Raina and his wife] and we wanted to stand by it," Sriram told ESPNcricinfo. We approached the management and they also supported this great initiative.

"The tweet from Raina was very encouraging and after the match we were in touch with the ground's housekeeping coordinator, who was also helpful. After the match against Knight Riders, a few fans, who aren't members of the Whistle Podu Army, even joined the clean-up act from the F-upper tier. We will try to keep this campaign going throughout the home stretch this year."


April 2
In Chennai, Saurabh Somani stumbles across stores owned by two very famous cricketers? Not quite. He reports:

Even around Chepauk, where the name "MS Dhoni" is ubiquitous, you can't miss the sign. Especially in the evenings, when the brightly lit board emblazons a sparkly "Dhoni Sports".

Right across the street from the Chepauk Stadium, on the main Wallajah Road corner, is a sports goods store that has adopted Dhoni's name. Unofficially, of course. The Chennai Super Kings captain doesn't have any connection with the place. It's perhaps not surprising that "Dhoni Sports" has come up where it did, because two doors down from it stands "Sachin Sports". Appropriately enough, "Sachin Sports" is of an older vintage and less glitzy than "Dhoni Sports".

Sachin Sports was established in 2004 and Dhoni Sports nine years later. Expectedly, the respective owners are huge fans of the two players.

Syed, the owner of Dhoni Sports, is a former hockey player and his son, Syed Naseerudin Shahbaz, is a promising hockey goalkeeper who has represented the Association of Indian Universities in the senior national championships, which is one rung below representing India. Sathish Kumar, the owner of Sachin Sports, worked in a sports shop for 13 years before he quit and set up his own store.

I ask them if they aren't worried about copyright notices or the like being served to them by the players' representatives, and their answers are disarming.

"Everyone loves Sachin, na?"

"Dhoni toh India ka hai! [Dhoni is India's] If you think about the team, the first name that comes to mind is Dhoni."

Dhoni Sports reckon they sell more Super Kings jerseys than those of team India, while Sachin Sports says the split is even for them. But on one thing, they both agree: what sells the best. "We sell more Dhoni t-shirts," says Ravi Kumar, the manager at Sachin Sports. And what about the competition from the newer shop next door? "Good things sell, with or without competition." When I ask Asif, the manager of Dhoni Sports, about the competition from the older shop, his reply is ready and delivered with a smile. "Sachin's retired, no?"

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. You can follow him here on Twitter


April 1

In Hyderabad, Hemant Brar meets an autograph-hunting artist. He writes:

"The aim is to create a world record for the most number of autographs on a single piece of article," says Venkatesh Kandunoori, holding a 4.5 x 4 feet mixed-media painting near the boundary line at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium. Right now, he is chasing AB de Villiers' autograph.

A post-graduate in Applied Arts, 29-year-old Kandunoori started working on his "The God of Cricket" painting in 2009 with the goal of getting his idol Sachin Tendulkar's autograph. But then he felt should do something unique and from there came this idea of collecting as many autographs as possible. According to Kandunoori, there is currently no entry for such a feat in the Guinness World Records.

His painting has a big Tendulkar portrait in the centre and Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, CK Nayudu, Don Bradman and Viv Richards around it. Kandunoori updates it with more details from time to time.

The 120 autographs on the painting so far, of public figures from various fields, include the signatures of every member of the 2011 World Cup-winning Indian team as well as from Richards, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Muttiah Muralitharan.

It's not easy to always to approach players and get his request across, but Kandunoori says the late MV Sridhar, who was also the secretary at Hyderabad Cricket Association, helped him meet many cricketers and get their autographs. Kandunoori eventually wants to auction the painting and donate most of the proceedings to sports-playing children from poor backgrounds.

By the end of the day, Kandunoori has managed to get de Villiers' autograph. I ask him who the next big name on his list is. "Shane Warne," he says with a smile.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNciricnfo. You can follow him here on Twitter


March 31

At Chepauk, Saurabh finds something quite unusual:

If you had wandered into the stadium between March 27 and 29, you would have seen a large tent-like structure covering a significant portion of the playing square. After facing criticism for the slow and turning track for the IPL opener, the groundstaff decided to shield the pitch from getting to dry under the blazing Chennai sun.

"We've watched the preparation, which has been extensive over the last three days," Stephen Fleming, Chennai Super Kings' coach, said. "It certainly wasn't up to scratch in the first game and, contrary to belief, that wasn't by design by us. I've looked at the surface, it looks a lot better, harder and more compact. But we just have to be flexible as soon as the first ball is bowled and play accordingly."

It's not the first time a tent has been used to cover a pitch in India as a defence against the elements. In November 2015, ahead of the India-South Africa Test at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, the groundstaff at the venue put one up to protect the pitch against rain, but their efforts were wasted because four days of the Test were washed out.


March 28

In Hyderabad, Hemant can't walk away from an enthralling scene unfolding in the nets. He recounts:

Sunrisers Hyderabad's practice session is almost over. I'm about to leave when I see Muttiah Muralitharan tossing the ball from his one hand to the other.

Murali bowls to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and beats him. He responds by clutching his head as though he'd missed a chance to add to his 1347 international wickets.

Rashid Khan (standing near the bowler's run-up) to Murali: "You're getting slower every year. Last year you were quicker than this."

Murali smiles.

From my position parallel to the bowling crease, I've noticed all the bowlers - including the net bowlers - have been overstepping regularly, sometimes even by a foot. Murali? Every delivery has his heel behind the crease.

Murali comes to bowl again. My eyes are fixed on him, trying to decipher if he has actually slowed down.

Murali: "Gottim!"

I've completely missed what happened at the other end, but apparently Murali has his man.

Now it's Rashid facing Murali. Shahbaz Nadeem stands next to Murali, watching this masterclass but it's too close. "Macha, side please," Murali says. "That's my angle."

Murali bowls. It's a tossed up offbreak; the batsman defends. The next delivery looks like a doosra. Rashid goes back and punches it uppishly towards point.

Murali: "That's a four."

It looked like as if Rashid didn't middle this so I ask Murali. "Yes, he hit it well," he says.

Murali (to Nadeem): "I will try to get him lbw. (Announcing loudly): "Around the wicket."

It's a quicker one, pitching on middle and leg. Rashid just manages to get his bat down in time. Ten years ago, this would have fetched Murali a wicket but he is almost 47 now. And Rashid turned 20 last September.

Murali (to Nadeem): "It's difficult to bowl quick now."

The next delivery is a doosra, once again bowled from around the wicket. Rashid has picked it, he goes back and defends on the off side.

I cannot help asking Murali what pace he thinks he is bowling at. "Very slow," he replies with his trademark smile.

It's now almost 6.00pm. Tom Moody asks Murali how long they plan to continue.

"Four-five minutes more and then we wrap up."

Now they are playing out scenarios.

Murali: "Two runs needed off one ball."

Rashid: "What's your field?"

Murali (gestures towards short third man, point, covers and long-off): "Four on the off side, five on the leg side."

He bowls a quicker one from around the wicket. Rashid goes for a reverse sweep; he's late on the shot but gets a top edge that would have gone over the wicketkeeper's head.

Murali: "That's a four, you win."

Chorus from onlookers: "He [Rashid] got lucky! One more time."

Murali: "Okay, once more. How many now?"

Rashid: "Six off one."

Murali: "That's easy for me. I can walk to the crease and bowl."

He goes over the wicket and bowls a fuller one on the stumps. Rashid attempts a slog sweep but gets an inside edge on to the pads and the ball rolls on the off side.

Murali: "Okay, last one. How many?"

Nadeem: "Two."

Murali switches to around the wicket once again. A length ball on the stumps, maybe a doosra as well. Rashid looks to go aerial, in the direction of midwicket but ends up skying it straight. The ball hits the roof of the nets.

Murali: "That was a simple catch for me."

Rashid signals a six. Everyone knows no way it was going that far, but Murali is happy to concede. "Okay, six for you, macha," he says.

The nets are over. Everyone is walking back. I've just observed the master from as close quarters as possible. And I'm thinking, five years after his last competitive match, at the age of 47, it's still not easy to score against Murali.


March 27

Sreshth is in his home town in Kolkata, where the upholders of the law are using cricket's (somewhat murky) laws to teach valuable lessons. He reports:

R Ashwin's run-out of Jos Buttler in Jaipur has drawn a line (excuse the pun) in the sand on the mankading debate across the globe. But here in the city, it seems that the Kolkata police have already declared their views on the incident.

Referencing the dismissal on social media, Kolkata Police posted a picture of the run-out next to a traffic-signal misdemeanour, with the caption: "At the crease or on the road, you're going to pay the price for being in front of the line (translated from Bengali)".

Back in 2017, Jaipur Police, too, referenced cricket to remind citizens of the law. After Fakhar Zaman was given a second life at the 2017 Champions Trophy final because Jasprit Bumrah bowled a no-ball, they posted a photo of Bumrah overstepping on a billboard. The caption read: "Don't cross the line. You know it can be costly."

That, however, did not go down well with Bumrah.