New Delhi: There were around 50 present in upper tier of the Old Club house at Feroz Shah Kotla. All of them, at once turned towards a man who had just entered in the post-tea session along with three others. His loud “Oh trouble, trouble..” cry when Rohit Sharma was sent back by Virat Kohli in a hurried attempt to steal a single, had the fear of not wanting India to lose a wicket – something that did not match with his outlook. Sitting right next to him, wearing the same wind cheater was a familiar face – former India striker Ishfaq Ahmed. The logo on his wind cheater read Jamshedpur FC and the man who caught everyone’s attention with the loud hue and cry was Jamshedpur’s goalkeeping coach Robert Mimms.
On the eve of their ISL away match against Dellhi Dynamos, the Jamshedpur FC technical staff had decided to take a break from football and watch Virat Kohli stroke a ball much smaller in size but a lot harder on impact. A day later they would went on to register their first win of the season beating Delhi 1-0 but forming strategies was the last thing on their mind then.
Robert and Ishfaq were accompanied by Walter Downes, the assistant coach of the newly-formed franchise. “Look at that, they are batting like it’s a T20,” exclaimed Ishfaq after Kohli had just lofted Suranga Lakmal over mid off for a four. There were no prizes to guess Ishfaq was the local expert here. After all he was no stranger to cricket. During his stint with Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, he was a frequent visitor to Eden Gardens.
“No, now I don’t get time to watch cricket, previously I used to go to cricket stadiums often,” says Ishfaq, who has decided to take a temporary break as a player and has joined Jamshedpur as an assistant coach.
Despite his long absence from cricket ground, Ishfaq was still the best guide to Robert and Downes, who were watching their first Test match in India. Robert though, informed he had seen a club match in Kolkata earlier.
The conversation was interrupted by a collective gasp from the Kotla crowd. Virat Kohli had just mistimed a heave to get hold out at long on in pursuit of quick runs. “That won’t please the crowd, will it? I thought the fielder won’t get there. But never mind, Kohli’s a wonderful player,” says Downes, his admiration for Kohli evident.
“He (Kohli) is one of the reason this Indian side is so fit. He’s one of the fittest cricketers around,” Ishfaq chips in.
Robert and Downes, both hailing from England had a fair knowledge of the gentleman’s game. Apart from not recognising the next man in, Ravindra Jadeja, the group did a fine job in deciphering the nuances of the game.
They were obviously disappointed at England’s Ashes performance in Australia but were quick to dismiss India as a threat when they visit later next year. “No chance at all, England are a far superior a side,” said Downes on being asked about India’s chances. Robert though, was quick to join in with a fair answer, “We are also a team in transition and India are in good form, so it should be fascinating to see the action.”
In the mean time, the natural light in Kotla had almost gave way to the artificial ones and India had finally declared to give Sri Lanka a target of 410 but more importantly to bat around 110 overs to save the match.
“They should have declared earlier,” says Ishfaq. “Looking at the conditions, don’t think they can bowl many overs today.” Robert had a different opinion. ‘Safety first mate! Besides, 100 overs should be enough to bowl out Sri Lanka.”
“Who cares? All I know is that we’ve a had lovely evening before an important match,” Downes has a chuckle. That was the only time when football came into the conversation of the technical staff of Jamshedpur FC on the eve of their important ISL match, which they obviously went on to win the next day. Sadly, for Indian cricket fans, Ishfaq’s fears turned into a reality and India had to be content with a draw. But above all, Kotla had got its first taste of ISL in 2017.