THE touring England cricket party is made up of 17 players, a manager, a coach, a physio, a scorer and three Indians. One Indian is in charge of the other two. His name is Govind Bawji.
His two bearers are always different people, but Bawji has played the role of bag wallah on England tours ever since a team from the Commonwealth arrived in 1949. 'Their captain was Mr ('Jock') Livingston,' Bawji says reverently. 'And then in '53 was a team captained by Nigel Howard. Manager Geoffrey Howard. No relationship. Ha ha.'
Bawji is 61, an ample man looking like a modern-day reincarnation of Buddha with huge ear lobes. He is employed by the Indian Cricket Board, who pay him 1,000 rupees a month ( pounds 25) for various, probably superfluous, administrative tasks. 'But England team pay me more for this,' he says waving his arms happily, then indicating a pair of rather worn trainers on his feet that Allan Lamb had given him.
During net practice Bawji sits comfortably by the dressing- room door mouthing pleasantries at players as they come and go. 'Tea, sir, you want tea?' 'No, Gov,' they say endearingly, 'Coke'll do.' He motions one of his assistants into a makeshift kitchen anyway to boil up another kettle full of tea leaves, water, powdered milk and sugar.
During the day, 'Gov's' job is to act as dressing-room attendant, getting bats signed, organising drinks, making space for the buffet lunch of chicken a la King, soup, pasta, three curries, rice and chapatis. At night he really earns his keep. He ensures all the doors are locked and windows barred before settling down to sleep among the maze of cricket cases. 'What, on the floor?' I ask. 'No, no sir, I have bed-mat.' (About one inch thick, actually.) 'I must sleep with kit, very important. I no trust anybody with it.' And to this day he has never lost it.
Even between venues. While the players fly from city to city, Bawji travels overnight with the bags on trains and buses, sleeping, of course, in the luggage compartment. And despite the hazards of surface journeys in the subcontinent, the gear has never turned up late. What about that famous time a few years back when the Australians' bag lorry was delayed until lunchtime and the officials had to pretend to a large Calcutta crowd that the pitch was wet? 'Oh, I wasn't working on that tour. Only MCC,' he replies, temporarily lapsing into Empire-speak.
As he lists the England captains nostalgically, some win special praise. 'Ken Barrington, very nice man, sir. Tony Lewis also.' In hotels he used to sleep in the hallway across the captain's bedroom door, such was his devotion to duty. He must be the only non-cricket-playing Indian ever to have had a benefit match in a big stadium, at Trivandrum, staged in his honour. He deserved it.
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