After five-and-a-half years, I returned to India to coincide with the World Cup. I have been there when all previous World Cups had been played and saw one of the great matches between India and Australia in Madras in 1987. It was not possible to find a ticket for any match in 1996 but 2011 was better when I watched India twice as well as being one of the few spectators in Bangalore when Ireland beat England. The highlight - albeit a nervous one at the time - was setting a quiz for each and every match played in that tournament with all questions blared out to spectators as well as appearing on the big screens with answers given an over or so later. It was an odd experience back in England and driving back from a visit to my then 99-year-old grandmother and listening to commentary on the final and hearing the questions still flowing.
Booking for this 2023 tournament had been a difficult experience mostly caused by the long wait for the schedule and the release of tickets. Maybe we have been spoilt by the preparation and arrangements for the 2015 and 2019 tournaments? Having watched a good deal of international cricket in India, I am aware that at times the wait for news was frustrating but I did seriously wonder whether this latest tournament would ever be ready.
I had planned my quick visit to take in two games, the first in Delhi with the other in Madras (now Chennai). The schedule, when finally released, suited but became less ideal after - however we describe it, the first list/draft - was changed. Hey ho. After a further lengthy wait for tickets, my first attempt was straightforward and easy and I was quickly confirmed for the New Zealand and Bangladesh game as I had a Mastercard. Never mind that the promised e-mail advising of ticket collection points never materialised or that e-mails to Book My Show went unanswered. I guess that they were fighting against time also.
I was luckier for India and Afghanistan simply because my good friend, Rajesh Kumar, gave me his ticket for this Delhi match. I had tried my luck on the website but quickly realised that it was a futile gesture as tickets had gone within minutes and a half-hour wait to give it a go presumably scuppered not just me. Wait times could change, we were told. I was a tad alarmed when, after being told that my waiting time was 38 minutes, two minutes later it had changed to "more than a day"... Anyway, half-an-hour or a day or so made not a jot of difference, it was too late. So, yes, one might have hoped for better, shall I say.
The other arrangements were far easier. I booked to go for the first time on Etihad with the internal flight on Indigo (a process which was not quite as straightforward as I had hoped). The online tourist visa was extremely smooth. Any questions were answered within hours and, once again, the process was excellent.
There was some anxiety a month or so my return when my mother had to spend a week in hospital and undergo a hip replacement. Happily, she was soon back on the move and toddling about well and coming downstairs unsupervised - my role - which initially horrified me. It amazed me how quickly she was up and down the stairs. Fortunately, though, my aunt and uncle in Rugby kindly offered to have my mum stay with them which essentially allowed me to continue with the trip. The only difference was that, instead of going by public transport from Swindon, I drove us to Rugby after which I took the public transport from there. It was at that point that I was glad that I had booked a late evening flight rather than a mid-afternoon one which had seemed likely a few weeks before due to the fares.
Etihad were very good. When I worked in the travel business, I had been very well looked after by Emirates but Etihad, whose base in Abu Dhabi is just down the road from Emirates in Dubai, was very good also. I noticed that they had a separate Economy cabin with far greater legroom (around 36 inches, I believe). Let's just say that my parsimony would not allow me, though, to shell out up to 90 for this extra legroom cabin so I was all set 30 hours before the flight to take my chance on one of these seats at the first chance that the opportunity was presented. As it happened, Etihad had already allocated me seats: both aisles, and the longer flight to Abu Dhabi was in the extra-legroom cabin, Economy Space. Excellent news. The same cabin did not feature on the shorter onward flight to Delhi.
It was comfortable too. I may not have slept but I enjoyed a good meal and a couple of drinks (having been told very politely that I should only have asked for one). Hey ho, a cheeky and nauseous smile ensured that my wish was granted. One thing I noticed on all Etihad flights was how early they tried to board passengers: this one actually left very slightly early (obviously after boarding was complete) and indeed all four flights I took were on time.
Transfer in Abu Dhabi went smoothly and well and the shorter flight to Delhi on a different aircraft type was absolutely fine. The immigration was nice and easy and I was on my way to Paschim Vihar by metro to Janak Puri and a busy bus.
I put up in the Admire Gold in Paschim Vihar which was very conveniently situated just a minute's walk from Rajesh's house. Some hotels will not accept foreigners which I read may be something to do with a lot of form-filling which the hotel has to do and then provide to the police when foreigners stay. Some websites said that certain hotels would accept foreigners, others said that they wouldn't so it was a bit of a palaver establishing the truth. The Admire Gold also doubles up as the Saffron Gold and a Fab Hotel so my friends and I were a bit bemused by where I was actually staying. Anyway, check-in was smooth and I was accepted. It was good value.
It was good being back in India - I am a Taurus but didn't take this hungry one on

Chandni Chowk market, Delhi

It was good meeting up with my website man, the amiable and interesting Karamjeet Singh

Lucky me - one who had a ticket to watch India at the World Cup (this being at Delhi against Afghanistan)

The ground may not have been quite full for India vs. Afghanistan but it filled up as the day went on

It was lovely seeing some Afghan supporters in their traditional finery. The atmosphere in the ground was very friendly

Chennai's Egmore Railway Station

Travelling again on the Chennai Suburban train was a joy. A sign above this chap's head warns that travelling on the roof is a punishable offence

South Indian breakfast

My first full day involved the joys of changing money, quite often an onerous experience. I probably did not help myself by going to C.P. (Connaught Place, the circular area with many white-washed older buildings). Any number of apparently well-meaning people wanted to engage me in conversation and quickly assured me that they were friends and not after my money, always a warning sign. One said that he was a Nepali who was just over for a few days... He, of course, knew a foreign exchange place which offered me Rs96 to the pound. I said that I was after Rs101 and got it but did not change there as I wanted someone who had money on the premises and not someone I was going to hand over money to who then went off to change it. I think that I finally changed it at the third such place and then noticed a horrible grin on the changer's face... It was all fine and my mind playing games.
I went on to the market in Chandni Chowk, a place I should have seen previously but hadn't. It was wonderful but so big that I became so confused that I had to buy my kurta pyjamas in Jwala Heri market, near Paschim Vihar. Chandni Chowk was a delight and great fun despite my not buying anything there during my hour's visit. On my way back to Jwala Heri, it was nice seeing the Red Fort. I had never seen the Jama Masjid, an apparently vast Muslim temple: I still haven't, time having run out. Next time.
The main highlight of my visit to Delhi was undoubtedly the visit to the Arun Jaitley Stadium (formerly known as Feroz Shah Kotla) for the India and Afghanistan World Cup match. It was very noticeable that crowds were pretty sparce unless India was playing. I considered myself extremely lucky to be watching India as tickets were like gold dust if booked online through Book My Show. It was essentially hopeless and required a bucketful of luck in securing a ticket that way. That said, my ticket was in the West Stand and I was surprised that only the first half of the stand was packed, the rear section being essentially quiet although it did fill up later. Seats were unreserved so I could move about and it was fun witnessing some Afghan supporters (who were made much of by the crowd and the TV cameras). Indeed, it was a friendly experience, as usual. The ground looked wonderful with the stands and billboards all delightfully decorative.
The cricket was good too. Afghanistan may have lost comparatively easily after a sublime Rohit Sharma century (which took him above Sachin Tendulkar's World Cup record of six) but the Afghan team did make almost their largest World Cup total and gave a good account of themselves. With the match being a day/night game, the stadium looked delightful under lights. Entry into the ground was far easier than I had imagined too. Much is banned from being taken into the stadium but, although cameras are one such banned commodity, I could hardly believe that mobile telephones could be kept out. They weren't. Strangely, I have one and it wasn't even noticed although a couple of paracetamol were...
I had a fairly early start the following morning for my flight down to Chennai and travelled back to the airport by bus and metro which went smoothly. The Indigo flight was also good and there were not too many complications and it was only much later that I realised that I had not been asked to show my credit card which purchased the flight at the same time as the boarding pass. There have been hassles with this arrangement before especially if the card has been changed since the flight was booked. Anyway, this flight too was on time and arrival was at 3 p.m. after which I travelled on the local/suburban train to the large Egmore station where I was staying.
This 25-minute, 10p journey from Tirusulam Station (adjoining the airport) was terrific fun. I must have travelled on this train over a hundred times since 1986 and it brought back many memories. When it is busy, people hang out of the open doors (although I have never seen people on the roof, something which is advertised as being banned and a "punishable offence", like much else in India). Have a beer and travel back on that train hanging on in the doorway is not necessarily recommended. Anyway, this time I was stone-cold sober and had a seat for most of the way for good measure. Disabled and blind folk ply their trade inside the carriages but it does seem that some of the carriages have been upgraded since I last used it.

The Chennai Gate Hotel where I stayed is in a terrific position yet, despite the noise outside, it was remarkably soundproof. The staff were very friendly and helpful although we had a difference of opinion when I was shown to a room which had rather obviously not been vacated. When I suggested that we look for another room which might be free, I was greeted with a strange look.
With still no e-mail from Book My Show about where to collect my ticket for the New Zealand and Bangladesh match, I decided that it would be wise to go to the stadium to see what happened there. The answer was not much. I went to Gate 12 and was sent to Gate 16 who told me to go to Gate 12. No luck there. I saw a Bangladeshi supporter who said that he had collected his ticket from Gate 1 so there I went but was refused entry. At about the third visit to Gate 12, a helpful chap found out that tickets could be collected from somewhere a mile or so from the ground. It was only when I was walking off in despair that the same chap called me back saying that he had found someone who could print the ticket off online for me and the chap duly returned a couple of minutes later with the said ticket (and no need to see the payment card). It was quite a relief and, but for those two helpful people, I would likely have wasted a lot of time the following morning trying to find a way of getting in. It really wasn't at all good and others found themselves in the same predicament. It all seemed totally unnecessary but I still maintain that everything can work more smoothly if people have time on their side. Starting the sale of tickets 41 days before the tournament started - and with e-tickets not available - hardly allowed that time in my humble opinion.
I found an excellent bar-cum-restaurant called the 70mm Bar belonging to the Chandra Park in Egmore. I have often wondered whether India approves of people like me who enjoy a drink as this 70mm Bar was not the first place which was dimly lit. It almost seemed as if it was saying that it is a den of iniquity. Anyway, it most certainly wasn't and, frankly, was excellent. The beer was chilled, the food helpings vast and drinks were accompanied by plenty of snacks which were refilled regularly. Almost as importantly, cricket was being televised. Due to its deserved popularity, it wasn't always possible to have a table to oneself. As an idea, a beer with included snacks, meal (with taxes) and a tip came between 6 and 7. I went there every night.
The next morning, I had my included South Indian breakfast of idlis and dosas in the attached restaurant to the Chennai Gate before going shopping. Over the years, I have come across many places which I have returned to since my first visit in 1986. Maybe not a place I always go to but which is nonetheless very good as a pharmacy, general store and, yes, vanity, 5 Stars in Harrington Road, I did manage to pick up a few bits and pieces.
Chennai's National Art Gallery

Cane and Bamboo, a delightful arts and crafts shop in Chennai: a place I have been visiting since 1986

My view from Chennai's M.A.Chidambaram stadium. The World Cup logo above struck me as unfortunate - it took a lot longer to obtain and collect tickets

Another section of the delightful M.A. Chidambaram stadium

Crowds in India love a cameraman - I fear that I might have been caught up on TV too, but in a more restrained capacity

Further proof that I was there for New Zealand and Bangladesh

The entrance to St. Thomas Mount, Chennai

The delightful church at the top of St. Thomas Mount

No, not a reincarnation of St. Thomas but this was the cave where he spent thirteen years of his life. This is at Little Mount in Chennai and now has a church built above it

The main place for me in that area is the delightful arts and crafts shop, Cane and Bamboo, in Ethiraj Lane. I have known Thomas and Thangam Philip since 1986 and it is always a pleasure to see them, this time after quite some length of time. Inevitably, I came out well laden.
One impromptu purchase, a watch, came from a man on the street selling his wares on the main street close to Cane and Bamboo and near to a bus stop. My watch had given up and I just wanted a cheap one to tide me over. I fancied my chances when I saw this chap sitting on the ground but he was completely unbiddable and his English very good. I really didn't have the heart - or the confidence - to take him on but did come away with a 2.50p watch which has required rather a lot of winding up since... I am not sure what his refund policy is, though.
Armed with a ticket, entrance to the New Zealand and Bangladesh match in the afternoon was far easier than the previous afternoon. The concrete bowl which I had visited for the epic 1987 World Cup match has been replaced by this much more pleasing, tented-stand stadium and I would seriously rate it as highly as Lord's for my own personal enjoyment. There are also walls commemorating noble deeds of the Chepauk (mostly from the concrete bowl days) including the famous Tied Test in 1986 and Narendra Hirwani's 16 for 136 on debut in 1988.
I was not remotely surprised that I found myself in one of the busiest stands. I took this to mean that it was one of the cheapest stands (Rs1000 or approximately 10): I had gone for it on the strength of price and I imagined that others had too. The difference was that one had to pre-book a particular seat (and hope that no-one else took it if you left it). When I saw that not all of this lower stand was under cover, I did rather hope that I had chosen wisely. I had, and even though I had booked the last row on the end of the very last row back, I could still look pretty much down the wicket and see the action (although not to see birthday boy Litton Das's caught-on-the-boundary dismissal to the very first ball of the match). Generally speaking, the crowd numbers were not terrific but it was another happy atmosphere.
Again, under lights, the ground looked fantastic. It may not have been the most exciting of matches, the well-drilled New Zealand team comfortably overcoming their opponents. Like many matches in India, it was a pleasure and privilege to attend.
My last full day of the trip was the one where I had a lot of visiting to do. I felt, as usual, that preparation was key so had worked out public transport times (suburban train, bus and metro) in helping me visit all of the places and it worked almost perfectly and saved a lot of time from trying to work out a way between the many places on the hoof.

I started off on the suburban train to Tambaram after which I took a bus to the general area where my cousins so kindly put me up between 1986 and the early part of this century. It seems a long time ago and indeed is a long time ago and, with time, places change. For one who resists (or at least dislikes) change, I felt a bit sad at, I think, being in the correct area but not remotely recognising the built-up area now where I stayed and where my interest and fascination in India started. Anyhow, I can only say that I tried to find the place.
Now that I am involved in a church as warden, verger, cleaner etc, I like to think that I am a better person and more interested in my vocation. Long gone are the days when I thought it amusing to try to make the school chaplain rise with some tedious teenage joke (although I thought that it was funny at the time...) What I am saying is that Madras/Chennai has a rich history about one of Jesus's disciples, Thomas. Back in the late 1980s when I spent my second visit with my cousins, I visited St. Thomas Mount (near the airport): no, not to visit the church but to have a game of cricket close by... This time, I decided to visit the church on the mount as well as the cave where St. Thomas spent thirteen years of his life, his place of martyrdom and the wonderfully impressive San Thome Cathedral near the marina where his tomb lies.
St.Thomas Mount is a pleasant twenty-or-so minute walk from Alandur Metro Station and the pilgrimage place is reached by a beautiful, uphill walk where the Stations of the Cross are depicted on either side of the green and fertile area leading up to the Mount. Once at the top, there are memorials to Pope John Paul I who visited in 1986 (and, I see, within weeks of my first visit) and Mother Teresa (whom I once saw after being on the same flight as). It is a popular place with a small but pleasant church and the Mount commands terrific views over the city. Candles can be lit and, like many places, devotees are expected to take shoes and socks off.
San Thome Cathedral, Chennai
San Thome Cathedral, Chennai
San Thome Cathedral is one of only three cathedrals to house the tombs of Jesus's disciples
Chennai Lighthouse with its vantage point visible
The view from the lighthouse of part of Chennai's marina which I believe is the world's second-longest beach
An example of Chennai's grand architecture
Watch shop, Chennai

The cave where St. Thomas spent a good deal of his life is in the area called Little Mount or Chinnamalai in the Saidapet area which is much closer to the city and meant taking the metro. Entrance is through a small gate to the Shrine of Our Lady of Health & St. Thomas the Apostle after which is found another delightful area. The church, built in 1551, is quaint and the guide insisted on taking me into the cave, presumably recognising my height. It wasn't easy as the entrance is small and care needs to be taken in remaining upright without hitting one's head frequently. There is an altar and a foot and hand impression of St. Thomas.
I had a brief visit to the Shiva-dedicted, Hindu Temple, Karaneeshwarer, also in the Saidapet area after a shopping stop. It wasn't open at that stage but was still an impressive sight from the outside.
The only slightly tricky journey was between Little Mount and San Thome Cathedral. The direct bus did not appear and, after being told which bus to take, I was then informed en route that I must also change in Adyar. It worked out adequately and everyone was very helpful.
I have seen the cathedral before and it is in a beautiful spot near the marina. I visited St. Thomas's tomb and found out that there are three cathedrals in the world which house the tombs of Jesus's disciples: St. Thomas here in Chennai; St. Peter in Rome/Vatican City and St. James in Santiago de Compostela. I am lucky to have visited all three. San Thome is a beautiful, tall, white-washed building which is one of Chennai's many highlights and very well worth a visit.
Close by stands the Chennai Lighthouse, another of the city's highlights. I had only recently found out that one can take the lift up to its vantage point. Okay, they charge foreigners five times more than locals but it was still very cheap and great fun. People seemed to be restricted to a brief visit but the views of the city and marina were spectacular and it was a lovely way of seeing the city and admiring the view.
It was fun also stopping further up the marina in the area by the cricket stadium. There are some wonderful buildings such as the University and the renowned Triumph of Labour statue. A walk along the marina is always a treat.
My last evening was spent following the cricket, eating and working out the least-fraught way of travelling to the airport for my return flight. It meant leaving at around 11 p.m. when most public transport was closing down but I did manage to take the last suburban train of the day from Egmore. I had been congratulating myself on not losing my nous on how to cross busy Indian roads and indeed smiled at my success after I had crossed the last such road. Crash! Hit by a motor-cyclist travelling the wrong way down the road... No damage done to anyone and we all had a laugh about it.
The journey back was long as there was quite a wait at Chennai and Abu Dhabi. The flights were once again excellent and an added bonus was finding the live coverage of the England and Afghanistan game at Delhi. It came as quite a surprise to be able to watch it (and the later result). However long the journey had taken, it had gone very smoothly something which could not be said for arrival in London. Most trains to Rugby had been cancelled due to a points failure earlier in the day. It meant taking a slow train to Northampton after which a further train to Rugby so I was not back quite as late as appeared likely at one stage. Fair play, though, to West Midlands trains who approved and paid the compensation/Delay Repay within just a couple of days.
So, an excellent trip ended and, whilst it took a few days to recover from, I was delighted to have been able to return for my forty-second visit to India as I did wonder if I would make it back in the foreseeable future. I expect that I shall be back.