London: Flight No. AI 111 from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport to London Heathrow on Friday evening hardly looked like an international flight. The wide-bodied twin-engine Air-India Boeing, carrying close to 400 passengers, was like any other domestic Indian flight with a sizeable Sikh chunk, many of whom have made the United Kingdom their home. There was a young Sikh lad, interestingly a football coach in an East London school, but a hockey aficionado at heart. A Liverpool fan, he adores national skipper Sardar Singh but still cannot forget India's nightmare in the London Olympics almost 12 months ago. India had finished last among 12 teams!
But in the business class of this majestic Boeing 777-300 ER, an entirely computer-designed commercial aircraft, there was one 'colourful' Sikh who stood out with his green turban, a jazzy green silk tie and a green hanky tucked in the breast of his navy blue blazer. Fresh from his Indian Premier League TV stints on a popular entertainment channel, Navjot Singh Sidhu was grabbing some spotlight, but only just!
Sidhu took the fast track at UK Border Agency, the immigration department of the UK Home Office at Heathrow airport. He met a grumpy officer, who was oblivious of the 'celebrity' visitor who was seeking a quick 'stamp' on his passport. Surely, the Indian Premier League scandal and the latest happenings in the Indian cricket Board weren't chasing him, but Sidhu wanted to disappear from the public glare.
But the UK Border Agency turned out to be a 'wall' of sorts. The expressive former Indian opener failed to 'charm' the officer who asked him to 'reveal' his identity. An animated chat quickly followed between the officer and Sidhu. "Why are you here, Sir? What business do you have?" "I am Navjot Singh Sidhu and I have come to work for STAR Sports as a commentator," said Sidhu, as he recorded his fingerprints (like everyone else) and flashed his trademark smile once his passport was stamped. Sidhu is among a clutch of top commentators lined-up by STAR, the host broadcasters of the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy.
Life has changed dramatically for this 49-year-old cricketer-turned-politician. Ever since he debuted as an expert in 2001, he has taken television by storm. Today he is a 'face' of Indian cricket and is in much demand by broadcasters, who love his chirpy one-liners, called Sidhuisms. Once sacked for using swear words on air, Sidhu remains one of the highest paid cricket experts.
The vociferous Sardarji doesn't have fond memories of England as a cricketer. During India's tour of England in 1996, he walked out of the team, apparently because he was 'abused' by skipper Mohammed Azharuddin. The real reasons were never revealed by either the players or the Indian Board, but Sidhu's 'action' caught the team management by surprise. The Sidhu walkout was recently compared to Shane Watson quitting the Australian team at Mohali in March, reportedly for disciplinary issues. You can never keep Sidhu out. The immigration officer can be excused for doing his 'duty.' The law, ideally, knows no celebrity.
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