Team India's high-profile cricket stars have lived in a cocoon ever since arriving in the United Kingdom on May 29 for the ICC Champions Trophy. By limiting its interaction, the team management has not only denied the media but many passionate autograph hunters. The players have mostly confined themselves to their hotel rooms and have only surfaced during nets a day before their Champions Trophy games. This pre-planned 'strategy' seems to be working fine.
Fans, whether in India or abroad, have always treated our cricketers like superstars. But mediapersons, who frequently travel with the cricket players overseas, say the Indians have the worst record in public relations. Probably the players don't need any more publicity. They are already rich and famous and running an extra yard for the avid fan is a waste of time.
To shut out the media was not unexpected. The script was already 'decided' much before India flew to London. In his pre-departure press conference in Mumbai on May 28, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni parried questions on the Indian Premier League scandals with a sweet smile and an agitated media manager tried his best to gag the Press, the message was clear.
With the Champions Trophy entering its business end and India rolling inexorably to the semifinals, the ever-thirsty media has no choice but to reconcile to BCCI's diktats. Fair enough. Right now, it's important that India win the trophy. Nothing is bigger than the game, certainly not the power struggle inside the BCCI and its controversial ways. But to deny the enthusiastic fan an autograph or a personal photograph is just choking the romanticism associated with the gentleman's game.
The BCCI has hired bodyguards to make sure the players are undisturbed. These hunks look like the bad men in Western movies. Big, bald-headed and with a mean demeanor, they are intensely guarding the jewels of Indian cricket! They have been omnipresent - pitch-side, at nets, during team exercises, at press conferences and even at dinner tables and shopping malls. The Indian players lovingly called them, Tinus, Craig and Kyle.
The BCCI has hired South African Tinus and Australian Craig Weatherly. The ICC has provided Englishman Kyle Gould. Tinus is a familiar face with Indian cricketers. Interestingly, the well above six feet and more than a 100 kilos man is nicknamed "Tiny!"
The 38-year-old from Pretoria, Tinus (in pic), is the most 'experienced' from an Indian point of view. This is his second assignment with Team India. The first was when India toured South Africa in 2010-11. Tinus has also worked with IPL teams like Kochi Tuskers Kerala, Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils and was on assignment when the IPL was played in South Africa in 2009.
Tinus, Craig and Kyle are private security guards. They are all trained in hand-to-hand combat and are no less than a thoroughbred commando. They do not carry any firearms. Craig, for example, has been guarding celebrities for over two decades.
They are officially supposed to keep a low profile, but you just can't miss them. Standing amidst the players with dark glasses and their heads sticking out like king-size periscopes, the bodyguards cut quite a daunting figure.
Why did BCCI hire foreign bodyguards? Don't we have Indians to protect the players?
Speaking to NDTV.com, a senior team source explains: "Familiarity breeds contempt. These foreigners are professionals and have no attachment with an Indian player. They have been given a job to do and they will just do it. So it's a big advantage not to have Indians."
The team management is extra careful on this tour due to the allegations of spot-fixing in IPL. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the bodyguards said the hacking of a British soldier to death by two men shouting Islamic slogans in a south London street last month has necessitated 'extra' protection for players. "You never know who is a terrorist. They can kill anytime and cricketers are soft targets," he said.
Another said: "It's been nice keeping an eye on the boys. They are not naughty and they are quite respectful. It works well both ways." The IPL scandal has made the players extra careful and it is helping manage them better, he added.
The players have not been going out too much. The weather has been damp and that's another reason, one of them said. "Even when they go out, our job is to mingle with them and make sure the crowd doesn't disturb them too much," he said.
The BCCI team management is enforcing its own code of conduct. Unlike some of the Australians who went on a drinking binge till the early hours in a Birmingham pub, the Indians have curfew hours (see graphic) and curbs on usage of mobile phones and parcels.
"We have verbally briefed all the players. There is no need for any written notification. The message is very clear and the boys are doing fine," said a team source.