This is a diary, travel log of my 11 day trip to the ICC Cricket World Cup in March of 2015. An event hosted in middle earth New Zealand and Australia. I was there to witness 3 big matches in 3 great cities, Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne. As the title suggests, it was truly a childhood dream to watch a cricket world cup tournament down under.
The planning for this trip began in June 2014, nearly a year back from the actual event. It had always been a childhood dream to be at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) & Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) stadiums. I couldn’t have asked more being there to witness 2 semifinals and a final of the biggest tournament in the world of international cricket.
The wait was literally 8 months, but as the saying goes, time flies although the last 2 weeks were agonizingly slow to pass by. The trip was well planned and all bookings were made in advance. I booked my air tickets close to seven months in advance after the stadium tickets were confirmed. I was the only one traveling from the United States, the other 3 partners in crime were making their own epic journeys from different parts of India. I was traveling with my local cricket club buddies who were also making the trip for the last 3 matches. It was wonderful to be in company on a very long flight over the pacific.
I can possibly take the credit for initiating the thought and enthusiasm of traveling to the world cup. I first poached the idea with my friend Hariharan Mani when he was visiting New York and we both decided to make the trip. My enthusiasm was whole heartedly supported by my better half Nina. She was so excited and happy seeing me fulfilling my childhood dream. I floated the idea to my close college buddies and Anish immediately joined the movement. We would have loved for Kedar and Shrikanth to join but not all could make it. Anish Ghosh deserves a lot credit for being the trip planner and coordinator. He was the binding force in keeping the planning on track and did lead the hotel bookings. Anish’s business school friends joined in and we soon had a party of 6. Amit Mohite did the initial heavy lifting of getting the stadium tickets booked and once the first hurdle was crossed, it was time to get the rest of it done. We booked apartments in Auckland and Melbourne while managed a hotel in Sydney with the best Sydney opera views.
I was probably the first one to get my visa done in January. The process was pretty smooth and a well coordinated tie-up between the governments of Australia and New Zealand made it easy to travel to both countries on a single visa.
The tournament kicked off on February 13th and deep down one wish to see India make the semi-finals was a constant thought. There were no big expectations after India’s dismal Australian tour preceding the world cup. But to everyone’s surprise, India bounced back with flying colors and topped the group in the qualifiers winning all their 6 matches.
It was all turning out like a perfect script. It was incredible to watch Indian supporters in huge numbers for all the matches on TV. Indians had travelled in huge numbers and it was exciting to see the passion and over whelming support for the Indian cricket team. The quarterfinals against Bangladesh was won comfortably and there were no surprises left of seeing India play in the semifinals. The result was out 2 days before my flight and there were no goose bumps about knowing if India would make it. The thought of seeing India play against Australia in Sydney cricket ground was HUGE. I don’t really have words to explain how it felt. It just wasn’t feeling real. It all felt like a fairy tale.
DAY-1: New Jersey/Los Angeles (Friday, March 20)
The wait was over and the trip to the CWC 2015 planned and booked nearly a year ago had finally arrived. I hadn’t slept all that well being awake and watching the all night quarter finals for the past 2 days and anxiously awaiting India’s entry into the semifinals.
My wish had come true. Deep down the wish was always to see India be present at the semifinals and ultimately lift the cup again. It surely felt like “Dreams do come true”. Being in New Zealand and Australia for a World Cup had always been a childhood dream. The next 10-11 days were going to be something to cherish a lifetime.
Nina dropped me at my friends place from where the journey began. We took the cab from my local cricket club friend Purvesh’s place. A small delay with one of the members arriving a little late. There was a short period of anxiety as we didn’t want get stuck as snow had started to pick up strength. It was a snowy day with low visibility but the NJ turnpike was pretty open and we reached airport around 12:45 in time for our 2:30 departure to Los Angeles. Checkin was relatively smooth with help from United staff at the kiosks. It was great to see the advisory of single visa show up as the reservation pulled up on screen. The icing on the cake was my complimentary upgrade to First class. A gift to start a special trip. I was traveling light with no bags to checkin and was all set to move to security in no time. There was a little scare with Purvesh and his friends booking showing up cancelled. But it was soon sorted out and we were all heading towards our boarding gate C95 on United UA 1544-NZ9032. We pretty much boarded on time but had to bear a slight delay as the snow had picked up and the plane had to be de-iced. After a 30 minute delay we were airborne and headed to Los Angeles.
We landed a little after scheduled arrival time and we were not that worries as we had a layover of roughly 4.5 hours. We took an internal shuttle as our Air New Zealand flight was from the International Tom Brady Terminal in Los Angeles.
We had loads of time at the airport after completing our security. A time well spent with couple of Golden road IPA and a small snack. It was a wonderful sight to see the Hobbit plane design on our aircraft and now the touch down to middle earth was just 14 hours away. The flight got delayed by a little over an hour and eventually took off at 11:15 pm. In no time the captain announced that we over the pacific and would remain that way until our touch down in middle earth.
It was a pleasant flight with just 2 of us occupying the 3 row seat. I would surely recommend Air New Zealand to anyone making the trip to middle earth. The aircraft configuration was roomy and the inflight staff was very friendly and helpful. I was able to get a good 6-7 hours sleep while rest of the time was spent eating, drinking and watching imitation game and fury. It didn’t feel a drag and in no time the there was an announcement for our descent into Auckland. I managed to get some snaps of our landing into Auckland as the sun was just rising up.
DAY-2: Auckland (Sunday, March 22)
We had a touch down at precisely 7:08 am NZ local time. Auckland international airport seemed small in comparison to other big international airports. We managed to click a few snaps as we walked down to the immigration area. There were no questions asked by the immigration officer and and we were at the baggage area in roughly 25 minutes. The world cup advertising was all over with huge banners welcoming travelers to the 2015 world cup. Some of our friends had to undergo customs check to make sure that they did not have any un approved food stuff.
My friends from US departed to their hotel while I waited for Anish Ghosh and Amit Mohite to arrive on a Singapore airline flight from India. I was happy to make use of the complimentary 30 minutes wifi provided at Auckland airport. I used it to Skype with Nina and inform her about my safe arrival. Rest of the 3.5 hours were spent at the waiting area taking strolls around the shops and sipping into a couple of rounds of chai latte. It was great to receive 2 of my partners in crime after a wait that was starting to feel endless.
We headed to our Barclay Suites apartment on 74 Albert Street in Auckland CBD. We decided on taking a super shuttle that cost ($51 NZ) for three of us and dropped us right at the door of the hotel. The check-in was relatively smooth and friendly by our India brethren Kinjal who was the apartment service manager. He was not that friendly though with our request to cancel an additional room as two members on the team had backed out of the trip and we did not need the extra apartment. We soon checked into our 12th floor apartment and after dropping our bags headed out for some food and lots of drinks.
I had researched few brewery options and Auckland’s oldest and first micro brewery was top of the list. To our mighty surprise, famous Shakespeare Hotel & Brewery on 61 Albert Street was across the street from our Apartment. We headed to the balcony on the second floor and by the time we could realize, we had spent close to three hours sipping in their in-house brew (Murtagh Irish Stout) and munching on few rounds of fries and nachos.
We met up with Anish’s friend Naresh mani who was also there for the World Cup. In the evening, we all paid a visit to the famous Auckland harbor. It was time well spent with some very beautiful sunset shots on the harbor. We headed to a gastrobar named Degree on 204 quay street near the harbor. What followed was some more great local beers (3-4 pitchers) and seafood platters to end our day. Naresh and his wife left early as the three of us continued with a few more rounds.
Eventually 3 of us got back to our apartment around 10 pm. The city felt extremely safe and locals were very welcoming and friendly. We picked up a few ice cream bars at a local seven eleven to cool our tired souls. By now the body was calling for sleep. It was good that we didn’t sleep the entire day and that probably took care of the jet lag issue. We all crashed into our beds for a good and well deserved night sleep.
DAY-3: Auckland (Monday, March 23)
We had planned to use the free day for some sightseeing. I woke up around 8:15 am and spent sometime in the balcony sipping coffee and enjoying the views of the Sky tower and harbor. It was a wonderful sunny day with the weather in the early 20’s. The location of our apartment was just right with everything from the harbor, sky tower, restaurants and shopping were in close proximity.
The apartment was clean and comfortable and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a no frills comfortable and reasonable option. We eventually left the apartment around 11:30 am as hunger pack had started to seep in. We enjoyed a big hearty breakfast at the local Hollywood bakery on 38 Wyndham Street which was just adjoining our apartment building.
With our full stomachs, we headed to the harbor and boarded the Fullers ferry to Waiheke island around 1 pm. The 45 minute boat ride was pleasant with some beautiful views of the small island surrounding Auckland.
We decided to take the bus route 1 to Onetangi beach. This gave us a scenic 30 minute view of the island as the bus drove through internal village and small winding roads. We had our lunch at a beach restaurant named 4th Avenue and spent an hour taking strolls on the beach. I was able to get a nice time lapse video shot as we sipped into our beer and watched the wonderful views of the ocean. I managed to pick up some pretty shells for Arjun.
We took the second to last bus back from Onetangi beach and made a stop at Onroe village on our way back. We spent an hour exploring the Onroe village beach and it was a day well spent exploring the wonderful and charming Waiheke island. We landed up taking the 7:15 pm ferry back to Auckland. The Auckland skyline views as we approached sunset provided an opportunity for some wonderful shots of the harbor.
The day ended with dinner at a Turkish restaurant. We got back to the apartment late and stayed awake to welcome our last partner in crime Hariharan Mani who came in from the airport just after midnight.
DAY-4: Auckland (Tuesday, March 24)
The big day had arrived. The first semi-final at the Eden park between New Zealand and South Africa was slated for a 2:30 pm start. We left our apartment around 10 am and headed to our regular place for breakfast. It was an overcast day with a possibility of rain showers during the evening. We headed to queen street for the complimentary bus service to the stadium. The place was buzzing full of mostly New Zealand supporters. There was a big contingent of Indian fans who of course were in big support for the Kiwis. We arrived well in time and spent a little time enjoying the band at the entrance and world cup memorabilia shopping.
We entered pretty early as the gates opened around 1pm. It was a wonderful experience and the first sight inside the stadium was something to remember. Eden Park is a relatively small cricket ground in comparison to what we were going to witness in Australia in the coming days. We had our seats in the upper most deck but still felt pretty close to the action. The ground filled in no time and it was a great sight to witness the pre-match proceedings live in front of us.
It turned out to be the most exciting and close match of the 2 semifinals and final. There was a bit of everything including rain stopping the game for close to an hour. Duckworth Lewis method came in to play and all the math associated with shortened overs. The match turned out to be very exciting with a last over finish. New Zealand won by 4 wickets (with 1 ball remaining). The highlights for me were Brendan McCullum’s 59 of 26 balls, Grant Elliot’s man of the match innings and undoubtedly the chant across the stadium for Daniel Vettori. The crowd cheered in anticipation of a big hit from Daniel and he surely delivered and four to win the match.
South Africa surely had their chances and with couple missed catches and run out fumbles, they pretty much had themselves to blame. It surely felt bad to see South Africa miss out again in their quest to reach the finals and taste their first cricket world cup victory.
The day ended discussing the match and repeating the Daniel Vettori chants that just didn’t seem to escape us.
DAY-5: Auckland/Sydney (Wednesday, March 25)
It was time to head to Sydney for the most anticipated and biggest match of the trip for all us personally. India playing Australia in the second semi-final was just too exciting to describe in words. I had all kinds of emotions running through me – hope, prayers, confidence, fear….you name it what. The 3 days in Auckland had just whizzed by and it was time to checkout of our apartment and get to the airport. I throughly enjoyed my stay in Auckland – Great hospitality and wonderful country. The only missing piece was the trip to Hobbiton. We just couldn’t manage to squeeze it into the itinerary. This will make us come back again to the one and only beautiful middle earth.
We checked out dot on time and headed to the airport for our Air China flight. It was a pleasant ride with the Indian cab driver Kamal giving us an inside view into life in Auckland. We picked up a few souvenirs at the airport before boarding our flight. The flight was full of Indian fans cheering and praying for an India win against Australia. We had built the hype of hostile Australian supporters in our brain and somehow were feeling intimidated as we landed into Sydney. The 3.5 hour flight was pretty comfortable and we were treated with Sydney harbor views on our descent into Sydney airport. I managed to watch BirdMan primarily as a distraction to stop thinking about the match next day.
We reached Sydney at 8:45 pm and cleared through immigration and customs in no time. We grabbed a Glenlivet Single Malt Whiskey from the duty free to keep us warm through the night in anticipation of the big day. The atmosphere was pretty somber as we walked outside the airport. Nothing at all as we had imagined. We kind of felt it like the calm before the storm. The ride to our Sydney boulevard hotel on William street in CBD was 20-25 mins cab ride from the airport. We ordered for some food from the in-room service that never arrived. We had to head out late in the night and managed to get some sandwiches from a local deli. Amit and I had a couple of Glenlivets and we all chatted late into the night discussing the big match.
DAY-6: Sydney (Thursday, March 26)
We woke up around 9 am after hitting the bed at 2:30 am the previous night. The big day had arrived. It felt like we were headed for a war (LOL).
We were all super pumped up for match day. We dressed up in our BLUE jerseys and headed down at 10 am for a buffet breakfast at the hotel. We took a cab and reached the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) by 11:30 am. The atmosphere was mind blowing and electric. There were thousands of Indian fans all dressed in their blue jerseys and marching with their Indian flags. The news of Indians having bought 65% of the match tickets seemed like nothing less than true. For a moment, it did not feel like we were in Sydney, Australia. We could hardly see any Aussie fans at the venue and felt nothing like but being at the Wankhede stadium in aamchi Mumbai. One unique fan I still remember was a sardarji carrying a sweatshirt with a big sign of “Miss you Tendulkar”. There was bhangra music, chants of “Jeete ga bhai jeete ga India jeete ga” and all the big fat Indian Shosha.
We picked up a few memorabilia before lining up at the gates for an early entry as the gates opened at 1pm. I had managed to get 2 India flags on Amazon and was wearing them on my back as we marched into the stadium. It was a nostalgic moment full of patriotism. I hadn’t felt this way for years. We were pleasantly surprised to see great Sri Lankan cricketer Aravinda D’Silva outside the stadium. We managed to shake hands with the legend of Srilankan cricket.
The SCG was a brilliant site, far more iconic than I had imagined and seen on TV all over the years. The view from our seats was awesome and couldn’t have asked for more. We settled into our seats and watched in awe as the pre-match practice was still ongoing. We could see MS, Kohli, Rohit and the entire team up close. It just wasn’t feeling real. We soon grabbed a few beers and fries and got ready for the national anthems. It was a bright and sunny day and with our seats right under the sun, it was quite hot and humid. The ground quickly filled up with yellow jerseys but still felt like Indians were a little more in numbers. It was a little disappointing to see Dhoni losing the toss and seeing Australia choosing to bat first. India had a great start with 2 early wickets but then the Aussie pair of Smith and Finch played extremely well keeping the score board ticking without loosing any wickets. This gave them the ability to go hard at the Indian bowlers in the final ten. At one time, it pretty much felt like 375 and even 400 as Aussie batsman hammered the Indian bowling attack. India came back well in the final 10 but all the hard work was spoiled by a quick fire 25 by Mitchell Johnson. Australia ended their innings at a very good score of 329.
Anything beyond 300 was always an uphill task chasing on a big ground under lights. But with India’s strong batting lineup, it didn’t feel all too difficult. Indian’s had a brilliant start to the innings. Both Rohit and Shikhar put on a great partnership of 76 runs in 12.5 overs that ended in a mis calculated shot by Shikhar. This was the dream start that India could have hoped for and a perfect stage for Kohli to come in and capitalize. Kohli started cautiously but after spending close to 11 dot balls, lost his cool and tried to pull Mitchell Johnson that felt like all so easily falling into the Aussie trap on a crucial day. Rohit and Rahane tried to stabilize the chase without losing wickets but the ever growing asking rate led to fall of wickets at regular intervals. It was a small fight back in the end by MS but it was too late by then and not many batsman left to provide support. Australia won the match eventually by 95 runs as India managed to make 233 runs loosing all their wickets in 46.5 overs. It was a big blow seeing India lose the big match. The mood was really somber and we did not have much to talk on our way back from the stadium. All credit to the Indian team that had played exceptionally well to reach the semi-finals. It just wasn’t our day and kudos to Australia for showing great character on a very important day. Highlights of the match were of course the 100 by Steve Smith. He pretty much single handedly won the match for Australia with a brilliant innings.
We got back to the hotel around 11:45 pm. We managed to pick up Shawarma on our way back. It was time for a couple of Glenlivet’s – to sink in and overcome the loss. Discussion on India’s batting and how Kohli could have made a difference on a big day played late into the night.
DAY-7: Sydney (Friday, March 27)
We got up late still recovering from India’s loss in the Semi-final. Anish and I headed to Sydney harbor at 1 pm while Hari decided to take it easy and spend some time relaxing in the hotel. It was time to put the loss behind and enjoy the remainder of the trip. We visited St Mary’s cathedral and had lunch at a small restaurant in the Sydney Royal Botanical garden.
Amit joined us at the restaurant and we three headed to Sydney Opera house. The views were stunning and the walk by the opera house was very beautiful. We treated ourselves to milk shakes and pastry at the Guylian restaurant. It was too difficult to resist the sight of the lovely collection of chocolates and cakes. We picked up some souvenirs at the shops on the harbor.
Hari joined us in the late evening and we took a small ride on the Boat taxi to get the Sydney opera views from the water. The 15-20 minute ride for $90 seemed pretty reasonable and a good choice rather than boarding a dinner cruise that would have lasted a couple of hours. It landed up being a good decision and an opportunity to get some wonderful pictures of the opera house and bridge from the waters.. We ended the day with dinner at a Chinese restaurant on the harbor. The highlight was Kangaroo meat which seemed a little weird to our taste buds.
We headed back to the hotel around midnight. By now we had overcome India’s loss the previous night. We had a great late night session listening to music and cracking jokes. The highlight was a video shared by Hari. Hilarious Jackie Shroff video shooting for a polio campaign in the 90’s.
DAY-8: Sydney (Saturday, March 28)
I had set the alarm for 6 am to setup a time-lapse of the sunrise with the harbor view from the hotel room. The time-lapse turned up really well and all the effort of getting up early to make it happen was worth it.
It was the day to catch our flight to Melbourne, our final destination to watch the final of the CWC15. We all headed few blocks away from the hotel as Amit had to buy some perfumes at a local chemist shop. One of the highlights of the Sydney trip was the great breakfast at a local eating place called THE COMMONS – local eating house on 32 Burton Street. I would rate it the best experience of the trip as far as food is concerned. The omlette with guacamole and goat cheese was something to remember for a long time. The whole place had its character and we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast cum brunch before leaving for the airport.
We reached Sydney airport on time and boarded our Jetstar flight which departed as scheduled.
We touch down in Melbourne around 4:45 pm right on time. It was a short 20 minute ride to our Melbourne ShortStay apartment. The 3 bedroom apartment was nice and comfortable for four of us.
We spent the evening on the Yarra river followed by dinner at a local Thai restaurant. A pleasant and relaxing end to the day before the big final. We ended the day with our daily ritual, Glenlivet’s, jokes and listening to music.
DAY-9: Melbourne (Sunday, March 29)
With India’s exit from the tournament, it was going to be a very relaxed final for all of us. There was nothing to worry about and a perfect time to just go out and enjoy the final of the biggest event in international cricket. We got out around 10 am and and headed to book the Great Ocean Road tour on Flinders street. From there we went to Duffy street to visit Greg Chappell cricket center. It was wonderful to see such a big cricket shop full of accessories. I picked up a pair of shoes, Kookaburra cricket bat and a cricket kit for Arjun. We were a little late and dropped off our stuff at the apartment before heading to the stadium.
Amit’s sister dropped us at Jolimont road, opposite the stadium. We had a quick Mexican brunch and of course VB beer before heading in to witness the mega final at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
MCG is a massive cricket ground and a must visit for any cricket fan. The ground has an incredible sitting capacity of close to 100,000. The view from the lower deck was just incredible. We managed to grab a few pictures during the middle overs as we took turns to enjoy the venue.
The match turned out to be one-sided in the end with Australia winning the game comfortably. The whole experience was something to remember a lifetime. The loudest cheer for Sachin Tendulkar at the presentation ceremony reminded us all of the love and affection he continues to receive through out the world. We waited till the end and watched the entire closing ceremony and witnessed Australia’s victory lap up close from the ground floor stand.
We walked back to our apartment as the roads were all blocked with 000’s of fans. It was a big day for the Aussies and they were celebrating the 5th world cup win in big numbers. All restaurants were full and there was big wait at all places on our way back. We eventually opted for McDonalds and returned back to have our burgers and desert in the comfort of our apartment. We were dead tired and everyone crashed to get a good night sleep. We had luckily booked the sunset version of the great ocean road tour and had to only get to the pickup point at 11 am.
DAY-10: Melbourne (Monday, March 30)
With all the matches behind us, it was time to spend an entire day on the great ocean road sunset tour operated by bunyip tours. We got up and headed to the tour bus stop on 187 city road. Anish and Hari picked up breakfast while Amit and I waited at the stop making sure we don’t miss out on on our bus. The breakfast was yummy, a croissants with ham and cheese and a wonderful cup of hot coffee. The bus was on time and dropped us off at the main stop from where all our buses departed. We were dropped at Flinders street where we boarded bus number 1 for Great ocean road. Jack was our tour guide, pleasant guy with a lot of knowledge of Aboriginal Australian culture. It was an action packed day and would recommend to anyone planning to visit the great ocean road and the 12 apostles. The day was filled with winding roads by the ocean, meeting Koala bears up close, feeding birds, a short rainforest trail and the mesmerizing sunset views of the 12 Apostles.
On our way back, we had dinner at an Indonesian restaurant and opted for Nasi goreng on Amit;s recommendation. It was really tasty and was much needed to calm our hungry souls. All in all a brilliant day of sight seeing. We were all able to get some wonderful snaps and managed to shoot my favorite time lapse of the sunset at 12 apostles. We returned back around at 11:30 pm and slept around 1:30 am. Ended the day with our daily routine of Glenlivets and ice cream bars. Also included was a special act of my doing a Steve Smith impersonation. It was also the time for us to sit back and look back at the last 10 days. A great trip was coming to a close. We all had our flights back the next day. I made sure to pack my bags at night to help me catch a little more sleep in the morning.
DAY-11: Melbourne/Auckland/Los Angeles (Tuesday, March 31)
Anish and I had our flights close to Noon from the Melbourne International airport. Amit and Hari had the entire day for more Melbourne sight seeing as their flights were late in the evening. We bid goodbye to our friends and left for the airport around 8 am. We decided to catch up after our checkin as we both were flying on different airlines. I had a little delay as Air New Zealand had to reconfirm with immigration officers as my transit through Auckland was considered a reentry. After a small phone call with immigration personnel in Auckland, things were sorted out and managed to check in and grab my boarding passes. I was picking up some last minute souvenirs when the phone rang. It was Anish calling to inform me that the GOD of cricket was at the counter checking in on a Singapore airlines flight. I dropped everything in my hand and rushed to the Singapore airlines counter. There he was standing at the counter, an un-believable sight. I pinched my self a couple of times. An epic trip to the 2015 CWC was coming to an end with a more than perfect ending. I managed to get a selphie and autograph with Sachin Tendulkar – my super hero. I was feeling blessed and still unsure if all this was real. Honestly for me it did not get bigger than this. I couldn’t have asked and wished for anything more. A perfect end to my dream trip down under.
We were also lucky to get a snap with Shikhar Dhawan who was traveling on the same flight with Sachin.
I bid goodbye to Anish who had an earlier departure. After tweeting and sharing my day of fame and glory to the world, boarded the flight NZ124 to Los Angeles via Auckland. I was ready to get back home. The incredible dream trip was coming to an end and had already started to miss my family and home.
It was a comfortable flight with a short layover in Auckland. The flight was on time and reached Los Angeles as expected around 11:30 am. The connection flight to Newark was on time and had a touch down around 10:45 pm at Newark Airport. We had booked the same taxi that dropped us at Newark 10 days back. I reached home just after midnight after dropping each of our friends at their respective homes. The dream trip was now truly over but the memories would remain a lifetime.
Until the next world cup, Adios – long live cricket – Go team India!