Australian PM visits MRF Pace Foundation

Published: Wednesday, March 8, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Chennai:Away from the hustle and bustle of politics, trade and Uranium talks, Australian Prime Minister John Howard today took time off to visit the MRF Pace Foundation and 'bowled over' the audience.

There was never a dull moment in his nearly 45-minute visit to the foundation, where bowlers from all the test playing nations have trained at one time or the other to fine-tune their skills under the legendary Aussie speedster Dennis Lillee, whom Mr Howard described as ''the very best cricketer Australia has produce.''

For the trainees at the foundation, it was an unforgettable experience as they had a once-in-a-life time chance of shaking hands with Mr Howard, who also shared some of his cricketing thoughts with them.

Clad in cream trousers and white full-sleeved shirt and wearing the traditional Australian baggy green tie, Howard and his entourage were conducted around the various facilities at the foundation.

The moment he removed his coat (due to the sweltering heat) and rolled up his sleeves, he kept the audience spellbound.

Unmindful of the tight security by the uniformed and plain-clothes policemen he was all at ease in the foundation.

It all started with the introduction of former Indian cricketers Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Robin Singh and Sri Lankan fast bowler Chaminda Vaas, who have trained here before he was taken around the gym and other facilities.

Then the Foundation's chief coach T A Sekhar, accompanied by MRF Chairman K M Mammen and fitness trainer Ramji, explained the mode of training being given to the trainees. Each and every aspect of a bowler right from his run up to the time the ball is delivered, was captured in a video.

Sekar and Ramji showed the slow motion replays to identify the errors in a bowler's action and how it is being rectified.

Impressed by the technology, Howard remarked ''You do it in a systematic way'', when the person, who compared the function, stated that former international umpire S Venkatraghavan,one of the consultants for the Foundation, had already called no ball six times, sending the audience in peels of laughter, including the visiting dignitary.

After having a look at the photo exhibition tracing the 19-year-old history of the foundation, launched by the visionary late Ravi Mammen, and the cricketing kit of the MRF, Howard had a tea break, before assembling for the formal speech.

MRF Managing Director Arun Mammen, in his brief address, explained the role played by the Foundation in training world class fast bowlers before the Chairman presented a gift, an MRF bat autographed by three legends and brand ambassadors, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Steve Waugh, to Mr Howard.

Mr Arun said all the four pace bowlers who were in the Indian team for the second Test against England tomorrow, were trainees of the foundation, The top two Aussie fast bowlers Glenn Mcgrath ande Brett Lee, had also trained here.

This showed the success rate of the foundation. In his nearly 10 minute speech, which was laced with wit and humour, the ever-smiling Mr Howard pointed out that cricket has a pre-eminent position in the relations between India and Australia just as it is between Pakistan and India.

The love for cricket was common between the two countries. ''I am impressed with the common love that India and Australia have for cricket. I have also learnt about the emotions which Indians have to cricket. Among the many attractive things about India is the love its people have for cricket'', he said.

Highly impressed with the size of this academy, Mr Howard, who appeared cheerful, said he came with mixed feelings and learnt something about India's preparations to catch up with Australia, at the foundation.

Returning the compliment, Mr Howard presented a gift -- a giant portrait containing the Prime Minister's XI team and the Indian squads which had played the traditional tour openers at Canberra during the 1999 and 2004 tours Down Under. The gift was received by Mr K M Mammen.

Just as Mr Howard seemed to have wound up his visit, he came back rushing to the media saying, ''Hey come back...come back. It's ''not out as yet''... I want to repeat an announcement which I made in Mumbai yesterday''.

After ensuring that the cameramen and other journalists were settled again, he announced that the Australian government would provide one million dollars as sponsorship for the memorabilia of Sir Don Bradman, which would be part of Bradman exhibition, to be staged in India.

''Let me see them (the trainees)'', Mr Howard was heard saying as he proceeded towards the pitch and shook hands with some of the trainees and inter-acted with them. He also posed for photos with them, before signing off his visit.

One of the trainees, Samiulla Beigh of Jammu and Kashmir, should have been ''no balled'' several times as he overstepped repeatedly.

But he was definitely ''bowled over'' by his gesture when Mr Howard 'overstepped' and walked up to shake hands with him and also with others.


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