The Somerset lads are cursing our failure to reach the T20 Champions League final but playing here has been an experience like no other.
I'm sitting back in the hotel cursing myself for missing a ball I had played in my head 100 times over. We've just lost the Champions League Twenty20 semi-final to the Mumbai Indians and it was, ironically, the one game we should have won. We were a better team than them on paper and for that reason this is a particularly hard defeat to take.
I thought at the halfway stage the game was in the balance; they had probably got 15 or 20 more than they should have but we probably would have taken 160 before the game started. Then came the "Slinger Malinga" factor. Again we had discussed a real tactic of damage limitation against him, knowing that we could capitalise on the lesser bowlers, but unfortunately that plan went awry as he ripped out our two leading batsmen on the trip, Roelof van der Merwe and Pete Trego. Apart from a solid partnership between Craig Kieswetter and James Hildreth, there was a bit too much left to do at the back end and here I am packing my bags ready for the flight home tomorrow.
Before that semi-final, I felt we'd had the best possible preparation. The night before I had witnessed the most incredible game while sat at our hotel bar in Chennai. David Warner had smashed back-to-back hundreds and just when you thought it could not get any better, he switched hands and promptly slog-swept international bowlers over cow corner. Most of us struggle to clear the ropes in our normal stance, but he made it look as easy as can be. This is the great thing about Twenty20: cricket skills are improving, balls are going further and the buzz is just getting louder and more frenzied with every maximum hit.
Who would have thought Bangalore could chase down 200-plus again in just a matter of nights. Chris Gayle, the man mountain that he is, did not disappoint and having spent the previous day in the gym with him, I could see why his bat is three times the size of mine. I wasn't intimidated at all …
So there I was, up later than I should have been the night before the semi-final, adrenaline still pumping from the excitement of the spectacle but also in anticipation for our game against the Mumbai Indians. I knew, though, that whatever happened it was going to be an unforgettable experience. Just playing cricket in India is something to savour – it's a religion out here and people are just totally absorbed with the game and, more importantly, their heroes.
Everywhere we go cricket lovers run up holding out their phones in the hope of a photograph and signature. For any of us, this adoration and attention is special. I thought I was doing well when I got a free Starbucks in Taunton after a good innings for Somerset, but this takes it to a new level. Playing against the likes of Brett Lee, Gayle, Jacques Kallis and just about every big name in cricket is awesome, and having the chance to rub shoulders with them and talk is even better.
India has been a fascinating place, not just for the cricket. I managed to soak up some culture in Bengalooru, and the Somerset team made a visit to a local orphanage where we played some cricket with the kids and donated money. I also took a few hours out to visit the local city market and that was as raw as India comes – spices, teas, flowers, clothes, you name it and they'll get it.
For most of the big stars it is business as usual but for us it is new and exciting, travelling to new cities, staying in top hotels . The real appreciation of just being here has been a huge advantage to us. Chennai has been hot as hades, though, a big difference from the green leafy city of Bengalooru.
The Mumbai Indians came into the semi-final with a lot of hype, especially as the little master Sachin Tendulkar was on board, not as a player this time (thank heavens) but in the support staff. The buzz around the hotel was amazing, people waiting outside to get a glimpse or a quick photo of the great man. It's no wonder he goes everywhere with them – what a boost to the team.
We did get a chance to practice under the lights the night before the semi-final and to get a feel for the pretty alien conditions – there was no need for a warm-up – after just walking off the bus it wasn't long before I was wet through. The mood in the camp even then was one of excitement, of course, but we've had a great balance on this trip, managing to stay very balanced, and that was the key to our reaching the semi-final.
Alfonso Thomas is becoming an increasingly astute leader. He's a tough cookie and his bowling up-front and at the death has been even more important. A lot has been said about the team spirit and there's no doubt that held firm – everyone has enjoyed each other's success. Of course, that makes it hard trying to reflect on something like this defeat because on one hand we have exceeded our own and others' expectations, but on the other the disappointment of not making the final is a bitter blow.
Just casting our minds back to the English county season, getting to Twenty20 finals day and losing the final. Then getting on a plane the next day and playing our first qualifier here the following day – beating Kolkata Knight Riders twice in a row – will go down as a special memory and then of course making the semi-finals. It's been a seriously long journey and, I suppose, great that we got so far.
On a final note, I cannot explain how fantastic the support has been for us: messages on Twitter and Facebook, and other opposing team coaches congratulating us on our attitude and heart. There's no doubt we all feel hugely proud to be here representing Somerset, and also England.
Published 9 October 2011