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Taking fashion head on

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA
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chat The self-effacing Paul Valthaty speaks of himself after a makeover

T he TV presenter voiced mock disappointment. “Oh come-on,” he sighed at Paul Valthaty, who, after sinking his talons into Chennai Super Kings' bowling unit and licking them clean, sought to lay all credit at the feet of the pitch.

“Don't be so modest.” If that was intended to elicit a substantial response out of the latter, there was only further heartbreak in store. “I am modest.”

Now, weeks later, Valthaty appears as self-effacing as he did moments after that 63-ball-120 at Chepauk that took the Indian Premier League by storm. “Well, I don't think I'm the ‘find of the IPL',” he smiles, when someone asks if that status has burdened him with pressure. The 27-year-old is one of several Kings XI Punjab players on an afternoon ‘shopping' excursion to a Flying Machine store in the city. “There is no pressure; it's an added responsibility,” he says. “What my team expects from me is more important.”

Valthaty is hauled off for a ‘make-over', and soon returns in a new set of clothes and with hair appearing oddly different. Paul, what do you think of it? “Ugly before, ugly after,” he deadpans to looks of discomfort, before offering an “Okay, better.” His thoughts are sought on a possible India call-up — a topic for discussion it turns out the Mumbai-dweller wishes to discourage.

“That is too far ahead. The next game is the only thing on my mind.” Meanwhile, a minor row has broken out close to the entrance.

A photographer, it appears, was manhandled by one of the team's South African security guards. Their compatriot Ryan McLaren, however, is less bellicose. “I'm not a big fashion man,” he shrugs, looking around the store. “I don't really want to make a statement with anything I wear. I just try and keep it as simple as possible.” This is the 28-year-old's second year in the IPL, after a stint with Mumbai Indians last season. “It's difficult to compare Mumbai and Punjab,” McLaren feels. “A difference is that there was maybe a bit more of a business background with Mumbai. Here, the owners are there with us wholeheartedly but allow us to play our cricket. Preity Zinta has been a brilliant support. We've been fortunate to get to know her.”

“But whatever it is, it's great to play in India,” he continues. “There is such massive excitement and a buzz about the IPL here. What is also good about the tournament is that you get to know young cricketers and experienced guys. The interaction between overseas and Indian players has been great.”

One Indian player, despite appearing markedly apathetic towards ‘interaction' on the field, is here an embodiment of amiability.

While those around him flit about, picking out T-shirts and pairs of trousers, Praveen Kumar is happy to remain in one spot, jesting with and high-fiving anybody that should pass by. The Meerut-born seamer explodes in laughter when one reporter attempts to frame a question in Hindi but ends up making a hash of it. Does he think it possible for him to shop in an Indian city for real? “Absolutely,” he says. “I have no issues with a crowd. I'm no different from those people.”

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA

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