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Kick-started nuclear deal, bowled over by cricket: He’s the US ambassador to India

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Kenneth Juster’s Twitter feed, teeming with posts about the sport, are a world away from recent tensions in India-US ties over Trump’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, and defence buys from Russia.

New Delhi: A man who helped kick-start the first negotiations for the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2004, US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster has been getting his hands dirty with another kind of game much beloved of his host country: Cricket.

As India deals with the turbulence of the international world order, some of it precipitated by his own President, Donald Trump, Juster seems to be equally busy.

On Monday, he received a US congressional delegation — which promptly criticised India’s decision to buy air defence systems from Russia — and shepherded them to meet defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale.

A day later, on Tuesday, he participated in a joint felicitation of UN peacekeeping forces for African countries. And on Saturday, 26 May, the top US diplomat tweeted a photo of himself with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, congratulating him on his fourth year in office.

In between, Juster’s Twitter feed featured a video of him answering a cricket quiz. It’s called ‘Testing the Ambassador’s Cricket Quotient’, and shows US embassy personnel tossing him a series of soft lobs (Question: Who is India’s cricket captain. Answer: I’m pretty sure it’s Virat Kohli, because soon after I came to India, I was invited to his wedding?). The opening frame is a photo of the ambassador in full flow, hitting a cricket ball.

Minutes after midnight Sunday, barely had the IPL final ended in favour of Chennai Super Kings, when the ambassador was back again, tweeting two pictures of the final.

But what’s with the hashtag #Whistlepodu? Fear not, and scroll down. On 23 May, Juster tweeted a video of himself and a few US embassy employees watching the IPL match between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals, all of them wearing stars and stripes. “We are #BowledOverByCricket here @USAndIndia,” he wrote in the accompanying post.

A day earlier, ‘Cricket Tips’ is the name of the game — but who’s the coach? There’s only one god, of course, and his name is Sachin Tendulkar. The ambassador seems to be in Mumbai. At Wankhede stadium, bat in hand. Listening and watching ‘god’ lead the way.

Ah, that #Whistlepodu hashtag has surfaced again. Ignore the lure, as it’s time for INSV Tarini. Keep scrolling down. Never give up, when #USIndiaDosti is at stake. Ken Juster is now on fire, watching his first IPL match at Ferozeshah Kotla grounds on 18 May.

Does the man have a day job, you wonder. Must be so much fun to be the American ambassador to India, especially when you can pick the game you want to play.

#Whistlepodu is a nag. What does it mean, anyway?

A trip to Bhutan intervenes, including a trek to Taktsang, the Tiger’s Nest monastery, a five-hour walk up from Ground Paro. As does Ramzan Mubarak, and Pinky Reddy, president of @FICCIFLO, with her open hair fetchingly drawn over her left shoulder.

On 12 May, ‘American Diplomats Catch Cricket Fever’. A diplomat seemingly peruses a file, but it has a phone hidden inside on which a cricket game is being played. Another diplomat reaches into his top drawer for a red apple imported all the way from the US of A, but he bites into a cricket ball. A third receives a sheet of paper wearing cricket gloves. That sort of thing.

Juster’s enthusiasm for the bat and ball remains unmatched. On 11 May, the ambassador tweets a photo of himself with the Master Blaster. Is this the real McCoy? Is this when he really went to Mumbai and Wankhede to meet the god of cricket?

Sachin has been tagged a week earlier too, as the ambassador learns to play #GullyCricket on his way to work. Basically, that’s the hundred yards from Roosevelt House to the US Embassy. I think the boys are using a tennis ball.

Finally, April 20 has dawned. Reverse swing. #Whistlepodu. Five Men in Yellow. With attitude.

The ayes have it! So what if the joy over the Indo-US nuclear deal has given way to a certain tension over Iran oil and Russian arms. Juster learnt the ropes at Harvard Law School and the John F. Kennedy school for public policy at Harvard, but it was at high school that his love affair with India — and sports — began.

“My deep interest in India and international affairs is matched only by my love for sports which began at a young age. I played basketball at high school and always enjoyed tennis, baseball and golf,” Juster said in his inaugural video last year, posing with a tennis bat and an India T-shirt in front of the US Congress lawns soon after he was named US ambassador to India.

So what if the US-India pitch is muddy, Juster knows how to bide his time. So much better to get out and just play the gentleman’s game. Howzzat!

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  1. Apart from trying to take in as many tourist attractions as possible, the Trump Administration’s US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster has made it a priority to learn as much as he can about cricket, which apparently has become a passion for him! It’s too bad for the families of our 400 India MIAs that recovering their remains is not something that interests him nearly as much as cricket does !

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