Monday, February 28, 2011

I was there

February 27th, 2011. Bangalore. India and England played a cricket match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. I am pretty sure that highlights of this match would be replayed over and over again on sports channels for the next 50 years.
After having expressed my outrage that my beloved Kolkata had been denied the chance to host this match, fate had taken a turn for the nicer when Bangalore - my current location - got the match. And thanks to a friend of mine, I did get a ticket for the big game, although I did have to pay a small fortune for that.
It was a nice and cool day and I reached the stadium rather early. Before that, there was the small matter of a breakfast at MTR, but curiously enough they had run out of Vadas and Sambhar. But then with Idly and Dosa in my tummy, and hope in my heart, there we were - almost right above the sight screens in Block N.
Reaching early gave me the chance to have a closer look at the two teams - who went about their practice in rather different fashions. The English - a lot more brisk and business like, the Indians - relaxed and laidback. The crowd was already beginning to find its voice though and there were particularly loud cheers for KP - the RCB hero - a massive hit here. Well, of course the cheers for Sachin and Dhoni were louder when they came out to practice.
Somewhere in between, we had Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain, Sunil Gavaskar and Mike Atherton come out and have a look at the pitch. The experts were in the middle and there was a lot of "expert advice" coming from the crowd as well.
And so the toss and there was an upset straightaway. MS Dhoni won a TOSS!! and as the crowd had been wanting all along - India were going to bat. A quick word about the crowd - they were in all shapes and sizes. The massive hunk with the 16 inch biceps to the petite, young teenage girl, the young kid in his shorts to the Dadaji in his pyajamas. And in between - a fair number of Englishmen - all of them extremely sporting and cheerful - with some of them even getting the tricolour painted on their cheeks as a symbol of goodwill.   I suddently realised that this was India's first World Cup game at home since THAT evening at the Eden Gardens in 1996. Dravid and Ganguly never got a chance to play a home World Cup and I felt sad about that. Indian cricket has changed totally since that game. Well, almost. Because there was Sachin Tendulkar - still a constant - like the sun - he was the brightest star then, he is the brightest star now.
Time for the national anthems then. The English one first and God Save the Queen got a generous round of applause. And now time for Jana Gana Mana. Now I have sung the anthem in school assemblies and Independence Day/Republic Day functions. Perhaps in crowds of one or two thousands at the maximum. But the feeling of singing together with 30-35 thousand people, with our heroes and icons out in the centre is quite undescribale. Goosebumps and all that - you have to be there to feel it - hope you get a chance for that as well.

And then the match began. Sehwag on strike and as his game - he was "living on the edge" from the first ball itself. And then suddenly the roar of the crowd went up dramatically. It was like someone put the volume of a TV up to the max, the decibel levels went up quite incredibly. Yes, God was on strike and what an innings he went on to play.
And the innings went pretty much as per the plan. A Sehwag cameo, a Gambhir 50 in a controlled fashion, a Yuvraj 50 to signal his slow return back to form and a few staggering hits by Dhoni.
But most importantly, a Sachin 100. To see him play the way he did - controlled, determined, precise, immaculate -I pinched myself a few times to believe it was all truly happening in front of me. He did have a slowish start though - slow enough for a couple of aunties behind me to crib - Oy Sachin - score runs yaar - useless fellow - wasting balls. But he made it up. He made it all up - by bringing up his 47th hundred, hitting no less than 5 sixes in his knock. The sensation of seeing him get the 100 was quite something. Divine is the word.
And so while it finished in a bit of a rush of wickets - we had got 339 on the board (or so we believed - the 1 run deducted proved to be oh, so crucial) - and time to have some food. The rather expensive ticket of mine entitled me to some free food. There was a piece of Jalebi thrown in. Little did I know that the shape of the match would be resemble that.
So back with some food in the stomach and the Englishmen were right on top of our bowling from the start. KP really had Zak's number and it took a fortuitous catch from Munaf to get his wicket. Trott came and went, before Bell and Strauss put up what eventually became a staggering partnership. Over after over - the runs kept coming and the slowly but surely they kept coming at the target. The confidence in the supporters started to waiver, then shake, impatience came, followed by desperation. The Bell UDRS drama only increased the frustration as a few cheater chants were thrown. With Ganguly and Hussain, both in the crowd, it looked like Lord's and the Natwest win might just be avenged here by the English.
A few words about Strauss' knock. He played as relaxed, as controlled, as composed a knock as he almost comes across as a person. He stays so still at the crease, so balanced - his movements so economical and so precise. 150 of the very best ODI runs you would see - scored in a clinical fashion, but this was not really what the Doctor (Mallya) had ordered for the Indians.
There was talk of rain as well before the match, but the weather remained nice and cool throughout, just like Andrew Strauss in the middle and so Messers Duckworth and Lewis (who had England in the lead almost througout) were kept at bay.
The practical (the ones who have to reach home early - as the next day is a Monday) and the smart ones (India will surely lose) left early - somewhere in between the Strauss-Bell marathon. The passionate and the stupid however remained. And while most of us where grumbling and muttering about our abject bowling, unathletic fielding and the flat pitch, there was always someone in the crowd - a totally hopeless moron who would start a chant every now and again - trying to galvanise the crowd - one more time - one last time.
The English took the Power Play in the 43rd over. Something incredible happened then. It's hard to describe what happened but suddenly the desperation of the crowd created what can only be be described as a "magical atmosphere". An atmosphere charged with intense frenzy, emotion, passion. It was crowd pressure on the English of the highest order. And then in two balls two wickets fell - Ian Bell clearly affected by a little injury picked up in the last order, succumbed to the crowd - hitting a skyer, followed by a yorker from Zaheer to get Strauss out LBW. It was almost like the Zaheer of 2000, as this one zoomed in middle stump. The crowd erupted with joy - now there was hope when 5 minutes ago there was none. And Collingwood, Prior and Yardy - perished in the delirium as the match swung dramatically in India's favour.
The Power Play had started with England needing 58 to win of 42 balls with 8 wickets in hand. It ended with 29 to win off 12. We had wrested back the game from the English who it appeared had picked our pockets and run away with the game.
But there was a sting in the tail of this one. The next over from the young Piyush Chawla produced 15 runs with 2 massive sixes. The roller coaster had suddenly taken yet another turn - this time for the worse and suddenly we were nervous, shaking, panicking again. They needed 14 of the last over and the stunning six of the 3rd ball by Ahmed Shahzad, reduced the equation to 5 of 3. The last 3 balls were better from Munaf and the match ended in a Tie.
Funnily , I had told an NRI supporter who was curiously enough cheering with both the Indians and the English that I think it will be a tie - whatsay when the powerplay started. I was joking of course, but I have got into this habit of predicting absurd results correctly from some time.
We left the stadium - half happy, half sad, half relieved, half gutted. We had got out of jail, we had blown an easy win. The term mixed feelings came to mind. But for those 5 magical overs - the scenes in the stands were incredible. We were high fiving with absolute strangers in the crowd - people whom you have never met before, people perhaps you will never see again - united by the love of the game and support for the team. The now twitter joke of "In the end, cricket was the winner" also came to mind. Walking out - there was a few nods of respect to the English fans as well - in all fairness their team did not deserve to lose. But neither did this crowd. A tie was a fair result.
This Indian team has its limitations. We all know it. And so for us to go deep in this tournament, we will need our crowds to do their bit. So if you are in Chennai, Nagpur, Delhi, or indeed if and when we play the Quarter Finals, Semi Final or indeed the Finals in Ahmedabad, Mohali and Mumbai - go out and shout. You can make the difference.
Truly unbelievable stuff. And yes, I was there. 
(Pics courtesy: Aditya and Cricinfo)


  1. Lovely post, reminded me of my time at the Eden on that fateful March night in '96. Thanks for capturing the emotions from the ground.


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