My formal initiation into the world of cricket was during the 1996 World Cup. Well, that is if you don’t consider ‘book cricket’ and the one-off summer afternoons of galli cricket where I was grudgingly included in the neighbourhood game and cautiously stationed where there was a one in a hundred chance of the ball passing by. While I did fairly alright in the book cricket version, the kids in my colony didn’t take very kindly to me scrambling for cover behind a bush when a stray ball actually beat the one in hundred odds and came hurtling towards me. That was when I opted for an early retirement from the game of cricket (much to their relief). And then, 1996 happened.
I was in the 8th grade and had become a die-hard cricket fan overnight. I watched every match in the series. I scoured through the sports section of the Deccan Herald as religiously as my textbooks and devoured every bit of information on the teams and the players. I even made a scrap book to follow the tides of the World Cup. It had newspaper clippings, the World Cup Schedule, players’ pictures, trivia, statistics et al. I rooted for Sri Lanka in the finals because they were the underdogs and I had found Dilhara Fernando rather cute. But I also remember switching loyalties to Australia after the match because I felt sorry for them and their woebegone expressions; besides I had begun to find Adam Gilchrist cute as well!
Sadly, post the 1996 World Cup, the die-hard cricket fan in me eventually died and all that remained of the flash-in-the-pan obsession was a dusty scrapbook and a pack of well-worn Cricket Trump Cards. But in January 2008, my friend Simi and I sat at Worli Sea Face after watching the movie ‘Bucket List’ and drew up a wish list of our own. Sixth on that list was a re-manifestation of my flash-in-the-pan fondness for cricket under the note, “Watch a cricket match live at a stadium.” Well, it did take me a good 5 years to get down to it but I shall have you know that yours truly has put a big, fat tick mark against item #6 on the agenda. Here’s proof for the non- believers :-)
Well, this was from the India vs. England T20 match on 22nd Dec 2012. Boy! Was I glad that the world hadn’t ended the previous day! The evening started off on a bit of a back foot (though in Cricket, I am told that phrase is not cause for concern). My friend Krishna and I thought for some reason that the match was scheduled to start at 8 pm and not 7 pm. Even though we managed to reach the stadium by 6:50 pm we weren’t prepared for the serpentine line of fans outside. It meandered past the lane alongside the gate and continued until the end of the road and even snuck up the over-bridge and ended at the Marine Lines station a good 1.5 km away!
An excruciating half hour and 7 overs later when we managed to find our way into the stands, I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole. I walked into a whole different world - a green island bathed by a thousand splendid suns and surrounded by a euphoric sea of blue that ebbed and flowed and rippled in synchrony. I was literally a drop in the ocean. I elbowed my way through the sea of blue and realized much to my delight that we actually had ring side seats to the game. My delight was sadly short-lived. The moment I sat down, I found that my entire view of the game was blocked by a not-so-thin cameraman who single handedly eclipsed the entire pitch like a one rupee coin eclipsing the sun!
I missed the next couple of overs trying to get his attention to convince him to lie down on the grass and shoot the game from a more unique angle. I’ve seen wild life photographers on National Geographic shoot game (albeit a different kind) from that angle. But his head phones effectively rendered all my attempts useless! What’s more, his strategic distance from the ring fence effectively prevented me from poking him in the ribs to draw his attention. With only 7 overs to go for the first half, I resigned myself to watching the game at a 45 degrees angle. Of course, I missed 3 of them trying to catch the roving camera that would relay the audience’s faces on national television for I had asked half the world to watch out for me on TV.
The second half saw me missing the first 5 overs again – 4 of them in the quest for a cheese grilled sandwich and 1, trying to find my way back to my seat. Ironically, the not-so-thin cameraman served as a landmark, thereby saving me from missing another over (at a 45 degrees angle of course). But suddenly, with a fielding change, my luck changed as well. . Well, the man is a crowd pleaser and he did seem to enjoy his share of the limelight, throwing smouldering ‘how-you-doing?’ looks to acknowledge the “Viraaaat, we love you!!!” screams from the ladies in the stands. The last 10 overs went by in a flurry of Raina, Gambhir, empty space, Sir Ravindra Jadeja carrying a water bottle, empty space, Kohli, Sourav Ganguly with his fresh crop of hair and Siddhu with a yellow turban passing through and stealing Kohli’s thunder by waving to the crowd, empty space and a tottering Ravi Shastri headed towards the presentation arena.