Friday, April 8, 2011
The road to Cricketing glory - Part 1
I am not a huge Cricket Fan. I am not even a Sports enthusiast. But I have enjoyed watching the Men in Blue play once in a while in a sporadic manner until they start losing games like a stack of bowling pins that come down all at once or until another scandal hits the game. When the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 started I knew that the men in my life would become veritable strangers to me overnight. My husband would work from home more often. My Dad would come back home by lunch time. But all this would not convert into more quality time together because the TV would always be on and would perennially be tuned to either cricket related news or to the pesky commentators giving their own version of what should and should not have been done even though they had never even held a bat in their entire lives. It was when I heard Sidhu repeat another trite Sidhuism about the team needing to be as “cool as a ball of ice in an oven” (seriously, does he stay awake at night thinking these up) once again before India’s first match that I switched off. I decided to shut myself off completely from anything to do with cricket. God seemed to be on my side when I had to travel to Philippines during India’s quarter and semi final skirmishes. Luckily Philippines does not even know the ‘C’ of cricket so I was spared having to discuss India’s chances of winning the cup and how a host country has never won it so far.
Regular calls from home kept me updated about how well the team was doing. I refused to think too deeply about this or get excited about it because I believed I was jinxed when it came to sport. Any team I supported or got emotionally attached to tends to lose in the crucial matches. In a way, subconsciously, my decision to not watch any of the matches was also so that I don’t jinx India’s chances in such an important tournament. I know – illogical and insane but then that’s how it panned out. However, when India did beat Pakistan and thank God I was not in the country to see the madness and euphoria that ensued that clash, my husband proudly announced to me on an expensive ISD call that he had managed to get two tickets to the World Cup Final match between India and Srilanka in Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium and he had graciously decided to take me along with him. I was stumped. I could not believe my financially astute and risk averse husband had spent a bomb on getting those tickets in the first place and what was worse he wanted to take me, Ms. Jinx with him for such an important match. I hemmed and hawed and even suggested that he should probably sell those tickets in black and make a pot of money. But then a visual of my husband, behind bars, dressed in the grimy black and white prison uniform and looking forlornly at a battered and bruised food vessel made me stop in mid sentence and not mention that idea again.
I tried to ignore the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I thought about going to see the Final and mercilessly stopped myself from thinking about anything to do with Cricket. I felt that by the time I landed back in India, just the day before the final, better sense would have prevailed and my husband would have either sold the tickets or found a friend to take with him. In fact, I had already started day dreaming about the spa appointment I would book for myself during the time of the match and all the well deserved pampering I would get. But, God was not on my side this time. By the time I landed back, my husband had already picked out matching Team India t-shirts that we would be wearing for the match and had also convinced another 4 couples to join us for this all important tournament. He was perplexed that I was not excited about this once in a lifetime opportunity that we could tell our kids and grandkids about. I tried to tell him about my theory of being a jinx but he just rolled with laughter for a long time and said I had given him a stomach ache.
Anyways, the morning of 2nd April saw us having a hearty breakfast as if we were going out to play ourselves and set out of home with the best wishes of the entire family, like we were warriors going on to the battlefront. While I wanted to keep this whole thing quiet, thanks to my husband’s penchant for face book and twitter, it felt like the whole world knew about what we were up to. I was amazed at the wishes that friends from across the world sent. Everyone wanted us to cheer on their behalf and ensure Indian won. When I read the message from my Dad that he wished that we would bring India luck, I silently thought, not if I am anywhere in the stadium. I decided I would just keep my eyes closed. I would not look at what was happening on the pitch and then, we might just have a snowball’s chance in hell to win. (Now I know where Sidhu gets this from J).
With my new found resolve, we lined up outside Wankhede and realized we would have to stand out there for almost 2 hours to get inside. The line was so long that we were standing on the promenade of Marine Drive, almost 2 kilometers away trying to get in. The site that greeted me was bus loads of supporters alighting on these majestic promenade, some with face painted, some dressed in the tri color and some wrapped in the National Flag, all chanting “Indiaaaaaa, Indiaaaaaaa”. On one side I saw 2 elderly gentlemen supported by their teenaged daughters raring to enter the stadium. I overheard one of the girls tell her father “It is a historic day. I am holding my country’s flag for the first time and I am so happy”. She was not more than 15 years old but she taught me a lesson with the simple sentence. To her this occasion was not about winning or losing. It was about showing solidarity with a bunch of men who were playing for a cup that had eluded us for decades. It was an occasion to revel in being an Indian irrespective of whether we won or lost. She inspired me enough to want to have my own picture clicked with the national flag. I turned to a gentleman standing on one side with his friend and requested him if he could shoot a picture of me with my flag. He shook his unruly mop of curls and said, “Not with that flag. Take mine. I had it with me when India won the T 20 World Championship in London. It will be lucky for you.” That felt like an omen to me. I felt that somewhere God had understood my fears and sent a bout of good luck to cancel my own bad luck. I took the picture with his flag and reluctantly parted with the lucky flag.
I always believed that Indians were a taciturn bunch. But that day it felt like the hundreds of people with whom we were jostling to get into the stadium were long lost friends. I heard free flowing conversation of what the batting line up should be, why Sreesanth was playing at all, what should we do if we lose the toss. I also heard some good hearted banter that a few Indians were having with the handful of Srilankan supporters in the crowd. The sense of excitement for a good match was palpable and then the floodgates opened and we all rushed in.
We were late and had already missed the toss. Owing to my new bout of nationalism, I did not want to miss the national anthem. As I bounded up the steps, with my perplexed husband who did not know what had happened to change my aversion to such boundless enthusiasm huffing behind me to catch up, I caught my first few glimpses of the stadium through the small, open gateways on each floor. The sun was shining brightly and I could see the patches of the green grass and stands filled with people and several Indian flags flying high. But when I finally broke through the final floor and entered the stand where our seats were, I was hit by a site so majestic, I could only stand and gape. Around me were 35,000 excited, cheering Indians surrounding a ground so green that one could not see even a speck of the brown earth under it. The sunlight bounced off the little droplets of water that shone on the grass and shone every little nook of the ground, brightening not just the earth it fell on but the faces of all the cheering audience around. Just when I thought nothing could beat this site, both the teams walked onto the crown to loud cheers in preparation for the National Anthem.
I felt proud of my city, when every soul on the ground irrespective of whether they were from India, Srilanka or from a totally different nationality (I also saw a few South Africans supporting India in the crowd, no doubt showing solidarity with Gary Kirsten, our South African coach) stood in respect for the Srilankan anthem. And then came the Indian anthem. As I heard the melodious words written by Tagore so many years back, break through the public address system, I saw a crowd 35,000 strong join their voices to the melody. It was a moment after such a long time that made me proud to be an Indian, standing in my country, lending my voice to an anthem that fills our heart with a deep love and gratitude. By the time we finished, I had goose bumps on my skin and tears in my eyes. And then the game to beat all other games began.