I HATE Cricket! Not just the ‘C’, but the r, i, c, k, e, t of it too. I haven’t been able to fathom the hue and cry over this gulli-danda game, not just in India, but the world over. Life comes to a standstill when there’s an important cricket match being played anywhere in the globe. Yes! That’s the buzzword – ‘important’. We Indians love not just the ‘C’ but every alphabet of the word cricket. Such is the craze that perfectly normal, god fearing and hardworking people also start looking for excuses to bunk work and important engagements; and turn into couch potatoes in front of the idiot box. Some smarter ones manage to get tickets of the stadium where the match is being played, not willing to let go of the endless thrill of even a fraction of a second! Sigh!
Coming back to the buzzword – ‘important’! A cricket match for Indians assumes automatic significance if India is playing. Obviously! (Though, at the risk of sounding completely non-political, am not sure this has anything to do with patriotism for our country… if it is, I would be a happy soul). After having christened a match important due to the home team playing, the level of importance is exactly proportional to the importance of the opponent. Am sure you are getting the drift, aren’t you? Voila! If it is India and our beloved neighbour Pakistan tossing the coin on the green field, suddenly the entire country freezes. There’s a ‘roaring’ silence everywhere, and the ‘ah’s and the ‘oh’s seem the only words that exist for the humankind that belong to Mera Mahaan Bharat!
Thinking of it, I’d be a liar if I said that I don’t get excited about the Indo-Pak matches. Since childhood I have been in love with the winning streak in people. I admire people who do not have the word ‘lose’ in their dictionaries and convert a loss into an opportunity to perform better and make it a bigger win. I guess winning does that to every sane person. Again, it’s perfectly natural to applaud, appreciate and idolize winners – especially in the insane game of cricket; especially if the win is against our precious neighbour.
That is exactly what happened on 24th September 2007, during the final match of the ICC World Twenty20 in Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg in South Africa (SA). It was a legendary match being played by India and Pakistan after they both won in the semi-finals. The match was being played in SA and hearts were skipping countless beats in India and Pakistan, given the historic rivalry of the two teams. India won the toss and chose to bat, since it was considered to be a traditionally batsman-friendly pitch at the Bullring. It was an electrifying match… sensational to the core.
A few things that I still distinctly remember… Umar Gul took the wickets of both Yuvraj Singh and the skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, leaving India with 157/5 in 20 overs. Only Gautam Gambhir produced a notable innings, getting 75 from 54 balls. Regrettably, a 21-run over from Sreesanth swung the game towards Pakistan. However, Irfan Pathan and Joginder Sharma slowed the scoring dramatically. With Pakistan then needing only 54 runs from 24 balls, Misbah-ul-Haq hit 3 sixes off our adorable Harbhajan Singh in one over. Sreesanth was also dispatched for 2 sixes but the wicket of Sohail Tanvir was his saving grace, as Pakistan went into the last over needing 13 runs to win, with only 1 wicket in hand. Joginder Sharma bowled a wide first ball, followed by a dot ball. Misbah followed by taking six off a full-toss! And we all went… “ohh!” It became so gripping that neither could I breathe nor could I move. It was as if my butt and the sofa seat had become chaddi buddies thanks to the ‘fevicol ka jod’. Pakistan now needed just 6 runs to win from the last four balls. Knowing our neighbours and their boundless love for us, they wouldn’t leave any stone unturned to make us Indians rub our noses to the ground. Misbah attempted to hit the next ball with a paddle-scoop over the fine leg, but he only managed to sky the ball, and it was caught at short fine-leg by Sreesanth, leaving Pakistan all out for 152 runs. “Ahh” went the crowd, and finally the game was over and we won! Yes, we won by a mere 5 runs! But jo jeeta wohi sikandar after all. Irfan Pathan was awarded the Man of the Match for his spell, which included 3 wickets for 16 runs.
And if you are wondering how I know these vital stats and what exactly happened that day, it was because I watched the match, keeping the antagonism towards the game at bay, just for that one day. I don’t think anyone would have missed watching the men in blue in that historical match, and I am human too! I was happy that I sat through the whole match and it was over. Life went back to normal at last. Well, only until the next day! It was announced that the victorious Team India would not only get an unprecedented reception by thousands of fans at the Mumbai airport when they arrived on September 26, but they would also do a victory lap aboard an open decked BEST bus; from the airport to the Wankhede stadium. Winning the inaugural Twent20 World Cup after beating arch rivals Pakistan in the finals was no mean feat and this victory lap was well deserved. Rather, the Indian cricket fans really deserved to see their skipper and his boys – world champions now!
I found the idea hideous though! What a crazy thing to do. It meant that life would be at a standstill even on a no match day. Really silly you know, the things that we Indians could come up with in the name of cricket, and treated the players as God. I got ready and went to office hoping to get rid of this crazy cricket-o-mania and cricket-o-manics! My office (at Breach Candy in Mumbai) was very close to the route (Kemp’s Corner) that the men in blue would take and I didn’t want to get lost in the crowds. So I hurried and reached office early, only to find that most of my colleagues had reached early and there was just one topic of discussion everywhere. Cricket and the Victory Lap of the world champions!
Would I be spared of this nonsense? But, slowly and gradually, something started changing in me after hearing much ado on the same topic. Someone announced that the bus carrying the Indian team would be pretty close to our area in some time and most of the office staff was planning to stand on the road to see the team and cheer for them. Crazy folks! The enthusiasm was contagious and you had to be a completely unemotional, unpatriotic zombie if you didn’t catch it. Sigh… I realized once more, that I was human too and it was okay to get excited about these unimportant things in life.
I changed my mind and hurried along with some of my colleagues towards the appointed area. It was very close to our branch and we could walk to the place. Taking a vehicle was useless anyways because there was no place to drive. When we reached Kemp’s Corner, there were just two people standing there with an umbrella. It had become sunny all of a sudden. The Mumbai weather plays truant all the time. I felt… silly. There was NO one there, except a handful of us ofcourse. I thought it was a ridiculous decision, totally against my normal behaviour. Should I go back, I thought? What the heck, it’s okay to do a little bit of time pass with colleagues. Who knows it may be worth it.
Well, we waited for over two hours. It was a good 35 km route from the airport to the stadium and also a rainy day. The men in blue seemed to be enjoying the attention being showered by thousands of fans in Mumbai and the bus was moving at snail’s pace. It started raining and we got drenched, as in our enthusiasm we forgot about the possible downpour from the heavens. After all, the rains wouldn’t be left behind in welcoming the great Indian Cricket Team, isn’t it? By that time, the crowd had increased significantly and suddenly there was hardly any space to stand. If you moved an inch here or there from your chosen spot, rest assured you would be pushed behind. And all those hours of waiting in the sunshine and rains would be a total waste. What had I gotten myself into? Will this wait be over?
All of a sudden, there was too much commotion. It was already noisy due to the wild crowd, but this was something else. We spotted the blue bus far off, on the bridge that joins Pedder Road to Kemp’s Corner. The excitement grew a hundred fold. They had arrived in the promised blue bus! I couldn’t deny, I was eager to see the cricketers, especially the skipper. I had somewhat become his fan. What? Did I say that? Well, so be it! It took nearly half an hour for the bus to arrive at the spot where we had stuck our feet to the ground. It was worth the wait. The craziness of the crowds kept increasing and when the bus came closer we had a clear view of everyone who was on the upper deck. People were beating their ‘dhols’, singing songs like ‘Chak de India’ and ‘Hum hain Hindustani’, bursting crackers and showering flower petals on the players.
Looked like the crowd wasn’t the only one going nuts. Our men in blue had gone nuttier. They showed no signs of jet-lag and responded to the fans’ enthusiasm in equal measure. What one saw was raw passion! Yuvraj, Sreesanth and Bhajji had gone berserk – like completely. They were dancing with some red coloured dupatta. The Pathan brothers and Sehwag carried the national flag and were boisterous yet composed. The others like Gambhir, Joginder, Rohit (amongst the one I recognised) were smiling and waving at the crowds and enjoying their moment of glory in a less animated fashion. The women all around were blowing kisses at the cricketers. Err, would I have done that if I had spotted the skipper? But I didn’t, so I would never know. The biggest disappointment of the day was not seeing Dhoni in flesh and blood. If he was aboard atleast I didn’t spot him. I had carried a couple of Cadbury chocolates, thinking I will give it to him when I meet him (as if he would have stepped down to fetch them and flashed his set of 32! Women and their wild thoughts I tell you!!). I tried to imitate the Indian bowlers and threw the chocolates up in style and Bhajji and Yuvi caught them. Good catch! They had the right to be world famous cricketers 😉
The entire drama on that street lasted for ten minutes and then the bus sped up, knowing fully well that there were 40,000 people waiting to greet them at Wankhede stadium. The ‘Vijay Rath’ (the blue bus) took approximately five hours to cover the distance from the airport to Wakhede stadium, which was nearly at the other end of town. For once, office goers did not mind the traffic snarls as the city police and traffic personnel assisted by private security officials tried their best to ensure that there was no chaos. The main function at Wankhede Stadium was to felicitate Team India. The team obliged the spectators at the stadium as well by doing a victory lap of stadium.
It was a memorable day with the world champions! Cricket and the cricketers weren’t so bad after all!