Not too long ago, I had professed my undying hatred for cricket. It runs in my family, this total disregard for cricket and "all the fools who have nothing better to do than watch cricket". So please don't faint when I tell you that I BOUGHT a ticket, took a BUS all the way to Nerul, and saw the Mumbai Indians v/s Pune Warriors IPL match on Wednesday. Not only that, I was also out on the streets after watching both India-Pakistan and India-SriLanka World Cup matches, celebrating just like any other cricket fan (or patriotic Indian). Oh well, seems like hatred doesn't last forever.
Now I understand why watching sports is considered a form of entertainment. Nothing can beat the thrill of watching a game live. Moreover, with thousands of spectators cheering and waving flags at every boundary or wicket, the energy is boundless. There were a few things that irritated the hell out of me, but considering that I'm not a huge cricket fan, I had a really good time. Here's my journalistic account of what happened.
The first thing that struck me when I reached Nerul was the large number of policemen. There were almost a hundred khaki vardis, eating and drinking at the nearby restaurants/dhabas. I have never seen so many policemen in my life! They were carrying weird plastic sticks, which resembled the toy swords of the Star Wars franchise. No wooden lathis of yore, I see! A half an hour later, two policemen casually walked past with 6 ft rifles, as if they're carrying toys. I imagined them taking aim from the topmost point in the stadium. I didn't know whether to feel scared or reassured.
Then of course, my pet favourites. Hawkers! I saw more than 50 of them, waiting along the edges of the stadium, in all ages, sizes and genders (wait, that's not right). From team flags, t-shirts, vuvuzela-lookalikes (equally annoying), whistles, to painting the team colours on your face, everything was on offer. Negotiations were happening all over the place, and money was exchanging hands fast, until the municipality jeep came by, with kids not very different from the hawkers themselves, chasing the hawkers and confiscating their wares. The most nimble ones would run and hide in nearby colonies, only to come out a few minutes later when the jeep was out of sight. The funniest part is that no flags, whistles, vuvuzela-lookalikes, chart papers or fake blown-up swords bought from outside were allowed inside the stadium. My friends most probably guessed right when they said that the "merchandise" collected outside the stadium would be given back to the hawkers. And that's how we were looted.
Wait, that's not the only funny part. We were informed that flags are available inside for free. Good for us, we didn't buy them from the hawkers at ridiculously high prices. However, when we walked in, only Pune Warriors flags were available. There were no MI flags! Not a big deal for me, I was anyway supporting PW. But it makes no sense! Some ingenious fans managed to smuggle MI flags and whistles inside, but it was definitely hilarious to see the PW flags being waved for any boundary or wicket on ANY side.
My chief grouse is against the PW cheerleaders though. The MI cheerleaders were blond, firang and dressed in short clothes. The PW ones were in Bengali sarees, south Indian dresses and something that suspiciously looked like a Navvari saree, but I'm sure it wasn't. Don't get me wrong, I'm not racist. But if you're a cheerleader, at least choreograph a decent routine and do it in co-ordination! Very very sad. No wonder PW lost. Who would want to win with such tepid encouragement.
Speaking of tepid, that would be an under-statement for the soft drinks on offer. Not only were they warm, they were watery! And there was no drinking water available inside the stadium, although the guards at the gates were refusing to allow people to take in their Bisleri bottles, saying water is available inside. Drinking the weird coke to quench our thirst resulted in more sore throats and hoarse screaming. Very bad combination. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I realized that the only food I was going to get was popcorn. In the interest of full disclosure (thank you Dr. Sheldon Cooper ;)), there were food stalls outside the stadium, in the DY Patil college ground. Once we were in the stadium though, with hardly any breaks in the match, we couldn't risk missing a single ball.
Despite all this, watching the game live had my pulse racing. I was up, sometimes on top of my chair, to cheer EVERY boundary and wicket, irrespective of the team. Watching a match live also needs very skillful switching between the pitch and the screen. In the beginning I found myself looking at the screen instead of the pitch, since the screen is so much bigger. Then of course I started looking at the pitch till the ball was bowled and then at the screen to see if I missed anything. I wonder if binoculars would've helped.
The screens showed us the SetMax screening and I was surprised when I observed a lag. However, it was for the best since most often people would get up to see if the ball was going to for a wicket or boundary and poor-short-me would miss the action. Action replay surely helped! Spotting Sachin was easy with his orange cap, but for the rest of the players, I needed some help. I knew when Bhajji and Malinga were bowling because of their peculiar styles. I totally lost track of the overs though. When you're watching a match on TV, there's so much background information being fed to you. At the stadium, I could barely even keep track of the score which was being flashed on a tiny portion of the stadium boundary. Still, it was fun to see the action live.
So, at the end of it all, am I cricket fan? Not quite yet. But I might not say the following when my brother is watching the next IPL match:
"Change the channel! Now!"