Life’s a Test

by Parth Pandya

[box]For a cricket fan who worships Sachin Trendulkar, what could be better than watching a high quality test match where the God plays on his home turf? Cricket maniac Parth Pandya chronicles his day watching the second test of the India-England series in Mumbai, with photos from his camera.[/box]

As someone who does not stay in this country and is still positively obsessed with the game of cricket, it was an absolute dream come true to get a chance to watch a high quality contest live in the stadium. I was there in person to watch day 3 of the second test of the series between India and England at the Wankhede stadium. The greatest incentive, of course, was to watch the God on his home turf – Sachin Tendulkar batting at Wankhede – but more on that later. The following is a report of the way the day unfolded.

Yeh India hai boss!

I had booked my tickets online in anticipation of getting to watch the game. The tickets, to the credit of the MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) were priced very reasonably – 500 rupees for the entire match. Test cricket needs these incentives to build attendance. Back to the tickets – since I had booked them online, I assumed that getting into the stadium should not take time. When I reached the stadium, there was a serpentine queue waiting outside to book tickets. I walked to the front of the line only to discover a board which said that tickets booked online needed to be picked up from the Karnataka Cricket Association’s office. So, I trudged, bag and all, to find the KCA office somewhere close to the Cross Maidan. After some false assumptions and additional walking, I finally found the location, only to find six people already waiting there, twiddling their thumbs on their phone, trying to find out why there was no one to give the tickets. After an hour of waiting, someone finally showed up and gave the tickets. A rush back to the stadium set me in a line for a gate that led to (what else?) the Sachin Tendulkar pavilion. The security had many layers, and the first one had a rude shock for me. No bags allowed!! Everything is ok as long as you carry it on your person. Of course, nothing of this sort was mentioned when the tickets were booked. I was wondering what to do next with the bag, even after I emptied it somehow. The head honcho policeman in the line told me – “There are some of these guys around the corner who will keep your bag for some money. Try them.” Sure enough, the jugaad philosophy was in full flow: a cobbler was keeping bags for 50 rupees. To identify bags, you’d have to make two chits – one that stayed with you and one that went in the bag. At the end of the day, to pick your bag, you’d have to match the chits. Mera Bhaarat Mahaan. I finally went through all the hassles to be greeted with this gorgeous view, six minutes before the start of play. Today was going to be a good day.

Kevin, go back!

The match was tantalizingly poised with India having made 327 in the first innings and England having responded strongly through Captain Cook and the kinetic Kevin Pietersen. The first session was going to be crucial. The crowds were still building up as the players sauntered through to the middle. On a pitch that was supposed to have a lot of spite, the English batsmen were looking very composed and relaxed. It was not difficult to see why – the bowlers were giving at least one short ball an over. Cook kept going to his backfoot or when on the front foot, turning it around the corner. KP too was given lots of leeway. Cook went on to score his fourth century in his fourth test as a captain. The Mumbai crowd gave him a generous ovation. But the real fireworks came from the temperamental Kevin Pietersen (seen driving here).

His innings had to be seen to be believed. He was pure ego and pure talent. The sixes he deposited over both the off and the on side during his subjugation of India’s best bowler on offer (Pragyan Ojha) smacked of arrogance. Even the manner in which he reached his century (through a reverse sweep) spoke highly of his faith in himself.

The crowd warmed up to KP’s innings and gave him a very healthy round of applause on both his century and his eventual departure. Here’s KP acknowledging the cheers of the crowd.

Once KP was gone, there was a deluge of wickets and each wicket was celebrated with huge cheers from the crowd.

In between the change of innings, one saw the sight of Harbhajan Singh walking along the boundary line along with a few security guards. The ongoings weren’t obvious from the distance, but the next day the newspapers clarified that there had been a spectator taunting Bhajji all along and he was taking him to task for that.

Lagaan revisited (or perhaps not)

The Indian openers, one of whom was completing 100 tests, walked to the center brimming with intent. A lead of 86 on this pitch had to be knocked out soon, but what followed was a procession of Indian batsmen getting knocked out one after the other to some accurate spin bowling. Even from a distance, one could see that the English bowlers were pushing the ball faster and were intent on attack. Even the field placements were more aggressive, unlike those of Dhoni, who was giving the crowds good glimpses of their superstars at the boundary line.

Here’s Monty Panesar going for the kill against Yuvraj, even as the shadows lengthened on the ground.

What was expected to be a good fight turned out to be an abject surrender from the Indian batsmen. The English spinners had humiliated the Indian batsmen on a pitch that was doctored for the Indian team.

OMG (Omnipotent Mercurial God)

If cricket is a religion and Sachin is its God, then Mumbai is the God’s headquarters. When Pujara started his trudge back to the pavilion, the applause was deafening. It was neither for the bowler nor for the batsman; the crowd was united in chanting only one name: “Sachin.” Tendulkar trudged down from the pavilion to the center and the chants of “Sachin, Sachin” from the lungs of a very packed stadium continued. It was a visceral experience to see this kind of adulation, unadulterated love for someone who by now flirts on the border of reality and myth.

God came, hit a beautiful straight drive, pulled one behind square, and just like that, with one error in judgement, had a quick end to his visit.
When the umpire raised his finger, you could understand what the phrase pin drop silence means. The crowd was in a state of gloom. You could find more cheer in a mortuary at that moment.

God walked back lost in thought, for surely these are troubled times for Him. Did the crowd just witness the last Tendulkar test innings at Wankhede? That thought was enough to send the crowd into a gloom for the rest of the day.

The poignant image of the great batsman walking alone towards the pavilion sums up the mood.

The fans

The fun of watching the game in the stadium is that you are not tainted by the commentary or the limits of the TV angles or miss the action in between overs. You are witness to the whole experience. The North Stand was lively with dhols and dancing, especially between overs and when wickets were taken or boundaries hit. The Barmy Army was well, rejoicing in the rather pleasing prospect of an English win, and the crowds entertained themselves with the Mexican wave when things got placid.
Here are some moments from the game.

Indian supporter

Celebrating the fall of an English wicket

Signalling a boundary

The food was circulating as if this were a movie (popcorn, samosas etc.), former cricketers like Ganguly and Warne were cheered when they got onto the field for doing a match report, special love was showered for Yuvraj and all in all, the result notwithstanding, people showed a rare passion for this form of the game.

Test cricket needs its good days to survive and this was a good one. Personally, I am thanking my lucky stars that despite living halfway across the globe, I could partake of this experience and watch the game in person. Hearing the ‘thwack’ of the ball hitting the bat isn’t quite the same on television.

Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at, self-confessed Hindi movie geek, avid quizzer, awesome husband (for lack of a humbler adjective) and a thrilled father of two. He grew up in Mumbai and spent the last eleven years really growing up in the U.S. and is always looking to brighten up his day through good coffee and great puns.

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