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Sunday, February 27, 2011

An affair worth remembering

Disclaimer: After almost three months, a post that is not meant for Cricinfo, or some of the other fellas who published me, but just for myself.

‘The trouble with romantic stories is that they do not always have a happy ending. The good part about them is that they are beautiful while they last.’
- Neeraj Narayanan, the last Sunday of Feb '11

Much before this post sees the light of the day, a hundred experts would have given you every single piece of analysis on how both India and England did not manage to win the match from seemingly invincible positions. They will tell you, like they have a hundred times before, that this was the greatest match ever but what they do not know is why it became so.

It all began because of a man named Rajan. Well almost, if you are a believer in romantic tales.

After thirty five overs, England had wanted only 98 more. I exited from the stand, went down the staircase and stood outside the huge brown walls my head in my hands, unable to believe what had just happened.

Earlier, in the break after India’s batting, I had messaged the entire world, ecstatic that I had actually seen, Sachin carve a century and my team post a mammoth, unachievable target. I felt I was clever when I told people that I could now pick a favourite Tendulkar century, while they could not. But then Andrew Strauss walked into the ground and put on an exhibition that could rival the most pristine things of beauty.

It was not brutal, not carnage. No Jack the Ripper, no Achilles. Neither was it artistic, Rembrandt-like. Instead, so perplexing was his brilliance, and there was so much ease and disdain written all over it, that you would think it was almost inhuman, magical. I would pick Houdini, for I am a traditionalist, you are free to tag him as Dumbeldore, or even Voldermort if you are so partisan and Indian.

With England coasting to victory, a lot of people were leaving the stadium and I watched them, distraught that my script had gone so awry. But unfortunately, those who are fighters are also often ungracious and unwilling to let go, so I stood at my spot outside the walls, hoping for the crowd inside to erupt, just once, to let me know that Strauss was out and we still had a chance. Five minutes later, I returned to my stand, the curiosity trouncing the sadness. But England kept plundering runs.

At the end of the 38th over, Rajan, a stranger who I had befriended at the queue in the morning, shook my head and laughed at me. “It is okay if we lose, dude” he told me , “they are playing better.” I looked at him, in angst, and launched into a tirade on how no team was supposed to lose after scoring 340. Instead, he asked me to not give up and cheer our team. Maybe it was his cheery disposition, or just the fact that I was ashamed to know that there was someone more sportsman-like, but something just popped then. We agreed that we had not lost yet, and there wasn’t any reason to lose hope. For the entirety of the next over, he cheered madly, followed by Gaurav Sinha, yours truly and Mohit-someone while the entire stand looked at us bemused. Chawla gave two in that over, and buoyed by the results, a bunch of twenty or so joined the band and gave voice to the stadium. The next over Zaheer spewed venom in the park and the scenes in stand A were incredible. While when India had batted, we had shouted with joy at every shot of Sachin and Co, here every dot ball was accompanied by a roar that had nothing friendly about it. We stood on our chairs and screamed so loud and so much that we killed our throats completely. So aggressive was it that it buoyed almost everyone in the stand and the stadium, and we all stood there screaming and making the greatest racket we ever had, with our drums, our placards, our whistles, and with our hearts. It might have lacked virtuosity, as its definition demands ‘morality in excellence’ but it had a rawness in its fervor, a madness in its celebration, that dignity can never offer.

Wikipedia registers ‘battle cry’ as a war chant, a universal form of display behavior, aimed at competitive advantage, ideally by overstating one's own aggressive potential to a point where the enemy prefers to avoid confrontation altogether and opts to flee. In order to overstate one's potential for aggression, battle cries need to be as loud as possible, and have historically often been amplified by acoustic devices such as horns, drums, conches, bugles etc. In those telling moments, the Chinnaswamy had its own battle cry and it was bloody magnificent.

Do not accept it, but Zaheer’s inspiring spell was not just his doing but also because of what a thousand in Stand A did to his adrenaline. And when he captured his wickets, there were many who went ballistic, there were men past fifty who were dancing, bear-hugging and ‘high fiving’ all and sundry, and there were others like me who used the chairs as steps to travel from one level to another, and went and submerged into the arms and bodies of random strangers only because their eyes were as fiery and full of rage as I thought mine were.

And that is why the match was so great. Not for its scores or its stroke play, but because a crowd had found voice like no other, even if the cynics insist that is a regular trait of the Indian cricket lover. A world cup that had so far been pimped only by the media, and cared for only by the Bangladeshis, had finally found a match that could propel the interest of thousands in India, and make them queue up in front of ticket counters with renewed vigour.

Please do not think watching a world cup match on television is a better experience than watching it in a stadium. It is only when you are standing there, watching those young boys bringing the flags out, and then singing the national anthem with fifty thousand other people, that you realize that there are very few moments that could make your heart fill up with so much pride on being part of the nation that you are. I have always liked our national anthem but today I was happiest while singing it. I also had goosebumps for the longest period of time. We have all seen the orange, the white and the green in our flags but they look so much more prettier when we wear them as hand bands, head bands or as paint on our cheeks. Go to a stadium, because as much as you love Sachin, hearing fifty thousand others yell, nay, sing his name louder than you is a joyful experience. Go to a stadium because sitting at home you might be able to watch your replays but you will never be able to befriend so many people you will never see in your life again.

p.s At the end of the 46th over, with India now in the driver’s seat, I noticed Rajan holding his head and sitting on his chair. He was not alright he said, and was suffering greatly. I hugged him, and egged him on to cheer the team one last time, but he smiled back and said that he was happy enough now that the crowd was on its feet and doing its job. He left the stadium at the end of the 48th, and that was the last I saw of him. I do not know how he would have felt when he would hear that India had not won, had actually conceded 28 in two overs to a bunch of tail-enders. But I have a feeling that he would be okay about it.

p.s 2) It is 330 in the morning now, and I have finally written what I wanted to. The ‘India’ headband and the flag painted on my cheek haven’t yet been removed/washed off. It will take a while, for the aforementioned, and the emotions to fade into oblivion.


Ravi said...

Bloody brilliant,there couldn't be a more heartfelt tribute to that epic match.

Nischal said...

very well written Neeraj...Request your presence in SA match as well (Man we seriously need a superman to score 500, I so hope that our bowlers dont botch up then). Bur Strauss was someone else yesterday....dont know whom...but someone very close to the god...for once I thought, the guy deserves to win it for his country..(read padestrian Indian bowling deserved it more)

Kanav said...

Very Well written Neeraj. Itsb not going to be easy, the road to the finals (if we ever make it there), but if we do, we would need all the support that the people present in the stadium can provide to the team. This match should serve as a much needed wake up call for TEAM INDIA.

Samarth said...

Brilliant...I've read many blogs and posts...there is something really great in the way u write which makes a person want to read every word carefully to the end and not just reading to get the keep writing for sure u have added another reader to ur list of followers...


neeraj said...

Thanks Ravi

Nischal - I am trying everything I can to get tickets for the Ind-SA game. We both have to go for it man!

neeraj said...

Kanav - I think a wake up call was much needed. With this kind of bowling, we dont deserve to win the tournament.

Samarth - First time on this blog, eh? Thanks a lot for your words man!

gogi said...

Enjoyed reading this post as always.

Though you I think he left too soon (in the post).

I hope, and I guess you do too, that he somehow gets to see this.

Dancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dancy said...

I LOVE the way you write!
Its incredible how earnestly n transparently you express yourself. Watta blog Neeraj! :) You've earned yourself a new fan ;)

neeraj said...

Gogi - Yep, trying to search him on facebook. I will find him pucca :)

Dan - Meri pehli fan! Waah waah, whatadday! :P

Kidoredo said...

Awesome read ! Completely Dil Se and I enjoyed reading it :)

And yeah with this kind of bowling,India does not even deserve to go to the 2nd stage of the World Cup. But the stupid quarter-final will mean that they will.

I just hope and pray there are 3 good performances from then.

neeraj said...

Aaah, he-who-does-not-like-his-name has commented, eh? : Thanks kidoredo, and yup lets pray earnestly that we do click on the three days that matter.

Dikshita said...

i missed the match, was travelling to Delhi. But better than watching the highlights, you made it come alive for me. And thats only because the highlights never make u feel like you are in a stadium. I felt like i was with you when you cheered, and it made missing it a little less painful.

neeraj said...

Dixcy - For someone who is as passionate as you are, both about people as well as things you love, it is a shame that you weren't there because I know exactly how you would have reacted. We have to go for the finals together :)

Raju said...

Neeraj, you know i was more than happy at that moment, to see you cheering for India because we did revived the croed to cheer. And when you have exactly pen down all the emotions in this blog, i didnt read this blog but purely felt it. Awesome write up. :)

Kasturi Shinde said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kasturi Shinde said...

Awwwwwww...v nice post.
v nice :)
u should some post on crikinfo spreading the same message !
Its required !

Ohhhhh..n i sooo soo want Rajan to meet you again !
Rather such Rajans should be there in everyone's lives :)
Keep posting

neeraj said...

Kasturi - Cricinfo's reach is awesome, the only thing is that if I send them a post today, they'll probably publish it only after two weeks. They are, I guess, inundated with articles people send them from all over the world.

The problem with my blog is that it reaches across to ten people, heh!

Finally managed to search out Rajan yesterday. It was just like that scene in Karan Arjun, when Rakhi is finally reunited with her "Karan and Arjun" with dhols and aasu and melodrama at its retching peak ;)

Priya Raju said...

Bring out beautifully the emotions of watching a match, that too a match like the one on the 27th of Feb 2011, very well. There's nothing like being on the stadium, even though I like replays from a myriad different angles.

Don't kill me, but I sided with England - not because I like England, but for the sport of cricket.

neeraj said...

Sacrilege, Priya, but I get what you mean. Oh I would love to be in Bangladesh right now, and cheer them just as madly as the rest of their country is doing. I have the greatest belief that this is their world cup .. perhaps not to win, but to probably tell the world that they exist and proudly so.

Priya Raju said...

I want South Africa to win the cup {ducks under the table to ward off the blows}

neeraj said...

No chance woman, India it is this time despite its one dimensional mediocre bowling and lethargic fielding.

{bends down speedily, whips his pistol out and shoots the bejesus out of anything under the table}

Anonymous said...

Great account, this. Cheers to all the Rajans of the world.

neeraj said...

Thanks Ranjita. And I urge people who read this comment to check the 'fullyfurnished' blog.

Utsav said...

I don't really care for cricket. But you have captured a very real human experience, exceptionally well. Very well written.

neeraj said...

Utsav - You sound Indian? I did not know our country allowed people not to 'care for cricket'? Isn't that a constitutional rule? Blimey! ;) ;)

Thank you for the comment. If a non cricket lover could like it, I feel I have done something as a writer.