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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.