Saturday, March 26, 2011

The 12th man effect in Motera

For any Indian cricket fan, watching a home World Cup knock out game involving India has to be a part of the bucket list. The fanaticism and ability of an Indian crowd to make noise is something that can’t be described in words but needs to be experienced. I have heard all these stories about how intimidating it is for Premier League teams to play in front of the Kop at Liverpool, or for European Champions League teams to play in front of fanatical supporters in Turkey at Galatasaray or Fenerbache. To be present in Ahmedabad on Thursday was to truly understand the phenomenon of home support and how it can intimidate opposition and lift up the home team. 

The Ahmedabad crowd, surprisingly, was the most knowledgeable and vocal crowd among all the venues that I have visited following India in this world cup. Whether that was a factor of the intensity of the occasion - a World Cup knock out, or the opposition is a matter for debate but it truly provided a worthy stage for the mother of all battles so far in this World Cup. Ponting got a taste of his own medicine as the strategy to target the key opposition was played out by the crowd on him, starting from the practice session to the post match conference. I personally have not been a fan of Ponting since this happpend at Sydney in 2008 (external link: Open in new window). I wholeheartedly participated in the chants of “Ponting Sucks” “Ponting Cheater” and the booing that greeted him during the practice session, when he walked on to bat and during the post match presentation. In spite of the obvious targeting, the crowd stood up as one to applaud when Ponting reached a well deserved battling century.

If I thought the crowd was loud during the Australian inning, the intensity was raised up by several notches as India came in to bat. Sachin’s 2 fours off Tait was probably the first event on the cricket field that was ever recorded on the richter scale and near the end of the game quite a few tremors epicentered in Motera would have been felt. It wasn’t just the primal longing for fours and sixes, the crowd displayed its astute reading of the game by lustily cheering for the singles and doubles run by Kohli and Gambhir during their partnership. Chants of “we want sixer” only went up when the game was thought to be secure with less than 15 runs required to win.
I don’t think I can describe in words the frenzied atmosphere inside the stadium during the Raina and Yuvraj stand when Tait and Brett Lee were being hit out of the attack and I won’t even try. Below is an assortment of video clips during the game that I think do some justice to describe the atmosphere for those who were not present.
National Anthem time - Electric

Crowd chants

Chants of India.. India as Kreza bowls

Last 6 runs scored by Yuvi to win India the match

Rewinding to the previous evening I was almost on the verge of giving away my match ticket. I came to know at about 5pm that an important meeting had been scheduled at 11am on the day of the match and I needed to be in attendance. Having already taken a few really long vacations in the last 12 months to indulge in my passion for travelling, I did not want to push my luck by asking to be excused from the meeting for going to watch a cricket match. Just around the time I was supposed to meet my colleagues to give them the ticket I received a call from my manager asking me if I had booked tickets to go watch the match. When I told him that I was just about to cancel my flight tickets, he instantaneously asked me to go ahead with my plan and not worry about the meeting. His exact words were to the tune of “Meetings will keep on happening, it is the things in life we are passionate about that give us the maximum pleasure  so don’t even think about cancelling your plan to watch the game.” In the last 12 months or so I have been lucky enough to tick off quite a few items from my bucket list, which would not have been possible with the support and understanding of a few people at work. In case those people are reading this, you know who you are, thank you very much for everything. A lot of my friends are surprised by the time I am able to devote to my passion to travel and frequently ask me about how I am able to manage it, it is having understanding managers like them who make working a pleasure.

The day of the game started with an early morning flight from Delhi, that had only a few travelling supporters unlike the other flights I have taken on the day of the game. The journey from my hotel to the stadium turned into a crawl about 4km from the stadium and I walked the last 3 kms. While entering the stadium I came to know that mobiles were banned inside the stadiums and I was not allowed to enter by the police. I eventually managed to smuggle my phone under my cap after queueing again. My other colleagues were not so lucky and had to go out of the stadium to deposit their phones at a shop (external link: Open in new window) that did roaring business charging them Rs 200 per phone. I wonder if Mukesh Ambani, Narendra Modi or the other VIPs who attended the game were subjected to the same rules. Somehow I think not, it is just the average paying fan who is subjected to all sorts of contrived inconveniences to have the pleasure of paying and watching his team in action. Ironically event sponsors rubbed salt on these open wounds inside the stadium by asking the spectators to switch on their Bluetooth to get exciting video clips of the match or to sms their entries to win goodies.

In spite of all these inconveniences, Motera was the first stadium without an empty seat to be seen when the match started. I was again lucky to escape the heat as I got seats in the shade (no seat numbers again!!) with a great view away from the pillars. There was just one digital screen inside the stadium, unlike all the other stadiums where there have been at least 2 such screens. My view of the screen was also obstructed by a pillar neatly bisecting the screen down the center vertically into 2. For all practical purposes the screen was useless for those in our stand and we kept track of the scores from the manual scorecard.

Watching the game from the stadium allows you to clearly see some of the plans being hatched by bowlers and captains to dismiss batsmen. Shane Watson had started well and was hitting Bhajji in the arc between square leg and long on. He was hitting with the spin and essentially with a straight bat. Dhoni moved his square leg straighter and left an inviting gap behind square on the leg side for Watson to hit. When I saw that happen, I predicted to all those around me, more in hope than expectation, that Watson would get out LBW sweeping in Bhajji’s next over, trying to hit the ball in that gap. As it turns out I did not have to wait till Bhajji’s next over as Dhoni reintroduced Ashwin into the attack. Watson tried to aim a sweep, the ball missed the bat and the pad and cannoned into the stumps. From then on I was recognized as the knowledgeable sage, every word I said was treated as gospel by those around me

The food and drink story at the stadium was just like all other stadia with both running out by the 15th over of India’s inning. I had not had anything to eat since leaving from my hotel at 11am and once the match ended I decided to go to the Marriott where the team was staying for a late night dinner and also hoped to catch a glimpse of the team. Turns out, 30,000 other people had the same idea as the entire city lined the streets from the stadium to the hotel hoping to just catch a glimpse of the victorious team in the team bus. Once I reached the hotel, there were another 5,000-6,000 people clustered around the hotel entrance. I was told that the restaurant had been closed for the night when I tried to enter through security. I wonder the madness that would descend upon Mumbai on the 2nd of April if India were to actually win the World Cup.

For that to happen we have to take care of Pakistan up next and I am thoroughly confused about whether I should be making the journey to Mohali. Having followed India during the 90s when we lost numerous matches from winning positions, I am an eternal cricket pessimist. I thought Australia had made 30 runs too many and the feeling that we were going to lose made its way into the pit of my stomach and I almost turned into a manic depressive during the last 10 overs of Australia’s batting and most of India’s chase. It was only once less than 10 runs were needed that I relaxed and was able to savour the win. Throw a match vs Pakistan into this mix and these emotions would only get exaggerated. There is a group of my friends planning to travel to Mohali on Wednesday and I will make a decision over the weekend on whether to join them.


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