I admit that this post is grossly mistimed. At a time when I should be deep in reflection about the year gone by, it seems a little frivolous to talk about a mere cricket match.
It was the 13th of May this year, when after a lifetime of watching cricket on the idiot box, did I get to watch my first live cricket match. It was an encounter between the down-and-out Kolkata Knight Riders and the newly resurgent Delhi Daredevils. My friend had arranged for some tickets at the last moment and we raced our motor-bikes like we had never before through thick rush hour traffic to get to our destination. The destination of course being the arena of arenas, the "big enough to require a map of its own" stadium of Eden Gardens.
Fast as we were, the match was already four balls old by the time we had found our way to our seats. The home team of Kokata was batting first and the expectations ran high. Within the stadium resides a reverbating hum, an animal feeding off the excitement. It's the best quality surround sound you'll ever experience, primarily because you are surrounded in that primal sound. Ancient Rome and gladiatorial contests? Well, at least I knew what it sounded like. The stadium was only filled to 20-30% of its capacity. I couldn't imagine what it must be like when it is fully packed.
The experience of watching a match at the stadium is so unlike watching it on TV. On TV, I'd focus on the game: how the shot was played and how the bowler pitched the ball and all those minute details that the commentators' expert comments and instant replays allow you to luxuriate in. This was different. This asked for a level of involvement far beyond what was required in the confines of my home. Sure, I have jumped on sofas in joy and have given pillows a bloody nose out of frustation during the course of a match but to have a thousand other strangers join in the madness is a tremendously entertaining experience. Then there were the cheerleaders too but our seats in the stadium were ones that were devoid of any sort of entertainment except for the cricket on the field. Therefore my opinion on whether cheerleaders were good for cricket or bad remained unresolved thanks to the lack of first hand experience!
Coming back to the match which I watched, the home team batted disastrously to set a very low target. It seemed like my first match at the Eden Gardens was not destined to end happily. The Delhi Daredevils team were sure to trounce the already demoralised Kolkata team, and it was only a matter of time. Well, someone forgot to tell Shoaib Akhtar.
Under the lights, as the Rawalpindi Express stretched his super strong limbs, the crowds around the stadium took up the chant of "Shoaib!... Shoaib!" Shoaib was returning to cricket after nearly a year of injuries. No one could even remember the last time he had bowled well in a match. There was only blind faith on the part of the Calcutta fans. They nurtured a tremendously immature hope that the zip would come back to his arms all of a sudden, that their voices would be the magic boost to a player who had long lost his fiery reputation.
Before bowling the first ball, Shoaib looked to the crowds and clapped his arms over his head to get the people behind him. Like everyone else in the audience, I joined in the chant even though highly cynical of how big a help our shouts would be. The first delivery as it turned out was a real ripper and within a couple of deliveries Virender Sehwag was sent walking back to the pavilion. We, the crowd were going berserk and Shoaib was recharging himself on our enthusiasm. The balls came deadly and fast. All that was seen of the strong Delhi batting line-up was a procession of scared, fidgety batsmen who seemed to be glad to give up their wickets and get out of the line of fire. The home team pulled it's act together following Shoaib's lead and finished the job with clinical efficiency. A most unexpected victory for Calcutta was the result and so was a sore throat for me and my friends from all the shouting and shrieking. We couldn't have been happier if we had played the match ourselves.
It must feel awesome to know when you take your place in the middle under the lights that millions of people whom you'll never meet in your life are rooting for you. To know that you have the ability to grant that one wish that is on the top of their mind right then, over and above the pressing needs of daily life. The responsibility that comes tagging along with it may be a cumbersome burden to bear but to be endowed with the capacity of fulfilling such a task has to be an extraordinary feeling. It leaves me with only one silly question for the Almighty: Oh God, why didn't you make me a sports star?