Monday, 18 April 2011

Not cricket


A couple of days ago, I went to Wankhede Stadium to watch the IPL 20-20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Kochi Tuskers. Thousands of words have already been written, and more will be written, about why Mumbai lost and Kochi won, so I am not going to add to that. Instead, I will write about things I saw but were not necessarily cricket.

We had to queue up, climb a flight of stairs to go up a bridge, cross the bridge, come down and enter the stadium. I had climbed the same bridge in 1987, when India met England in the World Cup semi-finals and had lost. 24 years later the cops and the organisers are doing a better job. However, when it comes to moving ahead in an orderly queue, ants are definitely more evolved.

Inside the atmosphere was chaotic. Mumbai Indians’ fans outnumbered the visiting teams by a large margin and it showed. There was a time when commentators said complimentary things about Mumbai’s cricket fans because they were knowledgeable about the game, were well-behaved and most important, applauded the opposition if it played a good shot or bowled a great ball. Not in this match. It was a partisan crowd. Hardly anyone applauded the opposition. Which is funny because no one is really from Mumbai. Except for the fishing community, who either doesn’t care about the IPL or can’t afford the price of a ticket. And yes of course, this is the IPL, a thing that most sections of the media choose to portray as some kind of war - between this captain and that, this owner and that, this celebrity or that, even this city and that. Team loyalty, in this case, has to be created and fuelled throughout, else who will buy the tickets or switch on the telly?


There was also a time when Mumbai was called the cradle of Indian cricket because it nurtured young cricketers who made it to the national team in large numbers. Today, it is still the cradle of Indian cricket because from the time a child is in the cradle Mumbai mums and dads start dreaming of making him the next Tendulkar and you see boys carrying cricket kit bags the size of a cradle in grounds around the city.


If all the shouting, waving, whistling and blowing your own vuvuzelas made you hungry, you could buy a vada-pav, samosa, roll, burger, sandwich, ice cream, soft drink and water at the venue. However, all choices were vegetarian. I wonder why. I wonder if the Mumbai Cricket Association recommends a vegetarian diet for sportspersons and fans alike and whether that was the reason why the Mumbai Indians’ attack lacked teeth.


Apart from a glitzy and large electronic scoreboard, there was also a traditional black and white one. It was being operated by an unseen pair of hands, manually. But no one paid attention to it – it still lived in the era of day cricket and was rather dimly lit.


We had tickets for seats in the Sachin Tendulkar Stand. Thousands of words have been written about the miniature bucket seats (in a city with a perennial water scarcity, the buckets are bound to be small – one argument goes), and the lack of leg room, so I will not add more. But I believe like all great architecture is inspired by local conditions, the architecture of the renovated stadium (and hence the seating), probably takes inspiration from Mumbai’s iconic space-crunched slums as made famous by a movie that was not about dogs but made Danny Boyle a millionaire.


There were two more stands named after Mumbai cricketers – Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Merchant. From where we sat, I couldn’t see any more. I am certain that most young spectators were wondering who Mr. Merchant was and why he had a stand named after him. Well, such is the effect of time. However, despite having played his last one day match in this very stadium 24 years ago, the same one I had attended, no one would have been wondering who Sunil Gavaskar is. After retiring, he continues to enjoy a successful career as a cricket commentator and manages to stay in the news. 24 years from now people will still know him because his son has followed his footsteps in to the experts’ panel, and every time someone wants to know who he is, they will be told, “Oh, he is Sunil Gavaskar’s son.” Of course Merchant, Gavaskar and Tendulkar are all cricketing greats from Mumbai and they deserve their stands.


No prizes for guessing who gets the biggest name of them all. The politician of course. That’s who the Mumbai stadium is named after – Sheshrao Wankhede, a barrister, a minor politician and the President of Mumbai Cricket Association in 1974 when the stadium was built.
Maybe I am being too harsh. For all you know young Sheshrao might have led his school cricket team to triumphs unheard of!


When the match ended, we retraced our steps over the bridge and out. There was no pushing, shoving, shouting or trumpeting. There was no waiting for the presentation ceremony either. Everyone  plodded, including a couple wearing rather strange headgear. On closer observation it turned out that the man was wearing a clown’s hat and carrying his wife’s hand bag. Maybe he had lost a bet. Or maybe it was some kind of superstition. Like one of the guys who works with me requested today, “Please don’t go to watch Mumbai play; every time you do that, we lose.”


Sorry Mumbai Indians for being responsible for your failure; won’t happen again.

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