For those who don’t know anything at all about cricket, here are a few basics since a cricket post — the first I think and perhaps last on this blog — is coming up.
- The game is played between 2 teams of 11 people each. Captains of the two teams toss a coin to decide which of the two get to set the total that the other will then have to chase. Traditionally, it is believed that chasing the total is a disadvantage. The game in its present form is English in origin (I think) and was introduced in India by the British empire.
- Totals are set by the toss-winning team. This means two men pad their legs, arms and crotches, put on a helmet and walk out on to the field carrying a wooden implement called a bat. They are the batsmen. If and when one is dismissed, he will be followed by another member of the 10-person team. The last batsmen in the line-up are generally the worst.
- A batsman is known as a wicket. The grassless strip of 22 yards upon which he stands when he takes his stance to hit the ball is also called the wicket. Behind the batsman is a precarious installation of three wooden sticks with two little thingies lying horizontally on them. Those horizontal thingies are also called wickets. When a batsman is dismissed, it is said that his wicket has fallen.
- Batsmen score runs in cricket. To do this, they have to hit the ball and then run to the opposite side while their partner does the same.
- A batsman is dismissed by the fielding side, which is comprised of fielders, bowlers and the wicketkeeper (a padded, gloved man who stands behind the three-stick installation). Bowlers have the job of delivering the ball to the batsman by running up and bowling the ball. Fielders have to scamper about and catch the ball once the batsman has hit it and do their damnedest to make sure the ball doesn’t touch the boundary rope that demarcates the circular cricket field. If the ball touches the rope, the batsman gets four runs. If the ball is hit so hard that it goes over the rope without a bounce, the batsman scores six runs.
- Absolutely no one gives a toss about this game except India and Sri Lanka. Interestingly, despite its mad popularity, cricket isn’t the national sport of either of these countries. Colonial taint and all that.
Now on to the business of this post.
On the morning of April 2 2011, a Saturday, some people received an SMS that shared a conspiracy theory. The finals of the cricket World Cup had been fixed. Sri Lanka would bat first and score between 270 and 275. When the Indians would begin their chase, they would lose the wicket of Virendra Sehwag in the first few minutes. However, Sachin Tendulkar would go on to make a big score and India would win the match in the last over. I doubt anyone paid much attention to the SMS until the end of the Sri Lankan innings when their total nimbly climbed past the previously projected total of 220-250. Then, the Indians came out to bat and Virendra Sehwag was out within two deliveries. No doubt many experienced a sinking feeling in their stomachs at that moment. A short while later, Sachin Tendulkar got out. At this point, those with nervous tummies were in a dilemma: should their stomachs sink because India’s legendary batsmen had been dismissed or should they feel relieved that the SMS predictions were proving to be false?
Me, I got down to watching the match in the last 30 minutes. I haven’t watched an entire game of cricket in years and mostly know the players because of the mostly-ridiculous advertisements they do. For example, Virat Kohli, who apparently had a solid and important little knock of 30-something runs last night, is emblazoned in my memory as the Fair and Lovely man. Bless him. Anyway, so when I started watching the game, Gautam Gambhir was fulfilling what the SMS had prophesied for Tendulkar: getting out at 97. I stuck around to see rest of the match because it looked like India was winning and that is how I ended up seeing Mahendra Singh Dhoni break tradition and establish himself as “an Indian cricket captain with testicles” (as a friend put it). Not only did India win the World Cup but it wasn’t a nailbiter that the SMS had envisaged. Well before the last over, Dhoni ended the game with a gorgeous hit that earned him six runs and won the match for India. I’m no connoisseur of cricket, but watching him hit the ball and the seeing the ball soar… fully gasp-inducing.
It’s been a good 10-odd hours since the match ended and I can still hear delirious roars of joy outside as I type. So imagine what it was like last night. Actually, don’t bother. If you weren’t out on the streets, you can’t imagine the frenzied happiness that filled Bandra (and possibly much of Bombay) last night. I’m told Sonia Gandhi partied in the streets of Delhi, which is cute and all that but I’m willing to bet the street party in Bandra was way more fun. Dhols and nagaras came out. People were dancing. Everyone smiled. People roared victory slogans and bumped fists with absolute strangers. Blue wigs, pink mohawks, beer bottles, hard liquor camouflaged in Rooh Afza and Pepsi bottles, Halloween masks, replicas of the World Cup, flags, glitter, confetti, cars with people sitting on roofs, doobies, music bouncing out of car stereos… it was incredible and it went on for hours. Homeless people slept their way through the madness. Boys with huge Indian flags tried to manage traffic and when their gesticulating didn’t help, they just started dancing in the middle of the road. White people who seemed to have no idea what they were cheering for cheered anyway and danced with the nearest Punjabi man going absolutely nuts to the sound of a rambunctious dhol/soundsystem. Slogans ranged from “PHWOAAR!” to “Bharat Mata ki jai!” (All hail the motherland). A lot of the flags were the Indian national flag but a lot of them were any flag people had been able to get hold of that had orange, white and green on them.
I walked around Bandra till about 2.45am, walking along the headlight-lit lanes and finding my way through the dancing throngs on Carter Road. Despite not giving much of a toss about cricket and being far from a dancing queen, I had a blast. Leo messaged me and said it was anarchy out on the streets, and it was but in the nicest possible way. The last time I saw this kind of happiness was at Delhi’s India Gate during India’s fiftieth year of independence. Even then, I doubt it went on for as long as yesterday’s street party did and it was much mellower, which gives you a sense of how skewed our priorities are perhaps, but anyway.
Why do a bunch of sweaty overpaid men bring us all together like this, a friend asked me. I don’t know. Because we’re inclined towards patriotic fervour? Because we really want to party? Because this was a celebration of cricket being an Indian sport, rather than colonial baggage? Because Dhoni’s hot? I’ve not the faintest but I’m rather glad they do.