I have never been a big fan of sports. The occasional tennis finals are taken in. Especially during Federer’s peak when I used to love the way he gracefully sailed through the air. Football finals also make it the calendar. It is highly entertaining to watch macho men run behind a ball, pushing each other around like little boys. On the other hand, I have been happy to ignore cricket. It is just too long. The people don’t move around much. Unlike football or tennis, cricket does not make interesting TV unless you really understand the technicalities of the game.
However, an India-Pak match or the World Cup finals is an entirely new ball game (aha. Unintended pun). It is about raw emotions flowing through the body of an entire nation. This means that I am quite happy to be swayed by the mood of the fellow citizens and give up my sitcoms on Star World for an evening.
As it happened, we were away on a company programme that weekend. The bosses had wisely decided that it would be suicidal to continue the seminar into the afternoon and had instead generously organized the match screening on big screen. There was beer, snacks and a wide variety of noise creating devices like whistles and mini-horns. To this melee was added a DJ whose only job was to play thumping songs like ‘Jai Ho’ or ‘Chak De’ during ad breaks and reruns of key scenes.
By the time I joined the action around 8 p.m., the match was in full flow. I always knew we were a cricket obsessed nation but I had never experienced it in its full form till that night. People were sitting on couches or even sprawled on the carpeted floor looking intent and serious. Every eye was tuned to the flickering screen inside the dark room. Every time some hit a four or a six, a whole bunch of people would jump onto the middle of the room and do a jig to the DJ’s song. Then everyone would go back to their positions. As the match progressed and every run brought India closer to victory, the atmosphere became more charged. A couple of people left the room, unable to handle the stress. A few people refused to get up lest a change of their sitting position caused a cosmic change in India’s fortunes. Yet others shouted instructions to the players on screen to stay calm and steady knowing pretty well that the TV would not carry voices in reverse to Dhoni’s ears. One of the guys fell prostrate in front the screen whenever the umpire ruled yet another ‘not out’ decision.
Finally, the dancers got out of their seats for every single run to do a jig. It was not so much for the joy of a single run, as it was to simply release the stress. Then the final fantastic ball was hit and India won. Mayhem reigned. Everyone erupted into loud cheers of joy. The DJ did not have to play his music since the screen and the viewers were making enough noise of their own. A couple of people looked slightly teary eyed. Colleagues, who never saw eye to eye at office, hugged each other in joy. People took the Indian flags which had been plastered around the room as décor and began to wave them high and mighty.
It was almost like each one of us had hit that last ball and personally lead the team to a cheery victory.
I checked back with D who had been watching the match at home in Mumbai. He had watched the closing ceremony and hotfooted it to Marine Drive to join the throng of people who had began to pour out onto the streets. Later I read that it was 5 a.m. before the impromptu party ended.
I think I finally understood by what people mean when they say cricket in India is a religion.