Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We made it here

I started following cricket during the 1996 World Cup. The first match I ever watched was the quarter-final between India and Pakistan. We used to live just behind M-block market in G.K.-I those days, and I remember walking down to the market after the match with the father to buy paan. A Maruti 800 zoomed in out of nowhere, a guy stuck his head out of the window and yelled, "jeetega bhai jeetega," and the crowd which was loitering screamed back, "India jeetega." At 11, that scene made a permanent impression in my mind.

I don't know the technicalities of the game too well, even today. I have only recently really understood what LBW actually means. If you ask me to identify various fielding positions, I will stare blankly at you. I don't have a host of cricket-related trivia at my fingertips the way half my Twitter timeline does.

What I do have are a host of memories. Emotions. Images. Sounds.

Sachin and Saurav beating Pakistan in their opening partnership itself, Sachin outshadowing Saurav with his century. No idea which year this was - is it the Sharjah one people keep going #youremember over?

The 1999 World Cup, where Sachin had to go back home midway and then returned to hit a century in his first match back. And Ganguly, my beloved, hitting 183 in Taunton.

Yuvraj and Kaif bursting out of nowhere at Lords. You remember Saurav for taking off his shirt, I remember the sheer jubilation on his face. For a team that had been shattered by all the match-fixing drama, wasn't this the beginning of the era when we started expecting our team to win? It was for me.

The despair of 23rd March, 2003. The boundary off the first ball of Zaheer's first over, and the carnage that followed. The faint ray of hope we got when the rain started - would we get another day to salvage this game? But no, we didn't. A billion hearts broke that day. Thoughts of the Economics board exam that was four days away took a flying leap from the window.

Pakistan's tour of India in 2005. Mahendra Singh Dhoni announcing his arrival, and how. The commentary I would listen to on the car radio, as I took Kyra to Jeevashram every day to be treated for renal failure. I'd pass the Rajokri village and see crowds gathered outside the mithai ka dukaan, all watching the tiny television in the shop.

The anger we felt in 2008 in that test against Australia. Anil Kumble's dignified press conference at the end of that horrid day. And the vindication when we won.

Is there any team we've disliked more than Australia? No one likes someone who has it all. Particularly when they display the kind of arrogance Australia has. So the match against South Africa, where they scored 434, and South Africa, bless them, responded with 438, was sheer joy to watch. I remember watching the highlights of that match. I knew what the outcome was going to be, but I still had goosebumps all through.

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The first man to score a 200 in an ODI. I was in office that day, not really working, but refusing to leave till he got there. I cursed Cricinfo with all the plagues in the world, but forgave them two days later when Sambit Bal wrote that refreshingly honest apology.

The 2007 T20 World Cup, six months after the first-round exit from the main World Cup. I would stay up till 2 AM every night to watch those matches, pacing up and down in our basement. The shoot out style "Super Over" that took place when we tied with Pakistan, and how we rocked it. The final, oh sweet Lord, the final.

Despair, anger, jubilation, vindication, grief. I've felt it all the 15 years I've been following cricket. Heck, I've felt them all in the last month of following this World Cup. But we've made it this far. After a rocky start, we beat Australia in the quarter-finals, and Pakistan in the semi-finals. Both matches that had me with my heart in my mouth almost all through. And on Saturday, for the second time in my life, I'll see India play a World Cup final.

I don't like our captain; I think he's survived on luck more than anything else all these years. I'm not too fond of several of the players in this team, but they've redeemed themselves on several occasions, I'll grant them that. Some of the players I do like haven't been given the chance to play too much in the tournament. But none of this will matter on Saturday.

If you win on Saturday, dear Team India, this team will get immortalized by us forever. The despair we felt of 23rd March 2003 will get erased forever. I won't say win it for Sachin, like many others are saying. I won't say win it for the billion people in this country; we're too fickle in our affections to deserve that. We decide you've lost much before you lose, and occasionally also decide you've won before you actually win. We blame you, we victimize you, and then we forget we ever said anything to you when you win a match. And when I say we, I mean I.

Just... win it, okay? Please?


Ankit Soni said...

Dude - I don't really follow cricket so much, but your post makes me want to fall in love with it.

Eye of the Needle said...

LOVED IT, LOVED IT, LOVED IT. Thanks for the lovely words :)

Runjoo said...

I remember so many of these- especially the NATWEST victory...absolutely heart breaking, heart wrenching 2003 world cup final.

This is the best chance we have to win the world cup- and i so hope we all celebrate on saturday like we did y-day :)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely loved it, especially the bits where you've woven in your memories.

a traveller said...

Glad you all liked this :)

Ankit, high time, dude!