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I worked for a cult once.
It wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped.
It wasn’t some grey-alien-cloning-giant-clam style cult. It was a boring incestuous Christian fundamentalist cult.
It was rather disappointing. Even the incest sounded boring.
I’ve never found the IPL boring. I’m not anti-IPL, I just don’t care much.
I watch it in the background like I watch films with giant mutant sharks in them. I could never tell you too much about the overall plot. But there are some scenes I remember pretty well.
I’ve heard Lalit and the rest say the IPL is brilliant TV, and it is. For some it’s three hours of sport. For some it’s three hours of Bollywood sport. For me it’s three hours of background cricket.
So going there didn’t really fill me with excitement, it was just something I was heading to. Another cricket ground, another match. I’ve been to a few now.
I’ve seen cheerleaders. Fake horns aren’t new to me. Music has been blasted at me in many grounds. Crowds of overly excited simpletons are not new to me. I’m from Melbourne.
So what could going to the IPL at the Wankhede Stadium give me that I hadn’t seen before?
Outside there was little more than overexcited middle-class Mumbai teenagers with their faces painted and police everywhere. I assume they were middle class because the tickets are not cheap, and almost none of them had fake replica shirts like the Mumbai Indian (perhaps the singular usage was to make you feel like it was all about you) shirts we saw near our hotel.
My shirt was a knock off and cost me 150 rupees. To be honest, it wasn’t the worst I’ve bought.
The ground’s security had several layers, including metal detectors. Women had their own access with a modesty area so you couldn’t see them being felt up.
Once you entered you realised you and Dorothy weren’t in Lord’s any more.
Sachin. Lasith. Kieron.
All 50-foot high and staring down at you in matching Mumbai shirts.
As if that wasn’t weird enough. Like a 1930s Hollywood film premiere there were roaming spotlights dancing all over the massive pictures.
World famous people like Aiden Blizzard and Davy Jacobs were massive and spotlighted, just like they were born to be.
Then there was the large light sculpture thingy of Mumbai Indians that it was impossible to take a photo of because of all the other people posing in front of it.
Behind that you could have your photo taken with cardboard cut outs of the team, or in an action pose.
Free Mumbai Indians football style scarves were given out.
The empty space was taken up by that celestial light blue colour they wear.
This is what you see before you even enter the seated section of the Wankhede.
It’s thin and modern. If it were a person it would a tall, thin, well-dressed clubber with a slightly too trendy haircut.
It didn’t take long to find out that it was loud. Ravi Shastri came onto the screen and the crowd cheered. But considering the ground was a quarter full, and it was only Ravi Shastri, this was a massive amount of noise.
Then the noise stepped up a bit when the well-backsided Levi starting thumping the ball around.
It was during this time that I noticed the flag waving. You see it on TV, but 2D flag waving is just some muppets waving flags. At the ground it’s almost homicidal flag waving. Mumbai fans wave flags like they are worried there is some IMG sniper on the roof who will take them down if they don’t show as much enthusiasm as possible.
Then there is the countdown. People are actually encouraged to count down the final seconds of the strategic advertisement timeout. And they do it. They do it like it’s the last ever New Year’s they’ll be celebrating.
Occasionally there was a blurry shaky shot of the change-room that might have looked like Sachin. People roared.
When you’re at the ground you realise how often the cheerleaders get up and cheer for the wrong team. I’m not sure what kind of training they get, or whether there is someone electrocuting their chairs, but they get it wrong. Perhaps they are just overcome with the quality of the cricket.
Then there is the band. For people sitting pitch side at the cricketainment event of the night, they look pretty close to suicidal.
Of course there is also a DJ platform with other dancers. But that’s just for the TV, and unless it’s put on the screen most people seem to ignore it.
If the crowd find themselves accidentally not screaming their voices out, someone in the ground will press a button, yell into a mic or hit a drum to change that.
Silence is the enemy at the Wankhede.
The best proof is that is the nah nah naaaha na na naaaaah IPL Spanish horn thing. This is the noise that demands you make more noise, show more enthusiasm and that you react unthinkingly to your masters. One day this horn will be used to turn a crowd on some poor sap.
But for all the artificial noise and bulls**t, it’s never more like a cult than when one of the Mumbai Indians goes off.
When Pollard was hitting the ball really hard, the stadium didn’t need PA, music or people telling the crowd what to do.
It made its own sound. It heaved and screamed Pollard’s name like he was God returning to Mumbai. But the PA and organised fun continued on.
Later all that changed. Some time around the period Malinga got through Owais Shah, the extraneous sound went quiet.
It was just Mumbai Indians fans worshipping Lasith Malinga.
The chant had gone out earlier. This was just more. It was intense. You could see the top of the stands flapping at the noise.
It was perhaps the coolest and scariest chant I had ever heard.
Malinga could have taken this crowd to Bombay airport and taken it over in 38 seconds.
The crowd had morphed into one throbbing organism of organised lust for a curly-haired Sri Lankan that a billionaire had bought at a meat auction.
It was terrifying.
I was glad I went. Glad I survived. Glad no one ripped out the chairs and killed non-believers.
I’d go again. I’m not sure I’d ever drink the koolaid, or kill for the horn. But I’d like to watch the others do it.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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