Warming to the World Twenty20
When the first ICC World Twenty20 kicked off, I paid little attention. I didn't 'get' T20; I failed to understand its attractions; I still regarded it as a form of the game best suited for benefit games and light-hearted festivals. And besides, the Indian team being sent to do 'national duty' seemed like a second XI. Why bother?
As the tournament wore on, my inattention continued apace. This can best be summed up by my noting that I was not overly excited about the India-Pakistan game; for that encounter, I had not even bothered checking the Cricinfo scorecard. And I certainly hadn't deigned to put down some money to arrange for a live streaming telecast. When the match ended in a 'bowl-out', my impression of T20 of being an ersatz version of the real thing was confirmed.
But by the time the India-England game rolled around, I was paying enough attention to the World Cup to have a tab open on the Cricinfo scorecard as I worked. On that tab, I could track the score, even if I didn't pay attention to the ball-by-ball descriptions. The crucial moment, obviously, came in the 19th over, bowled by Stuart Broad to Yuvraj Singh. When it began, the score on my tab read: India 171-3, 18.0 overs. As I worked, I noticed it had moved to 177-3, 18.1 overs. A six, no biggie. That's what happened in T20, innit? But then, 183, 18.2 overs; 189, 18.3 overs? Now, I was intrigued; it was Stuart Broad, after all, getting carted all over the ground. I switched tabs. And watched the score move to 195, 201, and then, finally, incredibly, to 207. Six sixes in an over is a novelty, no matter what the format.
Somehow, again, I lost interest for India's next game against South Africa, but the Indian-Australian rivalry forced me to pay attention to the semi-final. I was still not enthused enough to watch it live on streaming video, but I did, again, open a tab on the CI scorecard and monitor the scores (but, not, still, the ball-by-ball commentary). What was not to like about beating Australia in an international? The format seemed secondary to the sight of Matthew Hayden getting his comeuppance from Sreesanth.
The final, finally, was where it all came together. It was an India-Pakistan game; it was a 'World Cup' final, the wet dream of Indian and Pakistan fans; there was no way I could not pay attention. I broke down; I went hunting for bootleg video streams, found one, paid up, and waited for the big game. The final was on the same day as a departmental faculty meeting that I simply could not get out of, so I would have to hope it ended on time, and then briskly walk the thirty minutes to campus to make the meeting.
On the day of the final, I settled down, linked to the URL provided by the bootleggers, and began watching. The Indian score of 157 seemed inadequate in the face of a batting line-up that included Imran Nazir, Shoaib Malik, Misbah Ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal, Younis Khan, and of course, Shahid Afridi. Still, hope lives eternal and all that, and it was a chase in a final, the kind of thing that can induce palpitations in the best batsmen.
As the Pakistani innings kicked off, early wickets fell, giving me hope. Pakistan stayed abreast of the run-rate, but important big hitters were falling.
And then, disaster struck. Unbelievably, in the year 2007, in New York City, the lights went out. Yes, you read that right. A power cut, a failure of the electrical system, which rendered my computer monitor quiet and dark. I stared at the screen in disbelief: had the combined desi-ness of India and Pakistan, brought together in a cricket World Cup, and attended to by millions of equally desi fans the world over, just been too much for the City's power supply? Could it be possible that the curse of the power cut, which had invariably fallen on me during big games back 'home' had followed me here, and left me, as always, incoherent with frustration?
I had but one way out. I lived next to Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, site of one of New York City's biggest Pakistani neighborhoods. Surely, one of the umpteen restaurants on that street would be showing the game? There was no time to lose; I would have to get dressed, find a viewing spot, and then carry on from there to my faculty meeting.
I headed out of my apartment, walking briskly down Coney Island Avenue, my eyes scanning the street ahead of me, my ears cocked for the sound of a cricket telecast. And then, suddenly, I caught a glimpse of the promised land: a crowd of Pakistani men standing on the sidewalk, peering inside a storefront. That'd be it.
As I approached the group, my pace slowed. Yes, it was a cricket telecast all right, but I was heading into a Pakistani stronghold. Flying solo in a Pakistani restaurant during a World Cup final? The last time I had seen an India-Pakistan game in New York City had been the 2003 quarter-final, in a Bangladeshi establishment in Manhattan, which had featured many Indian and Pakistani fans together. The demographics of zip code 11218 were different; I would be on my own here. The prospect seemed a bit daunting.
Well, I'd just have to go undercover. I sidled up to the crowd, switched to Punjabi, and asked solicitously about Pakistan's progress. My 'disguise' seemed to work; I was one of the crowd, hoping for a Pakistani win. The 19th over had just begun, twenty runs were still needed, and Pakistan had but two wickets in hand. A few balls later, I almost blew my cover as RP Singh bowled Umar Gul; I had to restrain my desire to hoop and holler.
When the final over began, I did my best to join in the jubilation as Misbah clobbered Joginder for a six after the first-ball wide. One ball later, it was all over. And again, I had to be circumspect; my jubilation would have looked in terribly poor taste and smacked a little too much of schadenfreude.
I left quickly; I had a meeting to attend. As I walked toward campus, the jubilant text messages came in: from London, Bangalore, Delhi. An hour later, as I sat in the faculty seminar room, discussing curricular changes, I was still smiling.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here