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Roving Reporter by Nagraj Gollapudi in Bangalore
March 27, 2005
For the first time in my life I was going to watch cricket from the stands: without using my journalistic eye, without using the pen or the laptop or the scrapbook. And, more importantly, without any of the comforts of the press-box.
With a pass for the H-Stand in hand I walked eagerly towards the entrance gate. Unfortunately the usher pointed towards the mile-long queue and asked me to join it. "Holy crap," I uttered to myself in disgust as I made my way to the tail end of the line. How easy it is for the journalist to just flash the press pass and make his way in, I thought. The fan, on the other hand, has to stand in line for hours to get in. So, even as Sehwag was belting the bowling around, I could only imagine him playing his shots every time I heard the loud howls from the cauldron inside.
Finally, after an hour-long wait, I entered the stands to have a view of the Chinnaswamy Stadium. On my pass was printed "Invitee, Club Members". Quite naively, I presumed there would be cushy seats where I could lounge comfortably. How wrong was I! The security guard inside asked me to sit anywhere within the enclosure. As I looked around, the seats for the best view were still empty. Immediately I rushed to one of them.
But as the minutes passed, I realised why nobody was ready to take them. The searing Bangalore heat, with the mercury hovering around 36 degree centigrade, had pushed the fans back towards the seats that were protected by the roof.
With a flimsy cap for protection I decided to stick around adamantly and get myself sunburnt (a decision I would regret later in the evening as I suffered from a mild sunstroke). The fun had just begun, I told myself. And it had: Sehwag was effortlessly finding the gaps and stroking boundaries, and the fans were going hysterical.
It took me a while to fathom why these people would shriek, howl, whistle, dance, bang chairs, blow horns and paper trumpets even when the batsmen scored only a single. Immediately I realised that I was still watching the match from a journalist's viewpoint, and not as a frenzied fan. Steadily, though, I started enjoying the revelry. A father-and-son duo next to me went crazy every time Sehwag flashed his bat. The boy, only around eight years old, had this gleam in his eyes as he watched Sehwag fulfill the aspirations of every Indian fan.
But being a fan comes at a cost. In that simmering cauldron, the urge to quench thirst was high, but the quest to find drinking water was a struggle. The fans are not allowed to take water bottles inside the stadium, for fear that the bottles might be used as missiles that could harm the players. What about making arrangements for water coolers near the stands, then? That wasn't available either. To buy a glass of water - each glass cost two rupees - one had to come out of the stands. No wonder, then, that the lack of such basic facilities deter many from coming to the ground to watch cricket.
The afternoon heat was steadily sapping my energy, but it didn't seem to affect most of the fans. A bearded guy, clad in a white shirt and a white dhoti, preferred to stand and watch the game almost throughout the day - perhaps it was some superstition. Then, there was this young couple who had valiantly brought their newly born. It was like the month-old baby was being trained to enjoy the favourite pastime of the entire country. And it didn't take her long to get used to it - when the heat irritated her and brought her to tears, it only needed some flag waving and screaming from the fans in the stand to get her to wave along happily. Cricket had become her baby-sitter.
My moment of the day, though, came when Sehwag got his double-hundred. When Sehwag was on 199, I noticed the man sitting in front of me get up. His right leg was immobile, and he was using a wooden crutch to walk. As Sehwag's miscue landed in empty space and he reached his landmark, the man clapped and shrieked, joining the thousands who were going wild in celebration. It was a sight that the fan inside me will treasure.
Nagraj Gollapudi is the sub editor of Wisden Asia Cricket.
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