Day of mixed emotions for Indian fans
The little mobile shop of cricket365, the betting agency, was a beehive of activity on Saturday morning. Fans streamed in even two hours before the scheduled 11 am start and many stopped to read the white board listing the odds. The most obvious one was at the top: Sachin Tendulkar's century fetched odds of 4/1 while Rahul Dravid, who like Tendulkar was without a hundred at Lord's, was at 6/1.
As both men came together to bat the margins reduced with Tendulkar going at 6/4 and Dravid at 6/5. Still the shop kept attracting many fans. According to a cricket365 official about 200 Indian fans placed bets on the duo's maiden centuries at the home of cricket. "I can say there was a substantial amount of money that was bet," the official said, without revealing figures.
Saturday at Lord's was marked in diaries months in advance by committed fans. It was a big day; both in the context of the match as well as for thousands of Indian fans, some of whom had traversed continents to witness a possible historic moment - Tendulkar's hundredth century. Some did not mind paying large sums of money - enough for a return air ticket to India - just to witness a day's play. Some were first-timers, excited to be part of the occasion.
Despite the first four days being sold out in advance, the MCC's ticketing office got a lot of queries but could sell only about 200 tickets that had been returned. Three quarters of those went to Indian fans who shelled out anywhere between £30 and £85 per ticket.
Just as the large pints that overflowed across this historic venue, the Indian fans' emotions, too, ebbed and flowed as they anticipated something special from the trinity of Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman, playing together in a Lord's Test for probably the final time.
Last year Suresh Shankar, a 47-year-old entrepreneur, sold his business to IBM. One of the first decisions he made then was to follow important India cricket tours. He watched most of India's big matches in the World Cup earlier this year, including the tied match in Bangalore against England and the final in Mumbai.
This time he was in England only for the Lord's Test. "It is the most significant moment in India's cricket history," he said, talking about the batting trio's last outing at the ground. "It is the passing of values, sportsmanship and their ability," he said when asked what prompted him to make the trip.
At 12:28 hrs when Tendulkar walked out to a standing ovation, Shankar couldn't stop himself from sending his wife a message. "When 25,000 people stood up to cheer one man, it was a goosebump moment. I had to tell her that," he said. For Shankar and millions of others, Tendulkar is the greatest sportsman across all sports; big money then becomes a small matter.
Vikas Manoor, a 29-year-old software engineer, travelled to watch the Tendulkar-Dravid combine and bought a ticket only for Saturday. He arrive from Edinburgh on Friday night and paid a whopping £250 for a ticket in the Mound Stand, where the original price was £80. "I didn't mind that. I also paid £120 for my travel, but I wanted to always see Dravid and Sachin bat together," Manoor said. "I have always been attracted to Sachin. For 22 years he has done things consistently. I could not stop myself from being here."
Sumira Chaudhri, a Canadian-Indian lawyer, was travelling through Europe in celebration of being called to the bar in Toronto, . She got hooked on Indian cricket after following the Indian team's triumph at the World Cup. "When I heard that India were playing in England I decided to come over from my trip to Europe," she said.
She felt sad, like many, that Tendulkar failed to reach that elusive hundred. "I was hoping Sachin would get it. But then I am happy Dravid got it. He is the best Test player," she said with excitement.
Gnanamurthy Kugan, a heart surgeon, was animatedly listening to his 12-year-old son Kavin, who was recalling his observations from the training session he witnessed when Sri Lanka were at Lord's earlier this summer. Kugan has been in England for 25 years and is a regular visitor to Lord's. "I am disappointed about Sachin not getting it. But it is good that Dravid has," he said while Kavin listened intently.
Rajesh Marwah has been coming to Lord's since 1986. Originally from the north Indian town of Ludhiana in Punjab, Marwah now lives in the Hounslow suburb of London and is in the business of household removals. "Brown man with a van," Marwah, head covered in a plain, sky-blue Lord's bandana and wearing an India ODI T-shirt, said when I asked him what he did for a living.
By the time I met Marwah again, after tea, Tendulkar had already departed. But Marwah was not disappointed. "If Tendulkar starts slow, he would never get to his landmark and I knew that. I could sense his pressure, which was more about India responding well to England's big total," he said with an assured tone. "I am not worried. I know he will make the century in Edgbaston."
An hour after the day's play, about 50 Indian fans gathered at the Nursery End of the ground. As Dravid made his way to the media conference with a smiling face, they rushed to get an autograph. One person caught the eye: a middle-aged woman wearing a saree. She was at the back of the charging fans' brigade and halfway through her stride, she gave up. But she had a smile on her face, happy at having caught a glimpse of Dravid in person.
For the fan, it is an emotional journey full of anticipation, patience, pitfalls and hardships, passion and dreams. And on days like these, for fan and player alike, some dreams get fulfilled and some don't.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo