April 26, 2015

The agony of trying to watch an IPL game

With mayhem in the stands, and the PA blaring music non-stop, the only relief our correspondent finds is in the historic walled city of Ahmedabad

An old house with wood carvings in the walled city © AFP

Inside , the houses - nay, havelis as they are called - are splendid. At least over 100 years old. Only a few of them have been restored, some are in decrepit state. Intricate woodwork on the façades gives them a royal look. Architecture is wonderful. The house I am staying in is 100 square metres, but it is so craftily done they have a central courtyard, six rooms, a dining hall, a rain-water harvesting well, a swing, and a design to allow breeze into the house, all in a two-floor construction. Also, the old city was to the east of the Sabarmati so western winds could cool down before entering the city. The walled city of Ahmedabad: one of the lesser-known marvels of "Incredible India".

<b>April 17
Quarter to 11 at night. Me to almost everybody near Manek Chowk: "Where is the <i>naubat<;/i> played?" Draw blank looks. Nobody knows what a naubat is.

It is a 600-year-old tradition in Ahmedabad. At fixed times of the day, every day for the past six centuries, musicians from the same family - ninth generation now - play the drums for 15 minutes.

Disappointed nobody knows about it. Head back home through the narrow lanes and past the many, nearly violent, street dogs. Lucky that the owner of the house knows of <i>naubat</i>. He takes me to this unremarkable room atop the entrance of badshah ni hajiro</i> (the king's tomb, in this case Sultan Ahmed Shah) where Amir <i>bhai</i> starts playing at exactly 11pm.

An apologetic-looking nephew joins midway during the performance. They play on 500-year-old drums, which the family has preserved. There is no money to be made, but there hasn't been a day when the family has not played the naubat. It was the timekeeper of the old city: at dawn, noon, dusk, and at 11pm they played, the last rendition signalling to the guards that they close the 12 gates of the city.

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Now the lyrics to "Dum Mast Qalandar" make sense: "… "Peera teri naubat baaje, naal vaje ghadiyal.</i>" ("That the clock runs according to your <i>naubat</I>, oh master.") Or maybe not.

Ask Amir if anyone from outside the family can play. He says it is nearly impossible to learn playing it the way the family does, without learning with them, with a plastic stick loosely held in the left wrist, which requires a lot of practice and strong wrists.

On the way out, realise why the nephew turned up late. He is peering into an even smaller room where other kids are huddled around a TV. The IPL is on, Chennai Super Kings are beating Mumbai Indians, and this young man doesn't want to miss too much of it during the naubat</i>. The times, even in the timekeepers' family, they are a-changin'.

April 18
Eat at Chandravilas in old Ahmedabad. Established in 1900 by the Joshis, it is the oldest restaurant in Ahmedabad. Well known for its (deep-fried strips of spiced chickpea dough), jalebi, poori-shak</i> and the Ahmedabad speciality <i>kitli chai (kettle tea). Middle part of the restaurant destroyed during the 2002 riots. Among the losses were oak chairs imported from France at Re 1 per. A corner of the restaurant has an oil lamp kept burning for more than 100 years, where the Joshis have preserved the tomb of a Muslim saint, Sakhi Satar. This Hindu family believes the tomb to be a good-luck charm.

April 19
It's fitting that Ashish Nehra is playing in Ahmedabad on a Sunday. Every Sunday along the riverfront, under Ellis Bridge, is set up a flea market that sells everything: from house tools to straw blinds to furniture to clothes, to, most importantly, antiques. Every Sunday, antiques that might not be worth much are valued. Nehra will turn 36 later this month, which doesn't quite make him antique, but his ways are almost that: always looking to bowl the yorker, never holding back in a bid to prolong his career. Fitting, too, that he is playing under MS Dhoni and against Rahul Dravid, both of whom - current captain and future captain in 2006 - he abused after they didn't go for Shahid Afridi's catch that flew between them. Things haven't changed much: Dhoni still doesn't go for catches to his right, Nehra still doesn't hide his emotions, and Dravid still looks earnest.

The match doesn't come down to Nehra, though: Rajasthan Royals tie down

The problem is, luck plays far too important a part in far too many T20 matches. It creates an illusion of closeness between the good and the ordinary teams, which disappears as the length of the game grows. As long as players realise that, they will keep aspiring to do well in the longer formats.

<!--#cricinfo_insert type: image_lead object_id: 866905 alt_id: caption: The IPL may give its star players lavish lifestyles off the field, but during the tournament they have to follow killer travelling, training and playing schedules, and honour sponsor commitments size: 900 -->

Another matter of concern: there were 22 players on the field. Eight of them were not Indian. A Super Over is basically a contest between six players. At the crunch, when it mattered, not one Indian was trusted enough to be one of those six men. Perceptions of captains and coaching staffs matter.

April 23
Travel. A lot of travel. Often just a day's gap between matches. Late-night finishes. No regular sleep cycle. A new bed nearly every third day. Packing again and again. No regular training hours. Playing an IPL, and staying fit for it, no matter the amount of money on offer, is no bed of roses. Add to that an important and time-consuming exercise: sponsors' events, where the presence of the big stars of the team is a must. And these teams, unlike the Indian national team, need money to pay the players and the BCCI, so they have to oblige. Event after event after promotional shoot after promotional shoot consumes the waking hours of the IPL stars.

Ask the coaches of the teams who have come to Ahmedabad how their sides manage to stay fit, and they say it comes down to the free market. Those who are satisfied with just one year of this tend to let themselves go; those who want more, find ways to train, steal hours between shoots, and watch what they eat. And whom they meet, lest we forget what happened two years ago.

April 24
Royals have their mini juggernaut
halted as Royal Challengers Bangalore use their own trick - of bowling spinners early - to strangle the hosts and win at a canter. Shane Watson admits his side didn't read the conditions well, that they needed to realise pretty quickly that on this pitch even 150 would have been a testing target, and that they shouldn't have aimed for the 180 they went after.

Incredibly, the task in a 20-over game for a team is to suss out the conditions in the first four or five overs. That's hardly any time. If there seems to be little time for those playing, imagine those who are watching. With more riding on each ball than in any other format, with the pressure of a full match compressed into three hours, you would expect more tension in the stands, you would expect people to watch more closely. Except that doesn't happen. It can't happen. Not even if you desperately wanted to. The PA won't let you. You won't be able to talk to the person next to you, you won't be able to listen to silences or spot subtle changes in the field because the PA will keep belting loud music, it will keep trying to manufacture atmosphere. The unfortunate part is that the crowds are actually trying to watch. If only the PA could get over itself, it would hear applause for every scrambled second run, for an accurate rocket throw from the deep, and the murmur when a captain is making a decision over who should bowl the 18th over: The big import, to make it easy for the Indian bowler in the 20th? Or the Indian apprentice, because the import can handle the pressure of the final over well?

April 25</b>
Ahmedabad leg over. Delhi beckons. On the same flight as Royal Challengers. Virat Kohli has left early because he has to be at an event. Other Royal Challengers cause a stir in the quiet airport. People line up for selfies and autographs. Rookies such as Sarfaraz Khan are recognised. At the Delhi airport, quietly, without drawing any attention to himself, exits former Indian Olympian Milkha Singh.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ian on May 1, 2015, 8:45 GMT

    The chaos, the uncontolled hoardes of followers (I can hardly think that they are genuine cricket lovers with any sense of discernment / appreciation of the complexities of the game) the sheer, mega razzmatazz and lack of respect for your fellow followers that swirls like a toxic cloud round the IPL so admirably caught by Sid in this article. I am reminded of Huxley's Brave New World. Here is the entertainment for the Deltas, Epsilons & Gammas.They are unaware of how they come across. Self-awareness is a long, long way from the average IPLer. Ultimately, it's sad; it shows just how far there is to go. This is a matter for the leaders and educators of India, once everyone has enough food to eat and clean water to drink. In the meantime, I would ask that the money raised from the IPL actually finds its way back to raise the standards of the nation. Otherwise, it truly has been a self-serving, profit-driven, cynical exercise that benefits only a tiny minority.

  • Pr on April 30, 2015, 4:15 GMT

    I watched a T20 game about 3 years ago in Bangalore. It was between India and Pakistan. Even if this was not an IPL game, I experienced about half of what the author has written. The toilets in the Bangalore stadium are literally crap. Food is sold in an unhygienic way. Too many hooligan fans. This makes for a perfect environment for fistfights and verbal battles. I don't think I could watch another shorter format game in the grounds in India. But yes, a Test match probably.

  • David on April 30, 2015, 1:58 GMT

    The writer addressed two issues in this piece...the passionate cricket fans of India (understatement) and the abject, poor hygienic conditions at the various stadiums throughout India. Firstly, you cannot compare watching cricket in England to India as some like to do, it's like night and day, so it is irrelevant. The so called "purists" have to accept that the game is forever evolving and so too are the fans. Loud PA systems, music and cheerleaders are the future. However, BCCI does have control over "fan behavior" and can make the game day experience enjoyable for all . The hygienic aspect of it is cultural and not something limited to cricket stadiums; this is a bigger issue that India as a country needs to address. The writer has done his job by bringing these issues to the fro, as bitter as they may seem to some. The dialogue has begun and hopefully those in authority will pay attention.

  • Dummy4 on April 29, 2015, 11:32 GMT

    @Ramana, the author is referring to the 2013 spot fixing scandal where Rajasthan players were involved.

  • Dummy4 on April 29, 2015, 6:54 GMT

    @DUNGER.BOB..your ranting on indian fan saying they enjoy only one sport(cricket) is akin to saying aussie only likes Rugby.Have you ever visited football matches in india?the stadiums are always full,even during local matches ppl comes in hordes,the ATP Tennis event in chennai draws full crowds,the badminton events always draws crowd here and so does many other sports.Yes Cricket is the most popular game here but it does not mean only cricket matches gets spectators. Dont give such generalized sweeping statements considering you know only about cricket fans and not the others.

    cricinfo plz publish

  • Sameer on April 29, 2015, 6:52 GMT

    The last line of the article reminded me of a typical Indian cricket fans being angry at Maria Sharapova for not knowing Sachin Tendulkar. Only this time the Indian cricket fans din't know a sportsperson from other sport (ironic). This article also reminded me of my colleague back from an overseas assignment who compared and complained about everything in India but remained loyal to the Indian food. It was the same colleague who complained about his line of work but still continued working in it for donkey years. I would call it a Deja vu of an article.

  • Jayaesh on April 28, 2015, 19:19 GMT

    It is not only Sid Monga but many other journalists, mainstream media houses in India are critical of some aspects of IPL mostly regarding how it has been run and packaged, while i don't always agree with them and like the IPL not because of T20 but for the reason that it gives unknown domestic players in India a platform. I wonder how many in mainstream media in England ever right anything negative about the so called best Football league in the world the English(Foreign dominated) Premier league...just like Sid Monga i am not sure about the "Premier" in the name..It just shows that either Indian journos are honest and self critical or they just like bashing there own kind... dear Cricinfo please publish

  • Indian on April 28, 2015, 18:58 GMT

    @REECELBAN : IPL is so popular in India because it might sound cliched but still very true that Cricket is a religion in India and people can't have enough of it, as far as credibility of result is considered apart from spotfixing done by three players belonging to RR there is no evidence to single out any other matches in IPL, if you believe the cynics then it is not only IPL but most of the international cricket,European football leagues,PRO American sports,Tennis are under suspicion also.Cricket has been crying out for a club based format where you have your local players mixed with overseas pros, it could be any format based on 50 overs and even Tests also, Test league sounds good and maybe Godsend for players from Associate Nations.

  • jayaesh on April 28, 2015, 17:13 GMT

    Look i am not trying to disagree with or dispute what Sid Monga is saying here but @STARBVYZ is correct when he writes that he is more at home in Lords watching a Test match surrounded by MCC members then watching IPL or a T20 match, While Monga is right about most of things that are wrong with our Indian stadiums and spectators who frequent them but @SESHHH is also spot on when pointing towards hooliganism and racist chanting that is so common in various European football leagues, atleast while attending Cricket matches in India you don't have to fear for your physical well being or being emotionally scarred for life by a group of Football Ultras and related racist gangs.

  • reece on April 28, 2015, 17:01 GMT

    personally i don't understand why the ipl is so popular in india? there seems to be great deal of doubt about the credibility of the results! so much speculations and look at all the allegations coming out from the bcci now. What a mess mate.

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