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.

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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

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