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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
After realising that my cricketing talents are limited, I pledged to contribute to the world by watching a match at every stadium in India. The experiences so far have been misadventures, to say the least: a match almost cancelled because of incessant bottle-throwing in Jamshedpur, another actually abandoned due to a poor pitch in Delhi, the Sachin-booing incident at the Wankhede, and being forced to stand on chairs to watch an entire IPL match owing to the appalling arrangements in Jaipur, among others.
Nevertheless, all this has failed to kill my enthusiasm. Considering Mohali is so close to Delhi, where I live, it is almost a sin I had never been there before. What better occasion than an India-Australia Test to set matters straight.
The first priority is always my fantasy team, irrespective of nationalities of the players. But now that I'm not playing fantasy cricket, two strong feelings guide me: supporting India and rooting for Australia's opposition.
Before they ban me from watching any more matches, I have a confession to make. India have lost all their games I have watched live. (This is excluding those that were abandoned, of course!)
Considering the mayhem that occurred after Sachin Tendulkar departed at 98, he was the key performer of the day, beyond doubt. Tendulkar's departure and the domino effect of wickets falling after that was a throwback to the depressing early-90s era of Indian cricket, when switching off the TV after he was dismissed was a reflex action. A lot of people walked out of the stadium today, after watching him trudge back at 98.
Mitchell Johnson ended with a five-for, making him the key performer as far as the Aussies are concerned.
One thing I'd have changed
Along with roughly 1/10th of the world's population, I wish that the ball that got Tendulkar out had been a rank full-toss, and the master had dispatched it over the fence to get his 49th ton. Better still, I wish that six had landed in my hands.
Since we are being really wishful, I also wish the sun god was little less harsh, for he almost made us jump over the fence and head for the Gatorade box kept near the ropes for the players. We nearly got roasted today. Respect to the cricketers for running around all day in the scorching sun.
Interplay I enjoyed the most
The things that makes Test matches comparable to epic wars are the match-shaping personal battles between in-form batsmen and bowlers, with both trying to stamp their authority on each other. Unfortunately, such moments were hard to come by today. One brief, testing phase that the well-set batsmen went through was when Johnson was brought in just before tea. He tried to get the ball to reverse and attempted to use his natural angle to get the occasional false shot from Tendulkar.
Otherwise it was either the batsmen dominating the bowlers or the batsmen capitulating without resistance, as seen towards the end of day's play.
Filling the gaps
My two friends and I ran from the stands to our car during the lunch break and turned the air-conditioner to full to get some respite from the sun. We sacrificed a few post-lunch overs for an elaborate lunch-and-refreshment outing to get some life back. It proved to be a wise decision in hindsight for it charged us enough to last the rest of the day in the sun.
As an Indian fan, it gives you goosebumps when Tendulkar walks in to bat. Every single person is on his or her feet, applauding and cheering wildly, with cries of "Sachin, Sachin" resounding through the stadium. I have been fortunate enough to witness, and contribute, to that adulation before. I did so this time as well. It is a special feeling.
Often the boredom during slow periods is partially alleviated by interesting characters entertaining the crowd near the ropes. For most part of the day, it was funny seeing people trying hard to guess players' names, and then trying to make them turn and acknowledge their chants. Let me tell you, trying to come up with something smart that rhymed with "Hilfenhaus" wasn't easy.
Things changed when Michael Clarke came to the boundary in front of our stands. He acknowledged the crowd, waved to them, even did small jigs in between, much to the delight of the people cheering. But the best moment came when he turned and gestured that he felt like sleeping - an apt commentary on the state of play at that moment. Just after that, things changed with the fateful Marcus North over, and how!
Shot of the day
Tendulkar had scored his first seven runs quite cautiously, and somewhat uncharacteristically. Then Hilfenhaus bowled one outside off and Tendulkar drove it exquisitely through the covers - a trademark drive. That shot also brought Rahul Dravid back to life. He hit two fours in the next over, off Johnson.
The stands were only partially filled, though the attendance had improved over the previous two days. Most of the noise was emanating from the West Stand where we were seated, with a large group of fans wearing "Cricket Fauj'"(an indigenous version of Barmy Army, I guess) t-shirts making the most noise. There were also a few painted faces and flag-waving fans around.
Nearly everyone supported the home team, but I could spot one or two Aussie fans. Tendulkar's entry drew the most cheers and his heartbreaking dismissal sent the crowd into shock. There was a brief lull before the stands erupted again to applaud his entertaining knock.
The Punjab Cricket Association officials are clearly sadists, having locked the washrooms during the first session. The situation seemed to offer some comic relief to the policemen and the guards, who were busy mocking the queries of the needy. My friend, a fellow sufferer, was told to direct his queries to IS Bindra, the association's head, if he wanted to know why such a ridiculous decision had been taken.
I did not bring the one essential accessory for watching a day's play in India - a cap. The three of us ended up revisiting our origami skills to come up with innovative ways for protection against the unforgiving sun. One friend made a fancy cap using a piece from a sponsor's boundary banner; the other came up with a hat made out of a small ice-cream carton.
I would advise readers planning to watch matches in these parts in the future to not be so experimental. Bring a cap. And sunglasses and energy drinks if you want to be more comfortable.
I really wish the frenetic action that took place towards the end had been distributed throughout the day, to make the experience more entertaining. Although Tendulkar, Dravid and Suresh Raina batted well, there were periods when it got slightly boring for the spectators, who had nothing to cheer about.
The quality of cricket, in terms of the Indian batting, was top-class till Tendulkar got out. The same cannot be said about the bowling of Nathan Haurtiz, who suffered at the hands of the Indian batsmen. However, the end of the day seemed to bring out the worst in both teams. A missed stumping, dropped catches and awful shot selection meant that both sides contributed towards bringing down the quality of cricket on display.
Marks out of 10
7, considering the overall quality of cricket, the viewing experience and the facilities.
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