First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
I have had the irrational feeling for some time that 2011 would be India and Sachin Tendulkar's year to win the World Cup. Sachin has often been quoted as saying that he would give up all his records for the World Cup. The day he made his ODI double-century, the feeling that it was all coming together overtook me and I decided to follow India for all their matches of the World Cup. So even though India v Netherlands would probably not feature on the list of marquee matches for this edition of the World Cup, it is a part of that journey of hope.
I was reasonably sure of an Indian victory but was hoping the Indian bowlers would gain some confidence and form for the matches against South Africa and West Indies by rolling Netherlands for a small total on the low, slow Kotla wicket. They did manage that, only for the batting to then stutter after a brilliant start.
World Cup prediction
Midway through the tournament I don't think there are any clear favorites. Australia and India are the only unbeaten sides so far, but I would be surprised if either finishes the group stages unbeaten. This will be a close and competitive World Cup and any of the top five or six teams is in with a shot, given the format. Hopefully India will peak at the right time and emerge victorious, driven by the fanatical home support.
Yuvraj Singh played the key role by first helping restrict Netherlands to a modest total and then shepherding the chase when the batsmen stumbled. However, it was Pieter Seelaar who gave India something to think about with his accurate left-arm spin, and converted a potential rout into a contest.
One thing I'd have changed
India's opponents. With due respect to Netherlands, the big-game tension was missing throughout, and even when India were 100 for 4 there were no serious jitters in the crowd. The same match against a Test-playing nation would have led to a lot of nail-biting and tense moments during the chase.
Face-off you relished
The Netherlands innings was going as per script from an Indian point of view, with the Indian spinners forcing the batsmen into play rash shots and the pacers returning with the old ball to mop up the tail, when suddenly out of nowhere Peter Borren and Mudassar Bukhari cut loose. They were well cheered during the batting Powerplay.
The opening partnership between Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag turned the match into a Punjabi wedding, with the crowd dancing to bhangra after each hit to the fence. Both batsmen were dealing in boundaries, each of which was a wow moment in itself.
Ashish Nehra spent a few overs fielding in front of us at the square-leg boundary and was mercilessly heckled, despite Kotla being his home ground. Chants of "dheela, dheela" (roughly translated as "slowpoke") followed his every fielding effort, and he was not spared even when he returned to the boundary after a wicket-taking over.
Shot of the day
My favorite shot of the day, played during India's opening stand, was a non-scoring one. After opening his account with a flicked boundary to leg, Tendulkar punched an on-drive in the second over. The lack of pace from the bowler and the pitch enabled mid-on to make a diving stop, but everything about the stroke, from the straight bat, high elbow and minimal follow-through, was picture perfect.
The stands were packed, and like anywhere in India the biggest cheer was reserved for Tendulkar. During the practice session even the catches he dropped were greeted with the kind of roar reserved for other batsmen reaching special milestones. Yusuf Pathan's surprising entry at No. 3 elicited an almost similar roar, pointing to the growing popularity of his big hitting and his status as a gamechanger.
The police are not always kill-joys
The Delhi police have got a lot of negative press (sometimes justifiably so) but need to be complimented for maintaining order in the stands at the match. There is a tendency among spectators at the Kotla to stand up while the bowler is bowling, as the stands are not tiered properly. A few people standing up led to a domino effect, with spectators standing up in the rows behind them. The police personnel in our stand minimised this disturbance by supervising the crowd politely yet firmly, and ensured that the excitable ones kept to their seats.
While there were a lot of painted faces and colourful wigs, the person who stood out was one dressed as Ravana (a demon in Hindu mythology) complete with the 10 heads and large moustache.
Banner of the day
Most of the banners were of the "Cricket in my religion, Sachin is my god" variety but the banner I found most striking simply said "We miss IPL Cheerleaders", with an illustration of a cheerleader that ensured the banner had no chance of ending up on prime-time television.
ODIs v Twenty20
The choice between ODIs and Twenty20 for me depends upon the context of the match. In spite of the popularity of Twenty20, the ODI World Cup will continue to remain the premier multi-nation tournament.
Except for India's opening-wicket partnership and the brief period when India were losing wickets, the cricket on display was mediocre. This was reflected in the atmosphere, especially during the Netherlands innings, when the crowd only came to life during Borren and Bukhari's entertaining stand.
Marks out of 10
6. Overall it was some confidence gained for the Indian bowlers, and two points in the bag.
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