Up close and jovial
In the stands a lady in a burkha glided towards the far end to sit in the shade. In the tier above the sightscreen, where final touches were still being done to the structure, a labourer walked across alone with a cement bag. The rest of the crowd, sparse but very vocal, were chanting the Indian fan's mantra - "Sachin … Sachin!". In the middle, the game, with Uttar Pradesh struggling at nine wickets down, was wobbling towards its death.
Tendulkar turned around towards the crowd and moved his arm as if bowling a leg break. The crowd roared. They have wanted him to bowl for a while now. Tendulkar pointed to Wasim Jaffer, Mumbai's captain standing next to him in the slips, and suggested in jest that it was up to him. The crowd roared again. The next over, Tendulkar bowled.
In the UP dressing room Mohammad Kaif led the laughter. The third delivery whirred in the air invitingly and Amir Khan edged his drive to first slip where Sahil Kukreja spilled it. The crowd sighed. It was pure theatre. More laughter broke out in both the dressing rooms.
The tea break intervened. In the UP area, Parvinder Singh, one of the semi-final heroes, turned philosophical, sipping his tea. "Bhai sahab, jo bolta hai na, 'luck doesn't play a part in cricket', voh bewakoof hai." Parvinder started his cricket seven years back and was in and out of the side before getting his first full season this year and hopefully has sealed his spot with a big ton in the semi-final. He was also referring to the dropped chances given to the centurion Rohit Sharma in the first innings and the numerous times the ball went past the edge, but it was sort of a statement on his own career as well. "I will make sure I play for UP at this level as long as possible," he said.
Outside, a member of the UP contingent promised reporters he would bring more of the special made-only-in Allahabad "Dohra", an indigenous preparation of tobacco. Sudeep Tyagi, the highest wicket-taker last year but out of the playing XI now, struggling to come to terms with his changed action, spoke about his intended visit to the National Cricket Academy this week and about his hope for a better new year.
In the Mumbai area, everyone eagerly waited for the game to end. The celebration had started last evening in the hotel. 'Singh is Kinng', a popular Hindi film number, blared as players, Tendulkar included, danced around. And today Mumbai's 38th Ranji triumph came at 3.22 pm when Praveen Gupta, who hit the winning runs in the semi-final, edged to Kukreja, who didn't make any mistake this time. And the usual melee ensued.
Stumps were uprooted from the earth for souvenirs and the Mumbai dressing room emptied on to the playing field. Kaif rushed out of the dressing room and led his team to shake hands with Mumbai's players.
And then, more of the same. Camera 'no 7' broke down just before the prize ceremony. Another camera was hurriedly brought in and the show continued. UP retreated and Mumbai continued with their Kodak moment. More laughter and camera flashes. The frenzy continued in the dressing room where champagne bubbled and Sula wine and beer drenched the floor. But there was a flight to catch and the players filed out one by one to the team bus. More Tendulkar moments. Some happy, some well …
A Mumbai player was talking to a reporter when Tendulkar emerged from the room. A security guard tried to clear the way but unknowingly shoved the player out of the way. The player stumbled, held his balance some how, shrugged his shoulder, smiled and stepped aside. It comes with the territory of playing with a legend. A crowd had gathered outside waiting to catch a glimpse of their Tendulkar. And they erupted at the sight of their beloved. Tendulkar waved. The crowd grew delirious. All was well with the world.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo