Saturday, March 16, 2013

I was there!!! :D

Border-Gavaskar Trophy - 2nd Test
India vs. Australia, Hyderabad

I’m a cricket fanatic! I’d probably be amongst the top ten fans in the country, like a million others would claim to be. I follow domestic cricket, junior cricket, women cricket, school, college and club cricket in my city and I will be able to tell you the top 30 cricketers from Hyderabad. I had been to a few ICL games, a Champions League game where Kieron Pollard sent the ball flying out of the park like he was playing in the streets and a few IPL games. I had seen Sourav Ganguly field at an arm’s distance away during a Duleep Trophy game. But I had never watched an International game before. My biggest regret still remains not being able to get tickets to watch Sachin’s 175 against the Australia right in my backyard. A few months ago when New Zealand visited Hyderabad, I made sure I got the tickets booked before hand and was all set to watch Day 2. After all the hustle and bustle of leading a busy life, I, along with a group of ten, reached the ground to watch the second session. New Zealand, chasing India’s 438 capitualted to a 159 all out and was made to follow on by Dhoni much to our dismay. Nevertheless, I was excited as this was going to my first brush with International cricket, a place where I felt I belonged some twenty years ago. We had barely reached the entrance when a dark cloud loomed out of nowhere and burst open right over the ground. The shower lasted barely 15 minutes but it did enough damage for play to be called for the day. We had the gates shut right on our faces and we weren’t even allowed to enter the ground, forget watching a ball of International Cricket. Being the working person that I am, I couldn’t afford to take leave to watch Cricket the next day as New Zealand lost by an innings and 115 runs. The next year was spent avoiding the IPL games as they never really felt like “the thing.” I secretly prayed to Sachin not to retire as I had to see him in action, had to see the ball race away like a tracer bullet and had to be a part of the reception that he gets when he walks into bat. And then God (Sachin) answered my prayer. The Kanpur test was moved to Hyderabad!!! The Aussies would be coming to the land of Biryani, to the land of the pearls and to the home of their favorite nemesis, VVS Laxman. I made sure I would leave no stone unturned this time. I was going to watch International test Cricket, hook or crook. A good fortune was spent on acquiring the tickets and there were ten of them. We were finally going to watch men in whites playing with a red ball in the greens of my hometown. Cricket, really is a colorful game!! Early to bed and early to rise probably indicates unskilled labor. But on this occasion, I was hardly able to sleep and was awake much before sunrise (Oh! By the way, our new IPL team’s name is called Sunrisers) and started calling the entire gang home by 7 AM. The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, on any other day, is just a 15 minute ride from home, but it being the big day, took nearly an hour to get there. Watching cricket at Indian grounds has been less harrowing of late is what I have read (I can’t imagine how it would have been earlier). There was no designated parking space and we had to park our bikes in the corner of the road outside the stadium with thousands of other bikes (If you had planned to watch only one session of the game and leave during the Lunch break, good luck on finding and getting out your vehicle!) Since we had booked our tickets online and got to the stadium early, we could select the pavilion under the canopy right beside the sightscreen thus giving us the view a complete 180 degree view from over the bowler’s shoulder or behind the wicketkeeper.


The Australians were having their intense warm-up sessions right in front of us. Led by Clarke, the Kangaroos seemed to enjoy their fielding drills. In the other corner of the ground were a much more relaxed bunch of boys with Shikhar Dhawan, Pragyan Ojha and Ajinkya Rahane taking catches. It was pretty evident that these were the guys going to warm the bench for this Test. And in another corner, a tall lanky lad with long hair was going through his strides and Captain Cool was having a talk with the curator. And a little more further, I caught my first glimpse of God; the little master having a fun chat and having a knock with Sehwag. The way he middle the ball was a treat to the eyes and I kept hoping that MSD would win the toss so that I could see the little master in action. The warm-ups and the fielding drills continued as Ravi Shastri was spotted in the centre giving a pitch report until the clocks ticked 9 and the captains walked out to the centre, smartly dressed in blazers. Unfortunately, it was Clarke who won the toss, and as expected elected to bat. There was a sense of disappointment, but nevertheless I was excited. As expected, Sehwag kept his place in the line-up and Harbhajan was preferred over the local hero Ojha while the Aussies pulled off a surprise by including Doherty and Maxwell in the squad in place of Lyon and Starc. It was half past nine and the umpires walked out to the centre followed by MSD and his men as the crowd went delirious. The largest cheer, obviously went to Sachin, as the Dave Warner and Ed Cowan silently made their way to the centre. As you usually expect on the flat, dry wickets in India, I was expecting it to be a hard toil for the bowlers but it took only 14 balls for the crowd to erupt. India’s newest star Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, got the ball to pitch on off and cut inside as Warner’s stumps went for a walk.


 The Aussies were one down before you even knew it. The young impressive pacer struck again as Ed Cowan was adjudged leg before after a long, almost unending appeal. Shane Watson strode out into the centre and before his brief stay at the crease was ended by Kumar again, there was one stroke which I might never forget. It was a pitched up delivery and Watson, almost like a machine, drove it past back the bowler to the straight boundary. He remained unmoved for a couple of seconds and it must have made a pretty picture. Ashwin was introduced into the attack and dismissed Hughes and Aussies were four down before lunch on the first day!! The lunch break was spent watching the Aussie reserves go through their fielding drills. Steven Smith was clearly the entertainer plucking catches out of thin air and practicing his catching on the boundary (preparing for the IPL, perhaps?). Mitchell Johnson’s throws were thudding into the gloves while the other Mitchell looked a bit clumsy with his throws. The second session belonged to Australia. Clarke looked as comfortable as he would have been in his living room in Sydney while Wade looked more aggressive. The crowd though refused to be silenced by the duo as they began chanting Sachin’s name and was egged on by Kohli whenever they became silent. Sachin fielded at fine leg for most part of the session and the entire section of the East stands crowded up near him and went beserk whenever he waved to them or moved an inch or removed his cap or even scratched his head as Australia went into the tea break without any casualities. “Catches win matches,” they say and an ordinary Harbhajan Singh got rid of Matthew Wade, thanks to a fantastic diving catch by the man of the day Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Sir Ravindra Jadeja, as he is fondly called nowadays, then struck with a peach of a delivery to dismiss Henriques and then debutant Maxwell departed without troubling the scorers much. Getting to watch the Indians bat looked a realistic hope and Sir Jadeja struck again to remove Captain Clarke. He received a standing ovation for his brilliant knock and I personally felt he deserved a century to show for his knock. Clarke, then repaid my love for him, by calling a shock declaration, so that the Aussie quicks could have a go at the Indian openers at the end of the day. Sehwag and Vijay walked into bat amidst loud cheers and survived three overs of fiery pace bowling from Pattinson and Siddle as India finished as the winners on Day 1, a really pleasing day for the real Indian cricket fan. Now the next day being a Sunday and where Sachin was definitely going to bat, I should have been at the ground by 6:00 AM, but Alas!! I had a match of my own that I couldn’t afford to miss and had to make a terrible choice of having to miss Sachin bat. All I could do was to hope he would remain unbeaten at the end of the day and arrange for tickets for the next day! What happened next was the God’s answers to my prayers (yes, yet again!). Sehwag was dismissed early in the day but Pujara and Vijay dished out a partnership that would have made Dravid and Laxman proud. They brought up their centuries and played till close of day as the crowd’s “We want Sachin” chants went in vain.


The first thing to do at the end of the second day was book tickets for Day 3, take permission to come a little late to office and prepare mentally to see God in action. We reached the ground around 8:00 AM and I was surprised to see a near full house on a Monday. Luckily we got the stands under the canopy again as Vijay and Pujara came out to resume their marathon partnership. Vijay was the first to get off the blocks reaching his 150 while Pujara looked as solid as ever. The Sachin chant kept growing louder and Vijay was the first one to succumb to the pressure as he gave leg slip a simple catch. The crowd erupted. One must pity Vijay as not even an Australian wicket was treated with so much joy. And then the moment of reckoning arrived!! All of 5’5”, bat tucked under his shoulder, looking up at the skies the little Master walked into bat as the crowd broke into a frenzy.


The noise showed no signs of reducing as the crowd got louder as the genius took his guard and made a few trademark adjustments. Maxwell, the debutant ran into bowl from around the stumps as the forward leg short leg and leg slip were all in position. He must be a little nervous, surely? No, there were no signs of it as he confidently defended the ball back to the bowler as the crowd just kept getting louder. A few balls later, he was off the mark with a customary paddle to fine leg as he played out till lunch time. The Australian reserves kept the crowd entertained during the lunch time with their fielding drills and it was 40 minutes more until Sachin walked into bat again. This time we were lucky enough to see the ball race away to the boundary of the blade of the Master. I’m sure that the management committee in the neighboring MNC wouldn’t have been pleased as the decibels went up by a few notches. My dream was fulfilled but I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted him to play till the end of the day, and probably more! But it wasn’t to be. Siddle delivered a ball down the leg side and was well collected by Wade. But Siddle seemed to be animatedly appealing even though the keeper looked disinterested. The on-field umpire, after a initial shake of the head, walked up to his partner and decided to consult the third umpire. After what seemed like a million replays, the umpire overturned his decision and thus breaking a few thousand hearts in the process. The Master just turned and began walking back nonchalantly to the pavilion. The crowd, initially silenced by the decision, gave the Master a standing ovation as he walked back into the dressing room. Mahender Singh Dhoni was the next into bat and he entertained the crowd over the next thirty minutes as he scored a quickfire 40. The ball began gripping and bouncing as the next five Indian wickets fell for just 43 runs and before we knew it, Warner and Ed Cowan were walking into bat again! I had taken permission from my work place and so had to run back to office, albeit a few hours late. India finished the day on top getting Warner and Hughes before stumps, but that, by far, was my most memorable day of a Test match.
What happened next? India turned up on the next day and picked up the remaining Aussie wickets in the first session. Ashwin picked up another five for while Jadeja’s delivery to Michael Clarke grabbed the headlines. And me? A few Facebook statuses and a huge article like this later, I proudly reflect back on the fact that I was a part of a International Test Match, one in which Australia received a drubbing at the hands of India! :)

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