Virender Sehwag’s 100th test. Sachin Tendulkar in his home ground. And Cheteshwar Pujara, who might be a combination of both Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
For any cricket fan, no, Test cricket fan, this has to be ample reason to abandon drawing room viewing and book tickets to see a Test match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. It was reason enough for me. The second India-England Test was in Mumbai.
And there the process began. I called the ground a number of times, and asked friends – but was told unequivocally that this isn’t the IPL, ticket information will come out only a week before the match. And so three days before, we bought tickets, also to be told that one can’t choose seats — take the seats you get. And, there are no per day tickets — if you want to watch one day’s play, pay for all five. No choice, you get the drift.
At 8:30 am today (an hour before play), a mile long queue greeted us at Gate 3, which is one of the entrances to the Sachin Tendulkar stand (Gate 5 is the other). ‘Damn! no chance of seeing the teams warm up,’ I thought. At 9 am we had moved seven steps and the toss had been taken; there was a buzz around the ground that India has won the toss, Bhajji was in, and Umesh Yadav was out. The entertaining Monty Panesar was also playing. There’s still thirty minutes to play, we’ll make it in, I said to the Englishman standing behind me. And then at 9:20 dreading that I would miss Sehwag walk into the ground on his 100th test, I ran to the beginning of the queue to find out what was holding us up.
I was told, ‘bags’. You aren’t allowed to bring bags into the stadium. Those who had brought them, were holding up the line, the MCA volunteer told me. Well then make them form a separate line and let us all in, I argued. And this went on, making me wonder in about five minutes why we had come. We finally got in at 9:45 – toss over, Gambhir gone, Pujara in.
Some of you might ask, what the fuss is about. And perhaps you’re right. But this is the thing about Test cricket: the warm up matters – I remember cheering wildly as a child when Sunil Gavaskar took a soft, high catch at Chepauk in Madras while warming up. And I remember more recently sitting at the Oval watching Jimmy Anderson tearing into bowl at the nets with a chanting Barmy Army.
Umpires matter, the toss matters and the captain leading the side in matters and the openers walking in matters. That’s what makes Test cricket special. Not a hard to get into and hard to leave ground (once you step out you cannot re-enter the stadium).
I did finally watch a promising Pujara play. His defence, his drives, his flicks and his singles. And the hook, though for a single, which made my day. And then when Sehwag was bowled playing across the line to Monty, there was some movement in the dressing room. A man simply got up, and how the crowd roared. He walked across the dressing room, to the head of the home pavilion stairs and stepped onto the field, to the welcome of thunderous applause. I was watching Sachin Tendulkar from Sachin Tendulkar stand.
Comparisons are never fun, but with Mumbai’s cricket heritage expectations are bound to be high. When India played England at the Oval last year, it was really rain interrupted by cricket. But I watched three full days and it was all about the cricket. The ground was easily accessible, the organisation outstanding and there was music, beer and tremendous conversation around cricket. And little earphones to listen to commentary across radio and television options.
Dear BCCI and MCA: I am glad to have gone, but I don’t think I will abandon my drawing room again. Thank you for killing my excitement for Test cricket in India.