Flashback to 1996, 13th March. My CBSE Xth Board Examinations were going on. I had a paper the next day, but it was the last thing on my mind. India was playing Sri Lanka in World Cup Cricket Semis in Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. And when it comes to cricket, you don’t study for exams, you choose a side and cheer on till the end. And that’s exactly what I planned to do.
But it kind of felt wrong to ditch my books at this make-or-break time, especially when I had so many topics pending one last review. So this is what I hoped would happen: India would bat second so that I won’t need to watch the boring first part and finish my revisions during that time. And when the match got really interesting in the second half, I will watch India chase and beat Sri Lanka’s total. It was a perfectly synchronized plan.
And that’s exactly what happened when it came to the coin-toss (India chose to bowl first) and I could not be more thrilled! (Though experts would tell you that it was a bad decision to bat second especially since it was predicted that the outfield would progressively get slower with each over).
Nonetheless, the match started and I pretended to study for the first half; although for most part of it, my ears were glued to my room’s door, through which I could pick up part of the commentary going on in the living room. India’s bowling was disappointing, and they gave away quite a lot of extra runs, which ended up being very costly when it came to Sri Lanka’s total match tally of 251. But the die-hard fan in me was undaunted, even a wee bit….the target was absolutely achievable. At a time when our entire family ate, drank, breathed and dreamt cricket, there was no way we were giving up before seeing Sri Lanka bowl. No way!
But as all cricket fans around the world may remember, the Indian Team’s batting broke everyone’s heart, one ball at a time. And then at the shameful total of 120 runs, the ignominious booing, bottle-pelting, and angry rioting started, thanks to the fanatic and extremely dejected fans at the Eden Gardens. The match was awarded to Sri Lanka as a result. The entire country was put to shame that day and it botched up “The Gentleman’s Game” for history.
I, who at one point of time was so obsessed with cricket that I daydreamed of getting into the Women’s Cricket Team, stopped watching the world cup after that and concentrated on my board exams instead. To make matters worse, within a short span of time, allegations of match fixing (some of which were proven true) jolted the cricketing world and killed all remnants of interest in the game for me.
I got busy living my life while cricket became just another background noise. Some moments still kept registering from time to time like Sourav Ganguly’s aggression on field (Who could forget his “Shirt Dance” from Lord’s Balcony after NatWest Series win?), Dhoni’s composure, the beginning of IPL, India’s T20 World Cup Win, Test No. 1 Ranking etc. But the fervor was long gone. Back in 1996, I could name all Indian Players; give you part of their match statistics and what not. And not just India, be it Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa…..you name it, I could list at least some of their more successful team members and their match stats. Couple of years later (post 1996 debacle), if you showed me a photograph of some Indian cricket player who joined new, it was quite possible for me to not even to know that he was a cricketer.
That was my level of cricket knowledge (rather the lack of it) on 2nd April 2011 when India was about to clash with Sri Lanka for the World Cup Finals in Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Sri Lanka won the toss this time and decided to bat first. It was a pure Déjà vu moment for me. The die-hard fan’s heart was long gone, but the patriot in me still wished for that cup to be India’s. I watched the first half mostly in “Inquiry” mode as I did not know many of the players while Sri Lanka piled up an enormous tally of 274 runs. The target was steep, but maybe achievable. I was cautiously optimistic!
Nobody had the chance to even settle down at Second Half when Sehwag was out for a duck. Still achievable…still achievable….I kept thinking. And just like that Tendulkar was gone. I was nauseous……well, probably because I was pregnant back then and was at the end of my first trimester, but at that time it felt like all those years of abstaining from cricket was getting to me finally! I could not take the pressure anymore and went to bed……
…..Don’t remember how long I slept but I was awakened by loud shouts and whistling coming from the living room and firecrackers in the distance. When I went to see what was going on, Hubby and my brother-in-laws were shouting and whistling intermittently, saying that the match was going on awesome and I was missing it! Amidst the subsequent commercial breaks, they hurriedly told me what had happened while I was away…..about how Gambir was holding off the wicket at one end and how Dhoni had promoted himself in the batting line up to thrash the Sri Lankan bowlers. It was just perfect! I don’t remember how many overs I saw till the end, but the stress was gone. The batsmen seemed to be effortlessly directing ball after ball to the boundary. I was just in time to watch Dhoni loft the winning sixer. And it was sheer magic! At that moment, I believe, the whole of India erupted with cheers! It was as if the weight carried by us for 28 long years was lifted! Who could forget Kapil Dev holding the World Cup in 1983? I was 2 years old back then, but the video had been played over and over so many times that I felt like it happened in front of my eyes. Now, all of a sudden, it was not the only memory and image of triumph. The entire Indian team carrying Tendulkar on their shoulders for the victory lap round the field was equally etched onto our memories from then on.
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