They say that the North Stand at the Wankhede offers the best view for watching Cricket. Not that it mattered much to me, I decided to make sure that I get one of the best seats in the North Stand to enjoy a day of Test match cricket. November 25, 2012, the third day of the India England test match is the setting. Ever since the fixtures came out for the series, It was pretty apparent to me that I would be there or rather I must be there for any one day of this match. I had already booked the tickets for the match online, but I had to collect my ticket from the counter outside the venue. So I missed the first 20 to 30 minutes of the day’s play. England had got off to a decent start to the day by then, but I was not at all thinking about the match situation. I was too busy getting myself seated properly and getting a feel of the atmosphere.
13 cricketers all in whites were doing their stuff in the middle. All kinds of them were there. Heroes and flops, Those who delighted us and those who disappointed us, Those on whose abilities we believed and those whom we doubted. But my mind was wandering. It took me some good 10 or 15 minutes to really come to terms with the fact that I was having a taste of International cricket.
Coming to the match itself, now it is already well documented that what Kevin Pietersen did that day was something outrageous. He stood tall, defended calmly, played with the spin to the offside, slog swept, and lifted the ball straight back past helpless spinners. When a batsman goes like this it is always intimidating, but when Pietersen does it it looks a bit more, just because of the frame of the man.
When Cook and Pietersen were going great guns I was like this: “Yeah, I am here to see cricket, why bother about not being able to see India’s batting ? “. But India had a dream session after lunch, England lost 6 wickets during the post lunch session, and there I was, or rather us, the whole crowd, after all, our sunday was not to be spent for those Poms batting. We desperately wanted our Rockstars to wield their willows in front of us. There was an overwhelming sense of relief on the face of everyone.
So there were to be had 33 overs of the famous wristy, elegant Indian batting. The noise level at the Wankhede just went some notches up. But if the previous session was dreamy for India, this was nightmarish. Sehwag was the first to go. Chetheshwer Pujara was greeted with “Pujara, Pujara” chants, but poor man, his dismissal was accompanied with the loudest cheer for the entire match. He must have felt like he was given a false reception earlier, but it has been happening to every Indian second wicket for years. I was ready with my camera then for the occasion. Sure, no other sporting arena in the world would ever witness what took place at the Wankhede for the next one or two minutes. The video can be seen here
Tendulkar was beaten by Panesar a couple of times. The stumping claim which went upwards produced the most nervous moments of the day, The big screen read ‘Third Umpire Decision Pending’ for about a minute, but finally he was given Not Out. He scored two boundaries of Panesar too. He was stretching himself forward and smothering the spin well, it looked from the stands. But then the quicker straighter delivery did the trick, the finger went up instantly and that was it. Sachin was walking back. I was not opportunistic enough to be able to pick myself up to capture that moment of silence, which would have complimented nicely, the earlier video of the reception given to him.
Some started leaving then. With a tinge of disappointment, I stayed back to see the day coming to a close. India lost 7 wickets in that single session and the match was almost lost. It is not everyday that you get to see live cricket from the ground. So regardless of the match situation I was feeling great as I came out. I was seated near the press box where there were some familiar English faces like Michael Atherton and Lawrence Booth. I often looked at them, were they chuckling ? no, it was just my fickle mind. One thing about the hospitality at the Wankhede must be said. I have not been to many venues, but this renovated Wankhede has to be one of the most spectator friendly venues atleast in India. The security arrangements never came in the way of the viewer experience.
In 2002, as Sachin Tendukar was about to play his 100th test match, Tom Alter, the actor wrote a piece for Rediff. In which, he summed up a cricket fan’s emotion beautifully :
“Let us celebrate all the mornings he also has gifted us — the mornings when we wake and know he will bat today; the mornings when tea is especially good and hot, and the air clearer and crisper — only because we feel blessed inside, waiting to see him play”. Since the day I had decided to go for the match, I too was feeling blessed inside waiting to see not just Sachin, but this grand old stage of a Test match and its nuances and the twists and turns. Well, my tea had also been especially good and hot and sweeter.