Thursday, April 21, 2016

Warming up for the Euro... Cricket World Cup in India

Turns out we timed our move to India quite well – particularly from Indiadam’s point of view as only a few weeks after his re-arrival in Mumbai, the cricket Twenty20 World Cup kicked off in India. Being a supporter of nearly any sport that England are more or less (usually the latter) successfully participating in, Indiadam was very excited by the whole thing.

From my side, I have to admit that cricket still hasn’t made it into my top sports to watch or follow even after 5 years in London but I am very thankful for these 5 years as at least it means I arrived in the land of cricket with a basic understanding of the sport. I don’t call the stumps poles anymore, I know you score runs not points, and I have learned key terminology like “declaring” which I once described as “when you do the thing where you say you are going to win the game anyway”. There are still significant knowledge gaps and not all the stats that get thrown at you, particularly when watching on TV make much sense to me but I can say that I have started appreciating the sport. Coming from mainland Europe, cricket is quite often dubbed the most boring sport in the world – you play for 5 days and it’s a draw.

Which is quite often true is test cricket to be fair… So it is not surprising that my favourite form of the game is Twenty20 (why is it not TwentyTwenty or 2020 by the way?). I have watched a few Friday night Oval games. Though the focus there is much more on the booze and making the longest “beer snake” out of empty cups. A very English approach to a Friday night sports event where everyone seems to compensate for the missing alcohol at football games. Let’s say it can get a bit rowdy and the cricket is not always the focus point. Even before the WC started, I could sense that this is very different in India. First, the sport is taken VERY seriously (as it also seems to be the ONLY sport people are interested in, no hedging your bets between football, rugby, tennis, handball etc). Second, people drink less if at all and no drinks are served in the stadium.

So the World Cup was coming to India – but how were we going to get tickets? I vividly remember the hours I spent in front of a computer trying to get tickets for the London Olympics or Tottenham games, only to be told after ages that my session had timed out or tickets were sold out. The catch was also that two weeks before the start of the world cup, tickets had not even gotten on sale yet, venues were being changed and the Pakistan team was even considering not showing up at all due to security concerns. So let’s say a rather unusual approach (in my German eyes) to the biggest sporting event of the year. Somehow it all came together though and we (or Indiadam) were lucky with two England fixtures being in Mumbai. Through some England-cricket-fan connections, Indiadam managed to get tickets to both – I opted for only one of the two. It’s still not football after all J

The first game was against the West Indies which England lost after Gayle more or less beat them on his own. I definitely didn’t expect either England or West Indies to make it to the final in the end (which probably shows how little I still know about cricket). So Indiadam came home sad and beaten that night with a bit of a “typical England” summary. Two days later we are making our way south to the Wankhede stadium (still can’t pronounce it without making it sound utterly wrong and rude) for the second Mumbai game. England – South Africa. We meet some other English and South African guys in a very cool rooftop bar called “Dome Bar” close to the stadium. I’m quite happy sipping my G&T and watching the sunset that I don’t mind going a bit later to the game – it’s not like you might miss the only goal of the game in the first 5mins. One of the advantages of cricket… With Indiadam and a few of his mates keen to “hear the anthem” though, we make our way to the stadium. You would think outside the stadium is the perfect location to sell some fan gear. I’m thinking shirts, flags, scarves. Apparently not. Apparently what EVERY cricket fan wants before a world cup game is a rainbow coloured wig – hundreds of them are being sold everywhere. Either I missed a new fashion trend (not unlikely) or it’s a cricket insider outfit joke that I don’t get. Anyway, I don’t buy a wig, it’s still 30 degrees at 8pm so I’m hot enough without wearing a wig.

We arrive when it’s just getting busy – there is a long queue leading up to the stadium which quickly changes into a mass push for the gates as people start overtaking and just walking up beside the queue (me included, finally no English queueing). All fine until we get to within 20m of the entrance where security has just stared closing the gate because of people pushing too much. While the logical reaction would be to now wait, the Indian reaction seems to be to push even harder. It’s probably one of my least favourite moments in Mumbai so far being squashed in a mob of mainly Indian male cricket fans which gets me more attention than I really want. Indiadam comes to the rescue and 10mins later we have made it safely into the stadium. Which is half empty.

With time, more people start arriving though and Indiadam says it is actually much busier than it was at the Windies game. The atmosphere is good, there are lots of guys running around trying to sell all sorts of snacks though as expected, no beer or beer snake as a result in sight. I have to say some people seem like they are as crazy though without the alcohol – one guy next to us in particular breaks out into the most ludacris dance moves every time the music goes one. Noone in England would dance like that even after drinking a beer snake. Cultural differences, hey. But very entertaining. I won’t bore you with the match details mainly because I would still not be able to describe the highs and lows of a cricket match in adequate terminology but it was a really good match and tense unrtil the last minute. Made even better by England winning by 2 wickets with 2 balls remaining thanks to an amazing performance by Joe Root. So Indiadam and the rest of the England supporter crew are very happy when we head back to the Dome Bar (which might have also been thanks to the rather drunk girls in short skirts dancing by the pool, just like any UK nightclub).

I do have to say that not only Indiadam had a good time but I really enjoyed the game and even though I will always miss the football, tennis and other sports from Europe, cricket is actually good fun – both in England and India although the experience of a Twenty20 match couldn’t be more different. One thing that they have in common is that they both lost to the West Indies which is a shame as I would have loved to see India – England in the final. Though that at least didn’t have to face the choice of who to support...

So after learning a bit more about the game and seeing some (apparently) very good cricket live, I can say - it's not a boring sport. But then I also have to say that I am now looking forward to the actual sports highlight of 2016 - the Euro 2016 in France! Oh an the Olympics... Come on Germany :)

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