ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Few cricket experiences can come close to the delight of watching a good solid cricket match with one’s college-mates in the common room.
This time last year, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, a group of law students gathered around in a hostel common room to watch a cricket match on an ancient TV which needed more than gentle persuasion to be convinced that it needed to display the live feed regularly.
Seats were at a premium since the common room was not exactly built to accommodate ALL the denizens of the men’s hostel at the same time.
Yet, this was no ordinary cricket match. This was the finals of the Twenty20 World Cup finals between India and Pakistan.
Assignments were forgotten, Moot Court teammates made to understand the gravity of the situation, and girlfriend-time given up with torn consciences as we crammed into the common room as early as possible to catch vantage points close to the TV.
Among us there were the true fans; the ones who set the alarm and woke up at five in the morning to catch matches played in Australia, stayed up to catch England beating Australia in the 2005 Ashes, and cheer every run as South Africa chased down 434 against Australia.
Then there were the India fans who turned up only for matches India played and went away complaining loudly when it looked like India would lose.
And then there were the casual cricketers who would turn up to watch for lack of anything better to do or simply because they didn’t want to be left out of one of two things that involved the whole hostel (the other of course being the Farewell Hostel daru party thrown by the batch passing out that year).
They all turned up for the finals.
The room was full, and all of us clustered around the TV an hour before the match started. Even the pre-match show was watched eagerly, and debate raged about team composition and the batting order.
Over the two weeks we had all become experts on T20 Cricket as we followed the gripping tournament from its blistering start (Chris Gayle smearing South African bowlers all over the park), to the nail biting finish in the India-Australia semi-final (Joginder Sharma going from hopeless pretender to God of the Final Over in the span of six balls).
No one was going to miss the final.
And what a final it was!
A brilliant director with the finest script and the greatest actors would have been hard-pressed to create the kind of emotional rollercoaster this match took us on. From trepidation at the diffident start to growing despair over Umar Gul’s accurate bowling, and some cheer in the form of Gautam Gambhir’s and Rohit Sharma’s clean hitting, the India’s innings alone had it all.
Yet, the widely held opinion was that 157 runs were not enough; not against a team that had brushed aside all comers chasing bigger totals on its way to the finals.
The “despairers” were of course challenged by the die-hards among us who were convinced it was a winning total. A short break to take a quick gulp of air, gather one’s wits and head back to watch the nail biting chase.
The smart ones with the good seats obviously didn’t move an inch.
As the chase began, our sodden hopes soared within the first few overs as R.P. Singh tore into the Pakistani batting, and once Irfan Pathan got into the act, we were sure of victory. Seven wickets down, 50 runs away from the target, Shahid “boom-boom” Afridi gone, just Misbah-ul Haq with the tail, we couldn’t lose could we?
The ranks of the despairers and had thinned and the anticipation of victory made us complacent to that old cliché: “the glorious uncertainties of the game”.
Except of course, there was nothing uncertain about Misbah’s assault. It was calculated, fierce and silenced us by threatening the seemingly impossible. With every six that flew into the stands, the ranks of the despairers swelled once again, and the ancient legend of Javed Miandad, handed down by our traumatized fathers, came into memory.
It is now the last over, 13 runs are needed, and Joginder Sharma is handed the ball. This leads to cries of outrage among some as Harbhajan Singh still has an over to go, but there are others who remind them of the sixes just gone by.
The argument continues into the first ball that has gone way outside off stump and is called a wide. Cries of anguish go up, followed by abuses. The next ball is played and missed by Misbah, and met with wild cheers and fulsome praise.
Now comes the horror ball!
Full toss, an effortless swing of the bat, and a stunned room watches as the ball sails over the boundary for a six. Six off four needed, and the hands go up to the heads, or reach out in prayer to the Gods, and tension is writ large on every face.
50 pairs of eyes watch in silence as Joginder Sharma runs in again. It’s wide, Misbah chases it, unbelievably, tries to scoop it over fine leg, the ball floats up, a hyper-ventilating Ravi Shastri almost calls it a four, and then the ball comes down, the camera finds Sreesanth under it, he holds on to it, and the common room explodes with joy!
Otherwise inclined to show extreme machismo, we were openly crying, laughing and hugging each other as the unbelievable had just happened. Sure defeat, turned into unlikely victory, turned into last gasp defeat, has just become a snatch-from-death’s-jaws-victory that no one could have predicted.
At that moment, like Indians everywhere, we forgot everything else, our backgrounds, language, ethnicity, region, religion and celebrated like only delirious cricket fans can. We cheered every Indian player who came up to collect a medal, cheering loudest as Dhoni came up to collect the trophy.
We got an idea, perhaps, of what an earlier generation had felt, in the summer of ’83.
In retrospect it was also a stinging reply to a cocky question that I had once asked in a political science class, “What unites us as “Indians”?”
Long after I forget the classes, the exams or the grade sheets, I will always remember that day in college.
Photograph: courtesy Reuters