Hassled but happy: A day at the Kotla
It was a tough call this morning - to go to bed (at 6 AM) after a late shift at work (flexible timings take a whole new meaning when you work in sports), or to go to the Kotla for the final day of the Test, with an unprecedented 100th Sachin Tendulkar century and an India victory imminent? Sleep or cricket?
Actually, it wasn't a tough call at all. Sachin and India won hands down.
That decision turned out to be the easiest part. Getting into the stadium proved to be far more difficult - apparently, lessons from the mistakes made in organizing the first Test here in November 1948 are yet to be learnt. Nevertheless, just like the archetypal 'Indian cricket fan' who is passionate, vocal and perseverant, I too was determined to fight the odds and see the match at any cost.
The cost, literally, was rather high. You see, for some incomprehensible reason known only to the DDCA, tickets for the game were not being sold anywhere at or near the ground itself. There are no counters at the Kotla, though helpfully, there is a board telling you where you have to go to purchase any. So if one wishes to buy a ticket - legitimately, I might add - they must go to locations as close as a 15-minute drive or as far as a one-hour journey away.
Thanks to an equally dogged auto-rickshaw driver though, I made it to the nearest counter, only to be greeted by long lines and general chaos. Everyone wanted to see the game, but no one knew how to go about it. The utter lack of information was in stark contrast to the number of touts willing to sell the tickets they had mysteriously acquired at unreasonably high prices.
Again it was time to make a choice - to stick to my principles and stand in the queue with no guarantee that a ticket would come at the end of it, or to pay the price for wanting to see my cricket heroes in action?
This time it was a tough decision, and given the prevailing anti-corruption climate in the country in recent times, I will keep mum as to what course of action I finally took. Sufficed to say that when Sachin walked out to face the first ball, I had successfully negotiated the Delhi traffic, the confusing entrance gates and the cumbersome security checks to stand and applaud the great man.
You have to experience it first-hand to understand what the sight of Sachin Tendulkar on the field can do to the crowds. Chants of 'Sachin, Sachin' drowned out the jarring music that blared out as the match began, and the sparse crowd made sure it made enough noise befitting the momentous occasion.
From then on, the day's play was thoroughly engrossing and entertaining, with the spectators praying for that record Sachin hundred, an India victory and a finish within the first session, in that order. Every run scored by Sachin - who played a fluent knock studded with several sublime boundaries - was cheered wildly; every dot ball for Rahul Dravid and later VVS Laxman was greeted with equal enthusiasm.
The excitement grew as Sachin crossed his fifty. The scoreboard might as well have displayed the number of runs Sachin needed to make his 100th ton, rather than what India required to complete a win that the crowd had assumed was a given.
It was not to be Sachin or Delhi's day however, and when 24 runs short of the milestone, West Indies sprung into life for the first and only time in the day as Devendra Bishoo stunned the Kotla. They recovered soon enough to give their hero a standing ovation, before turning their attention to the cameramen to get their five minutes of fame on television, while exhorting Yuvraj Singh to 'aaram se' (carefully) 'hit it for a six.'
Laxman, whose relaxed half-century also drew appreciation, ensured India cruised to victory, even though the match did stretch beyond lunch. I used the time to reflect on who could possibly take over from Sachin as the recipient of the loudest cheers; my question was answered when MS Dhoni came out to bat with India one run away from ending their terrible run of defeats in Tests.
I went back home content, my delight at India's win tempered by the disquieting thought that I may have witnessed Sachin and Dravid - two legends of world cricket - bat in a Test in my hometown perhaps for the last time.
It was a struggle to get the tickets and later find a decent seat that had not been ruined by neglect and misuse. The facilities were below-par and the food and drinks unfairly overpriced. In fact, my experience was similar to what most Indian fans go through at most of the grounds in the country. Yet watching the 'God' in action, even if for a brief while, was worth all the trouble.