Sunday, March 30, 2008

Live From Chepauk Day 5

It was going to be a draw, and I must admit, the thought of skipping the day’s play did cross my mind – particularly because, it is, after all, a major investment of time, and with a no-result looming on the horizon, one is bound to consider whether that investment is indeed worthwhile. However, I told myself that stranger things had happened in Test cricket before and if they did occur today, I would be kicking myself for missing out. So I chose to go lest I should regret. Also, I told myself I’d reassess the situation at lunch (and perhaps at tea) and probably make an early return. Well, the miracle did not happen. But I did not regret my action either.

It was a frustrating morning. Certainly, the wicket was a bit more helpful to the bowlers today than any earlier time. All the ingredients of a turner were there, it was just that it did not happen soon enough for this test to live. The spinners bowled quite well in the morning. We saw Sreesanth drop a simple catch – this was also a new experience, to see and feel a dropped catch on the field – and RP a tougher one off his own bowling. The crowd was expectedly a bit less and less vocal today.

I experimented with my seating position in the stands today, given the status of the game. It has long been an accepted axiom that the best place to watch the game is from behind the bowler’s arm, and staying true to it I had got myself as close to this angle as physically possible in the stand. It is also said that the mid-wicket view, the side-ways view is the worst. Today, after tea, I decided to try out this particular view. It was a revelation. It shattered years of blind belief in what had been passed down as gospel. Like several others, (play in the V, get your foot to the pitch of the ball, play out the first few overs) this was a cricketing myth. It was enlightening and wonderful. While it is obviously true that the line of the ball cannot be judged from that view, it is just as obvious that it is the optimal position to follow length, and resultantly, bounce. Duh! It is just simple geometry, when one comes to think about it. If line is what you want to observe, stay behind the bowler’s arm, if it is length, stay at mid-wicket. And who is to say which is more important? Michael Holding, famously said, “Line is optional, length is mandatory”. I guess it depends on your perspective for the moment. Today, when there was little turn, and Harbhajan relying on the bounce, it was the right choice I made.

If there was one aspect of the game I had not been able to witness it was a great catch. And that discrepancy was rectified when RP Singh pulled off a blinder at square leg. I saw the ball from the time it left Bhajji’s hand till it reached RPs. It was a matter of a fraction of a second! Wonderful. It was at this point that I felt sure that I did the right thing in coming today.

All along Harbhajan was bowling beautifully. This was one of the things I enjoyed most in the Test even amidst the towering batting performances of all and sundry. He takes some time to settle but once he gets the line and loop going he can be beautiful to watch.

The bounce is the best part to watch in Harbhajan’s bowling, along with the flight. Ashwell Prince’s wicket was memorable for me. I was a bit distracted today given the state of the match but luckily just focused on that particular delivery. It was slower, given good flight bounced and ended up in the hands of short leg. Again, I followed the trajectory of the ball all the way. Awesome.

With the wicket of Amla just before lunch the last dire hopes were rekindled and I decided to stay on. A bit surprisingly so did most of the crowd. But it was not meant to happen. It was petering out to a tame draw. Kumble left the field – and with part-timers Sehwag and Laxman on, there was no denying the inevitable. Yet, it did not get boring. The crowd did not leave or turn silent; on the contrary it turned more vocal. And strangely, I felt the same way too. What was happening? Suddenly it dawned upon me. The match was over as a contest between two nations, but the cricketing contest was still on. India were still trying to take wickets. They were putting the fielders right, trying to create the pressure. Once again, I mentally noted how important the role of the bowler is in this great game. The bowler is the one who acts first, the batsman only reacts. If the bowler chooses to challenge the batsmen the game will always be alive. At the first drinks after lunch, Dhoni called a huddle meeting – and it seemed to have worked wonders. India were suddenly more pumped up. And the crowd was at its best at this point. “Will you be watching right till the end?” I asked a young kid. “Of course” he replied with no little amount of scorn. The spirit of the crowd never sagged. Indeed it kept rising throughout the day. I saluted the Chennai crowd. In five hot days I had been tanned, as well as Tammed !! I was Tamned !! Even with all the record-breaking cricket and dazzling skills on display it was the crowd, the colors, the noise, the enthusiasm that made the experience all the more memorable for me.

It ended rather abruptly, and quite aptly so. It would have been overkill to have gone on any longer. The presentation was expectedly a major anti-climax. There was no mention of Dravid’s achievement. However Makhaya Ntini once again obliged us with his dance. He ventured almost into the stands and shook hands and signed autographs for several kids.

The match was over. Cricinfo reported it as a boring draw. I reported it otherwise. I guess they were right. I don’t care about them though. I will remember these five days for the rest of my life.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Live From Chepauk - Day 4

The excitement was tremendous. It had been perfectly set up. The expectations were endless. More history was anticipated. No one wanted to miss out. All roads led to Chepauk.

I had to be on time. I could afford to slack on earlier days but not today. I didn’t. And it was a good thing. Sehwag turned the very first ball for a single and broke his own record for the highest ever individual score by an Indian. A couple of boundaries later the hearts began racing. Pictures of the world record were already being formed. Only to be rudely woken up from the dream. Sehwag was out, caught in the slips. An epic had ended.

The applause was staggering. After a pause for a fraction of a millisecond it resumed again to welcome Sachin Tendulkar. This ground is like a home away from home for him. But he disappointed. No matter. We cheered again, this time for Ganguly. Some of his strokes were beautiful.

But another milestone was coming – 10000 runs for Rahul Dravid. It came via a single, played in our direction. The reaction was quite special. It was a massive ovation from crowd renowned for its knowledge ability. Dravid appreciated it. It meant a lot to him. He celebrated in a manner he seldom does. Rarely does he celebrate hundreds like the way he did his eightieth run today. For some reason he seemed to have taken a particular liking towards our section. This could not possibly be true, but I’m pretty sure I could feel him looking me in the eye and raising his bat as I saluted. Dravid is legend and my admiration for him is beyond description. Even on this monumental day people cribbed about his batting. He didn’t care. I didn’t care. We didn’t care. It was very special for him and for me.

Today was the first time I felt under some pressure to protect my vantage point seat in the stand with the larger crowd. Also, I believe I came on camera today. At least it was very difficult for me not to have, since the cameraman shot right at us from about 10 feet away. I was holding up a banner proclaiming I had come all the way from the USA to see history. Perhaps I was seen on TV at some point, perhaps not. These camerapersons are unfortunately all male and hence the girls in the crowd are always most likely to make their way on the screen, despite the fact that often girls and cricket do not go hand in hand.

As Dravid played some crisp strokes towards the end of the innings I was also treated to some Very Very Specials from Laxman. Just like watching Sehwag in the stadium as opposed to on TV is special, so is it with VVS. The thump is replaced by the touch. The loud thud is replaced by a sweet ting. But the end product is just as spectacular. Dhoni, however, disappointed. Steyn’s bowling towards the end was quite superb especially the two consecutive bouncers he bowled at Dhoni and the way he shattered the tail. It was high quality pace bowling the full weight of which can only be experienced when live than on TV. This was preceded by another very good spell by Ntini in the morning in which he removed Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dravid all caught at slip. The overcast conditions could have been a factor too. And then in the evening Harbhajan and Kumble just about began to pose some problems. It was wonderful to see so many different art forms (fast bowling, swing bowling, off spin, leg spin) all being exhibited on a day.

One of Dale Steyn’s express deliveries hit Sreesanth badly on the hand when he was batting. Sree was in pain, but clearly he was mentally ruffled too. He fielded right in front of us for most of the time and was fiddling with his hand all the while. Several times he had the physio look at it. Also he seemed very angry about it. Usually he responds to the crowd cheering with a wave but this time he was only looking away. Later, however, he himself took the initiative and got the crowd – which had gone somewhat silent – involved. He egged us to cheer on which we duly did of course, not that it helped. A lot of Indian players have been more interactive with the crowds because of Makhaya Ntini. Ntini really is a hit with the crowds, perhaps because this is going to be his home ground in the IPL. At first he was a bit confused, but once he realized the crowd was gaga over him he responded fabulously – every time he is placed on the boundary the crowd went wild, and Ntini broke into some African dance jig. It should be fun having a character like him for the IPL.

This match as of today appears dead and it has been somewhat of a letdown after the highs of yesterday. However I am not one to crib – not after being as honored I have been over the past 2 days. I still hold out hope for some possibility of a result tomorrow.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Live From Chepauk – Day 3

I was there. I witnessed history.

I wasn’t expecting to do so as I boarded the by now familiar train to Chepauk. After all who does ever? The day began with a tinge of cloud in the air. It was the first minor weather concern for the test match. Luckily, it blew past. Maybe the heavens, unlike me, expected history to be written today and did not wish to interrupt.

I missed the first couple of overs. That was all I missed. What happened after that has been written in one glorious chapter in the annals of cricket, and, in a very small way, I was part of it. I stood up to applaud as Sehwag completed his 100, his 150, his 200, his 250 and his 300. I cheered 42 boundaries and 5 sixes. It was the fastest triple hundred ever and Viru was only the third man to cross 300 twice – the other 2 being some little known cricketers, Bradman and Lara. Though I still did not carry my camera, I recorded that moment in the evening when he flicked Makhaya Ntini towards square leg for a single in my memory forever.

He always looked in the mood to attack today. Up until yesterday I was looking at the field, figuring out the possibilities where runs could be scored and deliberating about lines of attack for the bowlers. All such trivialities were thrown out of the window today. The fields, the lines, the bowlers all became irrelevant. Sehwag was seeing the ball, Sehwag was hitting the ball.

A lot had been said up until today in all sorts of places about the flat Chennai wicket and the way it was detrimental to the cause of test cricket and depriving the fans of a good contest. That might be so, but all I can say is, while I might have missed a “good contest”, I had the opportunity to witness history. I am not complaining. My only grouse is that because I am not a historian I may be incompetent to narrate it. Therefore, I shall not attempt to do so. I would make a fool of myself trying to confine the magnificence of Sehwag’s innings by bounding it in adjectives. I will leave it at that.

Throughout the innings Dravid was supporting Sehwag superbly, maybe not in the best way in terms of rotating the strike, but certainly in terms of providing encouragement and appreciation. At every landmark he patted him on his shoulder, egged him onto greater heights and when the big moment came, entered into a great hug. But the most wonderful moment of the day came at the end of the day’s play. Sehwag was just done with the customary Ramiz Raja interview when Tendulkar all padded up walked out and broke into a most wonderful brotherly hug. At this point, I was only a few feet away from the action and the smile on Sachin’s face was to be cherished forever.

Later, while Sachin was waiting for his net session to begin, Yuvraj and Dhoni were pulling each other’s legs. Dhoni tried to mimic Yuvi by taking a left-handed upright stance and Yuvi returned the favor completely taking a right-handed slightly crouched stance tapping the bat a few times like MS usually does.

The stadium was almost 80% full today. This figure increased to 90 by the end of the day. There was a group of rather vocal MBA students sitting right behind me. They were apparently terribly distressed by the fact that not many people agreed that the best way to be enthusiastic about the game was to shout at the top of their voice. The content, while irrelevant, was mostly inane. At least one of them seemed particularly angry with the way Jaffer and later Dravid were batting and made it known to all that he had paid Rs. 300 to buy the ticket and he wanted every paisa worth. He very wisely described the Chennai crowd as “too knowledgeable” and “too sporting” and went gaga over how wild the Mumbai crowd could get. He further went on to say, nay shout, that he wanted to see Tendulkar bat today, that he didn’t care about how many wickets we lost and reiterated that he had indeed paid Rs. 300 to get in.

While this was a bit stupid and grew tiresome at times, the group as a whole was nice lively company. In their attempts to get wild, one of the things they did was to try to initiate the Mexican wave. Now, I have already described how I was part of the Mexican wave yesterday. To join it is great fun, but to initiate it is a job that requires a lot of patience and persistence. Several times it dies out within the first few degrees across the stadium. But once the spark is lit it spreads like wild fire. And it is even greater fun knowing you were one of those who lit the spark.

Once again, at the risk of repeating myself I stress – I witnessed history today. Some souls, undoubtedly more lucky than me, watched the ICL.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Live From Chepauk - Day 2

The Indira Nagar station had another surprise in store for me today. I had, I thought walked for an eternity once again until I reached the location of that most wonderfully isolated ticket counter only to find it absent. I was a bit ruffled, after all I needed to get the ticket. Soon, I realized, that I needed to walk down towards a further eternity. Eventually I got there. The person at the counter today was not as helpful, but efficient nevertheless.

I planned to attend the afternoon sessions today ostensibly to prove to myself that I was spending some time at work and to leave open the opportunity to report to my advisor. India had been suffering at the hands of South Africa all morning and the situation hadn’t changed much by the time I reached. I had a quick lunch before taking my seat. My arrival it seems, inspired India to lift their game. The screws were tightened, Amla was fantastically run out, and after one more mid-sized partnership, the tail was eventually wrapped up. When Mark Boucher went for an almighty ho-heave to be caught by Dravid at slip, for one instance I felt that the ball was going to come towards me.

I really enjoyed watching Harbhajan’s spell this evening. He bowled a very good and tight line, got good bounce, kept tempting the batsmen and was rewarded. There was a brief period when he chose to go round the wicket. I could clearly see the move was flawed, looking at the offside field which was right below my nose. I could see that with the angle several gaps were available for exploitation. Luckily he figured this out soon and switched back.

When India finally came out to bat, it was the best part of the day. Sehwag’s bat made an awe-inspiring sound as it stroked the ball. I have marveled at Sehwag’s shot-making for ages, and it is fantastic viewing on TV, but what TV does not give you is the feel of the weight of the ball as it strikes the bat. Today Sehwag’s strokeplay was a sight to behold and a sound to ring in the ears for a long time to come. Jaffer’s striking was also delightful.

Today I tried to focus on what players do between overs. Why is it that over-rates are so poor? Of course with a right-left batting combination things always get complicated with continuous field changes. I saw both bowler and captain make changes to the field right up to the last moment pulling the boundary fielders couple of feet closer, a few degrees wider and so on. I saw players, particularly Ganguly taking their own sweet time to assume position. In this aspect it has to be said that South Africa were much cleaner with their act, but of course this might change as the innings progresses.

The lasting memory for today will be the Mexican wave in the crowd. I have always loved this phenomenon which seems to be shockingly banned at some venues in Australia. The way it goes around the ground in circles is awesome and despite myself I stood up and joined in.

At the end of the day’s play today I waited for a bit and tried to get right down on level with the playing field. RP Singh was coming out for a bat in the nets and Dhoni was already having kids throw at him as he tried to perfect his shots. This was happening barely about 10 feet away from where we were standing. I hung out for some more time as Gary Kirsten, Prasad and Sreesanth also made their way out. I made a mental note that this was perhaps the best opportunity for photos/autographs if any.

India ended up in a fair position by the end of day and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s action to begin. Of course I plan to be there all day tomorrow (Friday is part of the weekend for me) and hope to see more scintillating strokeplay from India’s batsmen and hopefully the test will be alive and poised by the end of it.

Live From Chepauk – Day 1

The metro station at Indira Nagar (the one closest to my current abode), quite conceivably like several others in Chennai, is a weird specimen. It blends a majestic ballast with a shabby exterior. The station is well-designed but extremely poorly maintained. As a result of the unseasonal rains that lashed the city last week, there were several pools of water greeting one on arrival. When you arrive here, particularly for the first time, you are bound to feel a wee bit awed. The light is insufficient, even in daytime, and contrary to what you might expect in any place in India picked uniformly at random, the population density is distressingly low. I had experienced this earlier and this was part of the reason why I was apprehensive about using these trains. But I had put these thoughts out of my mind given the surprising resolve with which I had set about my task.

After walking for a seemingly endless time through spaces that seemed to be created exclusively for me, I reached the tiny ticket counter. Luckily, I knew that Chepauk was one of the stations on the track in the direction of Chennai Beach and that the stadium was right next to it. (Thank you Google Maps). The person at the ticket counter was extraordinarily helpful. “You going to watch the match?” he asked me. “Yes”, I said, speaking the half-truth. Why does he need to know that I am only going to buy tickets for the weekend? “I’ll give you return ticket” he offered. Evidently, he was quite happy. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come, that things were about to look up pretty soon. I bought the return ticket for Rs. 10 (25 cents) – an American would easily pass it off as a joke that I could buy a return ticket as cheap as this – and proceeded towards the platform. One really good thing about these metro stations is that directions are very clearly marked and there is very little chance of even the dumbest of people getting lost.

The train arrived soon enough. Now I have very rarely traveled in local trains, only once in a Mumbai local train, and that was the afternoon local from Churchgate to Victoria Terminus. I know of course what train travel in Mumbai is via accounts from friends and the media. Yeah, you can call me a spoilt child, I know. I knew Chennai wouldn’t be as bad as Mumbai, but was extremely pleasantly surprised to find that it was almost a ride in the park – it was not crowded at all, which could either mean the operation is a big success or a big failure depending on the way you look at it.

On the train was another young guy wearing a Google-ACM-geekish looking T-shirt and carrying a backpack on his shoulder. After some time, he asked me (in Tamil of course) something related to Chepauk. Naturally, I expressed helplessness. He asked the same of another man and was apparently satisfied with the answer. I do not know an iota of Tamil but I could figure out that he was asking about Chepauk station. I ventured to ask him (in English) whether he was going to see the match. He was. He seemed a nice bloke. I felt happy to see someone eager to go to the match making sure he made it on time. “Stay back, enemy, you still have some way to go so long as we have our staunch loyalists fighting.” – I thought to myself. At the same time I felt a tinge sad that I was not going to be there at the stadium today.

I knew that the stadium was close to the station and was reasonably confident of finding my way around but I received another pleasant surprise on discovering that I was already there as soon as I put my foot outside the complex. Surely, things were falling into place today. Surely, I would not have any problems in getting tickets now? I asked for the ticket counter, for the stands that my friend had recommended as reasonable yet offering a good view and comfortable seats. Just outside the counter I met another young guy who seemed quite desperate to sell one of the tickets he had bought. It was a ticket for all 5 days worth Rs. 1200. He was willing to sell it for Rs. 1000. I, of course, was planning to buy tickets only for the weekend, which would have cost me about Rs. 600. But, right at that moment, looking at the crowds streaming in, I found the offer too tempting and surrendered myself to my instincts. I had a 5-day pass and I could if I wanted to go watch the Test any time I wanted. I was still not sure I had the energy to do this but I wanted to go in right at that moment and not be on the train back to IMSC. My return ticket was valid for the whole day after all. I confirmed with the guy that the ticket was indeed genuine, handed him 2 notes of Rs. 500, felt a bit awkward with so many policemen watching me trade in the black market and then walked in through the gate.

Security check was a breeze. No problems whatsoever. As soon as I entered the stands I was convinced I had been stupid all along to even hesitate about coming here. I have watched a few ODI games in Nehru Stadium, Pune with varying degrees of enthusiasm and enjoyment but none of the experiences come close to watching real cricket in an arena. The Chidambaram Stadium is quite beautiful. The officials have done a good job in making sure that the stadium retains a sense of cool because as is well-known the heat and humidity can get brutal here. Towards that end, not only are all stands well-covered and the better ones provided with adequate cooling facilities but the colors are most soothing – green and blue. In addition, the stands are covered by cement material which helps to keep them cool.

The crowd was great. It was by no means a full house, but equally you could not call it disappointing. It was a vociferous crowd making plenty of noise. It had groups of youngsters flocking in, it had couples – young and old, fathers explaining to their sons nuances of this great game, and sons, in turn, asking curious questions. It had a fair sprinkling of the female population of all ages – another pleasant surprise and also a few South African supporters, both black and white. The crowd made a lot of noise using all sorts of improvised musical instruments but the show-stealer was the African group singing at the top of their voices. A group of Indian youth tried to compete with them, most unsuccessfully. But, importantly, the crowd lived up to its reputation of being extremely knowledgeable. It cheered the fall of wickets as also delightful strokes, it applauded the great bouncers as also the maiden overs, it appreciated the delightful flicks as much as the solid forward defensives. And no, there were no thugs or goons or politicians in there. Yes, there was a fair number of policemen, who also got a chance to enjoy the game. Indeed, the fact that the crowd was lesser in quantity as compared to what it would have been in an ODI enhanced its own quality and made viewing a pleasing experience. Test cricket is alive and kicking in this country. “Boo, Enemy, Boo”

All in all, I realized that the idea of cricket watching in stadiums in India being a bit of a drag held no water. I still have to give my certificate to the toilet facilities though since I did not use them all day today. Water bottles could be carried in (a welcome relief) and the food facilities outside the stand were quite decent and exceedingly cheap. The icing on the cake was the fact that one could leave and return whenever one wished – spectator comfort in India still has some way to go but progress has been made.

The view from where I sat, while not being optimal was quite a decent one. It was the fineleg-long-off angle from the point of view of a left-handed batsmen. Several of the players fielded close to our position at different times and we could look at them up close. Most players were responsive to the crowd’s appreciation – Sreesanth, RP Singh, being the foremost. Harbhajan Singh also spent a fair bit of time at our boundary and while Sachin never patrolled it, he came halfway towards on occasions. I had heard that cameras were on the list of prohibited items so I had opted not to risk carrying mine. I have a poor recent history with cameras, but apparently smaller cameras could be sneaked in quite easily. Of course mobile phone cameras were omnipresent. One interesting tidbit in the day was when Sreesanth was fielding at the boundary a couple of the ball-boys while offering him water also passed on some advice. Sreesanth smiled and patted the kids on the back then told them that he would be catching the ball on the boundary pretty soon and showed them how he would do it. Of course that catch never came.

The cricket itself was reasonably entertaining. Not the best ever seen, by any stretch of imagination. I enjoyed the strokeplay by Smith and McKenzie as also their wickets taken by Kumble and Harbhajan. But those moments when the game gets boring when you watch on TV are conspicuously absent when you are in the stands – possibly because there are so many things going on that you can keep track of – on the pitch, in the outfield, on the boundary, in the stands and in all other places. Besides you also do not feel the frustration of your team not doing too well that you do when watching from home. I think this is because you see the players so close out there performing and realize that they are trying their best. This I think is very similar to the difference between watching cinema and watching theater. Watching test cricket in the battleground arena is the ultimate theater.

Amidst this awesome experience, I always knew at the back of my mind that I needed to report for work at some point in the day. Reluctantly, I returned at tea time. I would be back however – maybe in the afternoon tomorrow and then all through the weekend. This is going to be an experience to cherish.

Live from Chepauk - The Night Before

Tomorrow is the big test between India and South Africa. I say “big” with a pinch of salt because Test cricket seems to be on the wane these days, at least in the minds of the general public, or so we are led to believe.

I am not sure I am going to watch the game. This is the first time I am living in a city when a Test match is being held there and hence my first real opportunity to watch a “live” game from the stands but somehow I’m not too enthused about it.

Maybe the enemy has worn me out – the enemy in this case being the general notion of the decline of Test cricket doing the rounds. The enemy does its job well. It issues propaganda about how this series is squeezed between two “major” events – the CB Series and the IPL and makes it out to be little more than a minor distraction. It proclaims loudly and proudly about how the Chepauk is all set to be the home of some individuals who collectively call themselves “Superkings” – if only they could come up with a less terrible name! Sigh!

The enemy is not the only obstacle though. I need to get myself out of my usual inertia. I have heard many stories and have had some first-hand experience of how watching cricket matches in stadia in India can be a harrowing experience. Yes, I have heard of toilets in which one needs to enter with one hand over one’s nose and the other holding your jeans a foot above ground. I have heard of people collapsing with their heads bursting in the intense sun. I have heard of hooligans and politicians’ yes-men creating chaos in the stands, walking in without tickets and I have heard of poor earnest fans having to go home without being allowed in despite having their tickets due to overselling and aforementioned politicking. And I have partly experienced all of these when I attended a few ODI games in Pune.

Plus, this is a new place for me. I have never ventured into Chennai city in the one month I have been here, having confined myself to the area around IMSC. I have no idea about how public transport works in this place – and presume, maybe somewhat unfairly, that it would not be too good.

I don’t even know where I can get tickets – which are the good seats and how available the tickets are. My earlier experience in Pune tells me that you get the tickets – very expensive ones if you wish a decent view – through some contacts and then hope all the mayor’s thugs do not come and kick you out of your legitimate seat. How am I going to handle all this here in this foreign city ?

Also, I have few friends around here and I am convinced none of them will be willing to accompany me – not because, I am particularly obnoxious company but simply because they have already succumbed to the enemy or endorse the enemy themselves. Or maybe they don’t want to spend time and money watching the test match, again a passive way of supporting the enemy. Doing all of the above all by myself? Conducive to inertia, I must say.

Moreover, I am supposed to be doing research here. I have just come back after spending a week vacationing in Sri Lanka. Can I really afford to spend five more days watching a Test? To be completely honest, yes, but I become politically correct and say “No” and use this as another justification for my inertia.

All these put together mean I have pretty much resigned myself to missing out on this experience. To make matters somewhat worse, I am not going to be able to watch the game on TV either. The game is only shown on NEO Sports which is not available here at the guesthouse. Great! Looks like a complete victory for the enemy.

Late at night, I am killing time on the Internet, chatting, reading trash and visiting cricket forums, when one of my “net-friend” confirms he is going to be there in the stadium for the last 3 days of the Test match. This is the first time that a little bit of spark is ignited in me.

I begin to consider the possibility of stepping out of my inertia, of standing up to the enemy. Why, I ask myself, am I letting go of this rare opportunity? Why am I meekly surrendering to the two enemies – the enemy within and the enemy outside? No, I decide, I must make an effort. As I go to bed I entertain thoughts of taking the Chennai metro (which I have never given much thought to before and which I only vaguely know takes me to my destination) to Chepauk.

I decide to compromise – I need to work I say, so I shall probably get tickets only for the weekend. But I’ll buy them tomorrow morning at the stadium which will give me an idea of how to find my way around the city. I feel contented. I have taken a small step standing up to the enemy. I sleep.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Moments From Down Under

So what will be the abiding memories from the tour Down Under ?

Anil Kumble's statesmanlike stewardship and his master stroke of "only one team is playing in the spirit of cricket" ?

Sachin Tendulkar laying his finals demons to rest with that astonishing performance ?

Harbhajan fighting his way out against the entire Australia ?

The smirk wiped from Ricky Ponting's face ?

What is your abiding memory ?

I'll tell you mine - I don't think many of you will share it and maybe it is just my personal bias - but for me it is that over on that glorious morning in Sydney when VVS Laxman hit 4 boundaries off Mitchell Johnson. Up until that time Indian batting was as pathetic as you could possibly imagine and those 4 shots virtually broke all the shackles - Indian batsmen rediscovered freedom with them ... what a player ! What an artist !