Friday, February 24, 2006

Watching Sachin at Gadaffi: Part III - Two Nations Come Alive

The d-day arrived, the main focus for our trip across the border. In the new century, with global warming ruining weather systems, dew had come to play a major role in all cricket games. I remember when I was young, Sachin Tendulkar stopped a definite victory of South Africa in the Hero Cup semi-finals, when they needed only six runs in the last over, by just conceding three. In the finals of the same tournament, Anil Kumble had wrecked a West Indian team, which was still arguably one of the best in the world. However, I am not sure whether I would have managed to see the same in the new century, as nowadays in Novemeber, there would apparently be such heavy dew that spinners like Sachin and Kumble would find it difficult to grip the ball. So to counter this dew problem unique to the sub-continent, the PCB had decided upon an innovative scheduling for the day-night matches - they start three hours earlier than the conventional start of a day-night match at 2 pm, and hence would have finished off by 7. This suited us fine also, as would gave given us sometime to see the town in the evening.

We first of all wasted some more time trying to collect the upgraded tickets from Pradeep. The bastard that he was, he first called us to a hotel where he was not staying, then to another hotel where he was again not staying, and finally kept telling us he is reaching the appointed meeting-place in two minutes time but never managed to land up.

Anyways, this wait gave us a greater chance to interact with our local cabbie. It seems the common Pakistanis are extremely pissed off with President Musharraf, who has simply let inflation affect the prices of most day-to-day things. Sugar - with a wholesale price of Paki Rs. 40 - is a sore-point, and I remembered talks of trade with India starting with the import of sugar. Wonder why that never happened, I guess politics coming in the way of common needs. Although Aiswarya Rai is quite popular, the cabbie still had a soft corner for Madhuri Dixit, reminding of the old slogan "Madhuri De Do, Kashmir Le Lo". Aamir and Shahrukh are very popular, and it was the cabbie's dream to see the two pitted against each other to decide who is the better actor (read star for him). He also had a very interesting take on the partition. Indians usually think of partition as avoidable, and blame only Jinnah for the same (ask Advani). However, after the fading of the animosity over the years, and with relative aloofness of the populace, the Pakis have an interesting twist to it - Partition was the only way to avoid being used by the British for their 'divide and rule' policy. So Jinnah saw through the plan of the Britishers, and instead demanded a separate homeland for himself. While one can say that my reading of the general population was based on a very small sample, I had no doubts about the representative character of our cabbie - he was as much of an aam pakistani as any other.

Anyways, armed with our 29$ tickets only, we arrived at the venue of the visit - the Gaddafi Stadium. In India, spectator sports are very poorly developed, mainly because of the total lack of facilities or convenience in watching matches live at the stadium. However, I had heard that in Pakistan the stadiums were designed very thoughtfully, keeping spectator interests fully in mind. Gadaffi bore testimony to that, in spite of stifling security, we were ushered in quickly. For safety sake, we had left our cellphones behind, and a colleague who was carrying cigarettes and a lighter had to surrender the same. He could have collected it at the end of the match, but inside, when he saw everybody lighting up, he realised we had again missed a trick. He went back to the entrance to collect back his cigarettes and lighter, but by then, the cop on duty had dutifully lost it.

This remained the only minor blip in our brush with authority. The weather was good, pleasant and cloudy, with the sun playing hide and seek. Dravid won the toss and inserted Pakistan in, I thought the decision was made because of the cloud cover, but as it turned out subsequently, it was a strategy which India had decided to adopt for the entire series, the state of the wicket not withstanding. We started off well, with Pathan picking up Salman Butt again off the second ball. The ball swung around, and I was really impressed with young Kamran Akmal's technique. The guy is a street cricketer, but has a brilliantly organised technique. More impressive is his footwork, when he is playing off the front or the backfoot, he really goes forward or back. However, in spite of India dropping a few catches, Pakistan were reduced to 80/4 and later 150/6. From here, good batting by Shoaib Mallik and Razzaq, coupled with some wayward bowling from the supersub Zaheer in place of injured Agarkar, helped Pakistan get to a fairly daunting 288. There was a young boy sitting next to me, and he was really excited by Razzaq's lusty hits towards the end. Zaheer went for 46 runs from his 4 overs.

We had ordered some lunch, which was prohibitively expensive and fairly crappy. Another waste of 700 bucks in a trip which had been lined with such wastages. However, what made up for it was the sheer atmosphere at the stadium. There were two TV sets in each enclosure, for the benefit of a generation of audience which has grown up on replays and analyses (which actually put immense pressure on the umpires). At an overall level, I think there is absolutely nothing to compare the energy of a live performance, and that's why sports is such a unique platform for people to become heroic. If you can feed off the energy of a live performance, you are a performer, and there are very few performers better that sportspeople.

Besides, the Pakistanis had some very interesting slogans for cheering their squad:
Leader: Ta Rarara Ru Ra Ra Ra
Chorus: Hoo Ha Hoo Ha
Leader: Pakistan ka Matlab Kya
Chorus: La Ill Ya Illah

The Indian innings started on a bright note, with Sachin looking in great form, hitting boundaries of the first ball he faced from both the opening bowlers - Asif and Gul. However, his partener for the day, Gambhir was unluckily bowled, and to chase the stiff target, India again promoted Pathan to No.3. Imran Khan called it a wrong decision, but I thought it was a risk worth taking with the asking rate at almost 6 an over. However, the risk didn't come off, and thankfully Dravid, instead of Yuvaraj, came out at No.4.

What followed was a great display of controlled seam and swing bowling by both Asif and Gul. The batsmen out there were possibly the only ones in the team equipped to handle such high-class bowling, and even they were beaten quite a number of times. Runs came in tickles, with only 38 in the first ten, and around 60 in 15 if I remember correctly. What was crucial in such a scenario was the first change bowler, and immediately when Rana came on, Sachin tried an upper cut to third man. Unfortunately, he hit it too fine and it went straight to thirdman. However, Asif the fielder posted there, misjudged the catch badly and it went off for a six. This to my mind was the crucial break India needed, for this ensured Sachin stayed and Rana had a very poor day subsequently. Sachin gave another chance down the leg side which Akmal dropped, but he would have been unlucky to get out that way.

In the meantime, Rahul Dravid chanced his luck and was run out, although he had seen off the new ball threat by then. In walked in Yuvraj Singh who was in supreme form, and immediately displayed the same with his trademark straight and cover drives. Sachin was also back to playing at his best. He pulled authoritatively, and Afridi was taken for boundaries with cheeky strokes too.

In the end, with the partnership going strong, the target was down to about 100 of 90 balls. Sachin played his first conventional straight drive of the day with authority, to get to 95. However, he was out the very next ball, which while gave a new lease of life to the Paki crowd, for us was good omen. Whenever Sachin misses his hundred, we win (remember the World Cup match), and when he gets there, we lose (the first ODI in the same series). India sent in Kaif next, another good move I thought as the target was chaseable by conventional batsmen. However, Kaif was ruled out lbw for a duck, rather harshly I thought, although hawkeye showed the ball was just clipping the leg stump.

Till Sachin was batting, we had been chanting 'Sachin, Sachin'. However, as soon as he got out, while the stood up applauding, the Paki section joined in to chant Sachin's name. Subsequently, when Kaif got out, they coined a new one
Leader: Girti Deewar ko Tod Do
Chorus: Ek Dhakka Aur Do
We started chanting the next man Dhoni's name, and the Pakis repsonded with another unusual chant.
Leader: Saari Behnon ka Ek Hi Bhai
Chorus: Dhoni Bhai Dhoni Bhai
Our leader thought we should retaliate by calling Aishwarya the sisters of all Pakistanis, but our better judgement advised against it. So far, the match had been on even balance, and the crowd was fairly sporty. As the match kept swinging both ways, the crowd knew everyone would have their say sometime.

For the final 100 runs, Dhoni held sway. As he started hitting boundaries, Yuvi tapered off to an extent. What stood out in the end was some very intelligent placement of shots by Dhoni, to go with his power hitting. Two cover drives off Asif right next to Inzy's left stood out. Ultimately, we won a very exciting with relative ease, and it was a thoroughly clinical display by the Indian batting. Thankfully, Dhoni won the Man-of-the-Match award for playing a very crucial innings.

And how can I miss on the Pakistani girls. I have published a sample above, but overall, what we saw was absolutely breathtaking. The mix of Punjabi and Islamic blood has produced an awesome race visually, From whatever little eavesdropping I managed to do, the lingo is very similar to any Delhi girl. However, the attire is only salwaar-kameez, but somehow, that gives them an amazing sort of grace and sexiness, definitely not possibly in the Punjabi side of India.

Once the match got over, we decided to do the only piece of shopping in the famous Anarkali Bazaar. Getting conveyance for the place proved to be tough, as a couple of youngsters had given us the wrong rate benchmark to get there. While the actual rate of an auto was 80-100, we kept asking for something at 40. Finally, the deal was settled for 150 bucks, for transporting all five of us.

Anarkali Bazaar is a cross of Sarojini Nagar and Chandni Chowk of Delhi. We were hardly much of shopppers around, and to do any local shopping also needed local currency. As it was quite late for exchange shops to be open and the market hardly appeared the credit card types, another good samaritan came to help us out. We went enquiring into a shop, and the shopkeeper agreed to give us pakistani rupee for our 100 dollar note. However, the only issue was he was not an official currency conversion person. So he gave us currency at the last exchange rate he knew, which was 59 Pakistani Rs. to a dollar. If we later realised we could have got a better rate through the official route (which we couldn't have), then we were most welcome to come back and pay him 5900 rupees, take the dollar back and realise its full value. Again made me wonder how many times would we have done the same in India. Anyways, we did our shopping chores for the respective females back home, I guess one of the hazards of an all-male trip.

We landed back at the Gawal Mandi, to give justice to the cuisine when we were really hungry from the day's effort. The two vegetarians of our group finally gave up, and decided to skip the food street, a place continuously reminding them of the joys of lives they were missing. The problem with the three of us left were varying tastes, and my two non-veg eating partners were not too much of a connoisuer either. The problem was in Delhi I hang around with a group of foodies, so I was the conservative one there. However, here the tables had been turned. We finally went back to the familiar place where we had dinner yesterday, even waiting for an appropriate table to get free. We ordered a plate of boneless chicken, a plate of seekh kababs, and for my desire, a plate of tandoori fish. Now I asked the shop-guy to get 250 grams of fish (he did not stock fish so had to get it from outside). He came back and said only 350 was available, and I asked him to get that only. His boss even tried to scare me that fish stinks, and lotsa consumers are fooled thinking it to be rotten. However, when he got the fish, I realised that we were taking in different units - while I was mentioning the grammage, the guy was mentioning price. He had got a fish which weighed at least a kg. It was brilliant, the supposed stink was like any other fish, and we got down to finishing off as much as possible. I think in the end I myself must have polished off 400 grams of the fish but utlimately could not go on any further, and had to let the remaining beauty go waste.

We also managed to grab in some dessert - kheer (very good) and jalebis (ordinary). Finally, when we landed back at the hotel, the excitement was to catch the highlights of the match which we had just witnessed live. The highlights package was poorly designed, especially a couple of stunning strokes from Sachin having been blanked out to increase the commercial time, yet I was up till one in the night to see how what we witnessed appeared to others.

No comments: