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First Time Spectator

They say Cricket is a religion and I experienced it very well yesterday when I went to see the India-Australia one-day international match at the Ferozshah Kotla stadium in New Delhi. It was the first time I had got a chance to see a cricket match in a stadium. Although I am not a very die-hard fan of cricket, still being an Indian I have normal levels of cricket in my blood like any other Indian.

On Thursday, my roommate suddenly called and asked if I wanted to go and see the 3rd ODI at Delhi, I gave him an affirmative and so he bought the tickets for us. Later he told that the rush was so much at the ticket counter that it closed quite early and hence giving the illegal community to black market the tickets at their own will. The tickets he bought were officially for 500 bucks but it cost him 600. Far too nominal I’d say later on hearing from another fellow spectator from a nearby town who had bought the same ticket on the match day for 3000 bucks.

We started from home at 11 in the morning keeping in view the crunched parking availability in the nearby areas of the stadium. We were 6 people on 4 bikes and reached the Indraprastha metro station parking in about 40 minutes. We were quite relieved after learning that it was a 24-hour parking and kept the helmets too. Afterward, we took an auto rickshaw to the stadium which was not very far from the parking.

I was left completely shocked on landing out of the auto rickshaw and seeing the long queues for going inside the stadium. Immediately I thought that I won’t be able to enjoy here. We started moving towards the gates of the stadium. My gate number was 16 so I moved towards it where I’d be joined by another of my roommates later.

Small vendors were selling the 4 and 6 marked sheets, 3 sheets for 10 bucks or something like that. Painters were roaming around with color bottles in their hands along with painting brushes to paint a tricolor where ever the customer liked. Mostly were getting it done on their faces, arms and foreheads.

As I reached towards gate 16 the crowd grew in number and similarly the policemen deployed to control them. I went through the barricades and was interrupted by the official there. On showing my ticket, he treated me cordially and gave me the instructions to go inside the gate. First, there was a security check and thorough frisking of my jacket pockets. Unlike I had assumed, they allowed me to carry my mobile phone inside the premises.

On entering the premises I was stopped by the newly installed turnstiles which left me completely amazed. I entered the barcode printed on the ticket inside the prescribed slot and it let me go inside. This was quite a thing for a place like Delhi, I thought. I had to go to the TATA end, northwest stand level 2. As I climbed the stairs, I got a glimpse of the cricket stadium and simultaneously the pitch. I was elated to see it and couldn't stop myself from smiling.

Then I found a seat in the third row from the bottom most in that level. I could see the whole stadium from there. The pitch and the inner circle were being painted with the crease demarcations and the indicating dots respectively. I was seated at around 12:15 which was way early the starting time of the match which was 14:30.

I kept on observing the surroundings and within a moment the whole stand was filled with people. I had kept the adjacent seat for my roommate who was on his way to join me there. He joined after an hour. Till that, I enjoyed the crowd and clicked some pictures with my mobile phone camera. Two large screens were installed on either end of the stadium to show the replays and other important updates regarding the match.

Meanwhile, the Australian players came out to have a practice session and had a rigorous practice there. The crowd also had a rigorous practice of shouting and cheering. The moment Indian players came out to practice, the crowd went crazy. There was a big deafening noise especially when Sachin Tendulkar came out to practice with his kit. The crowd loved it.

Every time any player, whether Indian or Australian, came near the crowd, people would cheer him like anything and eventually compel him to wave to the crowd. Here I realized that the people are literally crazy about cricket. They could simply identify a cricketer from about 100 meters away sitting in the crowd.

At around 14:00 the pitch report started being broadcast and followed by the toss. India lost the toss and was put to bowl first. After half an hour, all players and umpires along with the match referee came out and paid tribute to David Shepherd, an umpiring legend who recently succumbed to cancer, by observing a 2 minutes silence.

The match started shortly after the same. Australians made a slow cautious start with their openers Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson. People were cheering each bowl being bowled by Indian bowlers. When the first wicket fell, the decibel level of the noise was immeasurable. Soon Fosters (official drinks sponsors) trolley arrived on the ground for the drinks break. Surprisingly, they had young girls vending the drinks. The crowd cheered them too and may be passed many comments which were obviously indistinguishable.

The play resumed and after a slow second session, the crowd cheered whenever there was a fall of a wicket or fifty partnerships or any personal fifty by the player. Amongst a big round of Mexican waves, we were enjoying ourselves too. Small vendors used to come around quite frequently selling eatables (obviously for a huge premium on the marked price). The floodlights were slowly being switched on because of diminishing sunlight.

Whenever a player would come near the crowd, they would shout his name and make him wave to the crowd. Every piece of fielding was cheered. Every appeal was followed by a huge roar. Final overs of the Australian innings were cheered a lot by the crowds because of some hard hitting and fall of wickets. The innings closed at 229 for the loss of 5 wickets leaving a target of 230 to be chased by Indians. The low score was more or less expected due to the tricky nature of the pitch.

In the innings break many people who were sitting tightly in their seats went away for relaxing and after coming back they’d find someone else sitting in their seats. This resulted in minor quarrels all over the place. The crowd was growing in number slowly. The visibility was getting reduced because of some smoke in the nearby areas and my eyes were getting irritated to some extent too.

Finally, the Indian innings started and the moment, Sehwag and Tendulkar walked into the stadium, again there was a deafening roar. The play started and first over produced 12 runs followed by a huge cheer from the crowd. Then came a lull period for the Indian innings, Sehwag got bowled at a brilliant delivery by Johnson and the crowd’s spirits were dampened. Soon Tendulkar also followed being run out. The crowd went pin drop silence for a while and rose again only when the new batsman came to the crease.

Dhoni’s arrival was highly cheered by the spectators who were anticipating some fireworks from him and Yuvraj. The game proceeded slowly and each single being cheered. The crowd was dying out to see boundaries. Suddenly then Yuvraj hit a four and a six which brought all on their feet. Then there were Mexican waves, hooting, whistling and every characteristic of a cheerful Indian cricket lover crowd. We were unable to figure out where the ball was traveling after being hit because of low visibility and shiny bright lights. I wondered how the cameramen followed the ball so closely.

Yuvraj finally departed at 78 when 29 more runs were needed to win. His departure was again followed by a great roar and clapping. Finally, Raina came and steered India to victory along with Dhoni in the 48th over. We were very happy to see India victorious and thought that our money didn’t go waste.

We came out of the stadium after 5 minutes of the winning runs and saw the crowded roads and surroundings and utter chaos. Everyone was in a hurry to reach home. We also walked to parking and took our bike and drove to home. It was quite cold in the night.

This morning I read that the newly installed turnstiles had recorded 43,895 spectators which were quite a big number in itself. The whole experience was good and an amazing one. The only thing I didn’t like was the big crowd and some of the elements were quite rowdy and undisciplined. I don’t like to visit crowded places but this was a thrilling experience in all. Only time will tell whether I’d go there again for any other match or I’d prefer watching it at home on television itself.

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