I tried very hard to go another week without writing about the IPL. But like the players (who are too busy smashing the ball over cow corner to care about Mark Taylor’s views), the support staff (who could easily outnumber the army of Papua New Guinea or Estonia), the commentators (most of whom made a rather smooth transition to saying ‘Pepsi IPL’ and ‘Yes Bank Maximum’, with the notable exception of Ramiz Raja), and pom pom-bearing Caucasian women (particularly from South Africa and Eastern Europe), I can’t seem to stay away – the only difference, my Gujarati relatives never fail to remind me, is they will all be able to afford a plush piece of Mumbai real estate (some more than one) in their lifetimes.
Brushing aside such disturbing thoughts, I made my way to the Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore game at the Wankhede last Saturday, and came away having witnessed several interesting incidents.
So for an idle Tuesday, a few random thoughts, some frivolous observations and a handful of unsolicited estimations.
Kohli and the Crowd: Much has already been said about the Mumbai crowd getting stuck into Virat Kohli and his indignant response. Let me add my two bits: it was in very poor taste and he has every right to be upset. The crowd at the Wankhede is particularly notorious and past indiscretions are not easily forgiven, much less forgotten: booing Sachin Tendulkar in 2006, calling Andrew Symonds a monkey in 2007, or jeering at Rahul Dravid during the Bangalore-Mumbai IPL game in 2008.
I’m all for free speech but this was plain ugly, and an unwarranted attack on players you demand to be entertained by. The ‘cheater cheater’ taunt did not come from just one section of the crowd – they persisted through the remainder of Mumbai’s innings, and greeted Kohli with it when he walked out to bat as well, leading me to believe that he probably lost his concentration and his wicket as a result. I don’t think the players are being oversensitive when they criticise this “hateful” behaviour. I would certainly be paying attention when Rahul Dravid and Chris Gayle – otherwise unlikely to take offence – have made a point of it. Being khadoos – a character trait Mumbaikars take pride in flaunting – is one thing, nasty quite another.
Gayle: Despite the hard time they may give opposition players, it seems the Mumbai crowd was willing to make an exception for Gayle: the demand for tickets to this Mumbai Indians game was unprecedented after Gayle’s 175 against the Pune Warriors. The hush that followed his wicket was almost as loud as the one that followed Sachin’s.
Wankhede 2.0: Speaking of the crowd, why give the people of Mumbai a comfortable cricket-viewing experience when you can go a step further to offer them an unforgettable outing and ensure, in doing so, that they don’t for a moment miss that familiar feeling of being in the 6.14pm Churchgate-Virar local – nestled in the armpits of their fellow citizens, buried deep in the crush of humanity, compelled to emerge once every so often only to catch a whiff of odorous air?
The good men at the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) – and the architects who followed their brief to the T – must be complimented in their endeavour to guarantee not a square inch of Mumbai’s prime realty went to waste when they stripped the Wankhede down to its bare bones and recreated a swanky new piece of something that can pack in roughly 45,000 screaming fans. So what if 43,449 of those can barely squeeze their bottoms on to a bucket seat.
Lottery Tickets: If you manage to score tickets to an IPL game in Mumbai, you will not be blamed for feeling like you just won the lottery and not the ticket to a rather unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) domestic Twenty20 game.
The various websites selling tickets show absurd prices of Rs 7000 for North Stand tickets (North Stand never had it so good). And if you’re desperate enough to pay that price, it’s not like there’s any joy to be had because it is apparently all sold out. Except, if you know key personnel at the franchise or the association. Good luck to you if you want to pay the official price to buy a ticket and not rely on any undue (or due) favours. Keeping to the straight and narrow at the Wankhede is possible only literally.
Unusual Celebrations: I’ve had the good fortune of watching some rather unique celebrations at the Wankhede – Harbhajan giving the Gangnam a bhangra twist certainly ranks right up there and explains Gayle’s reluctance to leave the wicket.
It reminded me of the time Andrew Flintoff ripped his shirt off when England won the sixth one-day game in 2002 – incidentally, my first international match as a newbie in the PB (press box). I can’t say I remember too much of the game – awed as I was by the occasion – apart from Ajit Agarkar’s duck, Flintoff’s shenanigans and bumping into Mrs Gavaskar, Mrs Shastri and Mrs Tendulkar – all seated together right outside the PB. Mrs Tendulkar mentioned she couldn’t quite tell the difference between her husband and Virender Sehwag.
Dancing Quietly: At 10 pm, all the loudspeakers at the Wankhede went off – in accordance with a Mumbai High Court ruling – and much to my relief. There is only so much one can take of eardrum-splitting Bollywood music. But it meant the cheerleading squads had no music to dance to, and it was rather strange to see groups of women gyrating in total silence. But since this show is more about the television audience anyway, the cheerleaders must be applauded for their astonishing synchronisation as they continued to groove away. Bet those of you at home could not even tell the difference!
Curious Case of the Clock: In all the attention to detail lavished on the Wankhede in its new avatar, I can’t quite figure the story of the clock – not a particularly nice one – that has pride of place above the MCA logo at the very heart of the stadium, and over the sightscreen at the Garware end. Ever since it was refurbished, everything about the Wankhede has changed – the colosseum-like structure, stands that cast an evening shadow on the wicket, dressing rooms that are no longer at ground level, and bucket seats all around. Just one thing remains as is: a clock that has truly stood the test of time.