I love my sport and have never shied away from slipping in a game when I have traveled. Family Holidays in Orlando, work trips to the West Coast and of course a New York Mets baseball game when I attended the wedding of my good mate Luge Pravda last summer. Now I cannot claim inspiration for this tale, but I am sure a little bit of TBIR has rubbed off on Luge as he took the ultimate step in going to a game on his Honeymoon. Over to Luge to justify his decision.
Thursday, February 24, 2011 – South Africa vs West Indies, Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, Delhi
Prior to getting married last August, the wife-to-be and I could not agree on a mutually agreeable honeymoon destination. I have always wanted to see the ‘Paris of the South’, Buenos Aries and my significant other, Katie, was pushing for North Africa, either Egypt or Morocco. My choice could have given us a football match no doubt, perhaps even a dream fixture like Boca Juniors vs. River Plate, but it certainly didn’t occur to me that our eventual destination, India, would allow us to go and see an ICC Cricket World Cup match.
This only became apparent in January this year when we firmed up flights and our 2 week itinerary around Rajasthan for the end of February. We were only to be in Delhi for 3 nights having flown in from London Heathrow (in turn arriving there from New York the day before) and as chance would have it we would be able to see South Africa vs. West Indies on an activity free day. No England, or India (I would have to watch that epic tie from a hotel bedroom in Jaipur, a game so gripping even my American wife was hooked, a fact only slightly less impressive when it is understood she once had a boyfriend of Australian extraction) but a game with two proper sides nonetheless (no offence Canada).
Tickets were purchased online with the intention of utilizing the ‘will call’ option. $13 each with fees and online charges. Not bad at all. On the day, we made our way from some pre-match sightseeing to the stadium by obligatory auto-rickshaw. As we approached the ground we saw masses of people, mainly Indian, but with a liberal sprinkling of South Africans, Aussies and Brits. Now the ICC claimed this game was sold out. And if so one would expect a decent number of ticket pick up windows.
I was to be given my first taste of two (not so) great Indian traits: organization and queuing. Or, more pointedly, a lack of either. Indians do not queue, rather, they mosh, push in, jostle, peer, duck under your arm pits, anything to be first and/or see what all the fuss is all about. Often those in the melee don’t even want what is on offer; they just don’t want to miss out. So for a game the ICC claimed had sold out, there was one, yes one, pick up window. Added to this was the sinister undertone that pickpocket gangs were in operation, made all the easier with the Indian method of queuing. Within 5 minutes of arriving I spoke to a Brit and an Aussie that had both had their wallets pinched right out of their pockets. I dispatched Katie to stand to one side and queued, my wallet gripped tightly in my pocket. That lasted a few moments; when in Rome as it were, so I pushed my way to the front.
Having picked up my ticket we made our way to our designated entry gate.
“No bags” an Indian army man barked at me.
No bags? I had an obligatory rucksack, with the usual tourist accoutrements: camera, Lonely Planet guide book, baby wipes (useful in Indian toilets), shades etc. Frustrated we decided Katie would take a round trip in an auto-rickshaw to our hotel, drop the bag off and come back and find me. I have to say that my wife is a real trooper. That she would do that, on our 2nd full day in a chaotic loud strange and unfamiliar city as large as Delhi just goes to show how lucky I am.
I digress. I would then be able to enter the stadium with just my camera and catch the start. Keep an eye on that final tourist tool word, camera. I made my way to our gate. And in typical Indian style was required to go through a security check point manned by Army officers complete with metal detector scanners. (Indians are obsessed, quite rightly, about security since the Mumbai attacks in 2008). I made my way through the scanner, and on being patted down was made to reveal my camera.
“No camera” an Indian army man barked at me once again.
Now I was really pissed off. The second item to be called into question. Yes it said no camera on the back of my ticket, but it also said no mobile phones, and everyone was making their way in with those. And anyway, I had only had the ticket in my possession for ten minutes at best. I had sent Katie on a wild goose chase and now she might make her way back to find me outside the gate. I huffed and puffed and stood to one side for a few minutes, cursing under my breath. I watched others argue over items, some let in, some turned away for the very same thing. India is painfully consistent in its inconsistencies. Finally, a higher rank army officer came over and eyed me up and down a few times, and with a grunt told me to make my way in. I think I was supposed to slip him a backhander of a few Rupees. I didn’t. After all I had only been in the country less than 48 hours and was not at this point aware of how to grease the wheels.
I made my way in and got to a seat (again inconsistencies abound; seat numbers were being ignored, with whole blocks to pick and choose from, the game was not sold out, and the ICC had some explaining to do) and settled in for the opening ceremonies.
Having nearly been thwarted in my attempt to enter the match for a game I had a ticket for, I could now enjoy the match. The South Africans struck early with the big wicket of Chris Gayle, but the Windies rallied somewhat with a passage of play with some swashbuckling shots from Darren Bravo, young half brother of Dwayne Bravo in a hundred partnership with Devon Smith, which included a couple of fours off of Kallis. I must say even from where I was sat high up in the ground, Kallis looks like he has been enjoying the good life.
But the Windies of today are a flaky bunch. After the big partnership was sent back to the pavilion only Chanderpaul and older brother Bravo made anything like a decent knock and the last few wickets skittled out for 13 or so runs and SA were set a score of 223 to win.
For those who remember my last cricket outing – a one day match at the Oval in 2006, where after being up all night the night before playing darts, followed by pints in Balham Weatherspoons at 9.30 am, I simply walked out of the ground at 2.30 pm desperate to crawl into bed – that I made it through a whole innings might come as a surprise. Well not really, this was a dry ground! In honour of that great day (or in my case half a day) I wore the same ‘Lower East Side’ t-shirt. And here I am in said t-shirt. The bag I may add is not mine.
The South Africans were never really threatened in this match, and some big shots from captain Graeme Smith, and eventual ton man AB de Villiers, meant they were comfortable run rate wise from the get-go. I must say as an observation is just how languid, lazy and disinterested in the field the Windies look these days. What happened to the great Windies I grew up being in awe of, the Windies of Malcolm Marshall, Sir Vivian Richards, Courtney Walsh, and so on? Shivnarine Chanderpaul – he drew cheers due to his Indo-Carribean heritage – is 36 and his best years are surely behind him, Chris Gayle is 31 but who is coming through? I read somewhere teenagers in the previously staunch cricket catchment areas in the Carribean would rather dream of being in the NBA than the IPL. How times change. That the Windies are ranked 8th in both the ODI and Test rankings is frightening.
With the South Africans marching on to a winning score, and it getting cold – revisit my outfit and like any classic English tourist I was not well prepared – we decided to beat the rush and make our way out with the South Africans 10 or so overs from a victory. I enjoyed watching a live WC match. Of course, it would have been ten times more exciting with a special atmosphere if India had been playing, and even more so if the dream India England match up had taken place in Delhi, but the fixture gods had decided that would take place 3 days later in Bangalore some thousand or so miles from the Indian capital. The double attempt to prevent me into the game, while others walked in with ‘banned’ items, surprised me at the time, but as I write this from the comfort of my Manhattan apartment, now appears totally in keeping with what we experienced the following 10 days or so as we travelled from city to city in Rajasthan. Namely, that India is a heady mixture of wonder, chaos, inconsistencies, bent rules, extremes, noise, beauty and history.
In many senses we experienced all of them in our day out to a WC match at the capital’s stadium. What I would have given to be at the India England draw, but I am glad I got a match under my belt in India. And what with it only being the 2nd day of our honeymoon, I have my adorable patient wife @_MrsVP_ to thank for that.