Those who know me know how much passionate about cricket I am. I follow cricket on TV, internet and live whenever and wherever I can. This was world cup, finals in my home city and with India reaching the finals only a natural calamity would have kept me away from Wankhede on 2nd April, 2011. Now a gold letter day in Indian cricket !! It was THE match. India vs. Sri Lanka in the world cup finals at my home ground. What are the odds of having that ever again, in my lifetime?
I had booked the ticket long back and though I was offered serious money ( 6 figure number) I never once had a thought of selling the ticket in black market and encash the huge gains. (Hint – I could have bought a Tata Nano car with AC with that money). I am way too passionate a cricket fan to let go off this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Match was to begin at 2.30 pm IST and gates were to open at 11.30 am. To avoid the rush of getting in and avoid standing in huge queues I reached the venue at 10.30 am all dressed in world cup t-shirt armed with…well nothing except the ticket, wallet and mobile phone ! Yes this time the cops were to allow the cell phone and that was a huge relief as it meant I could communicate with friends and family ( how wrong I was) and can even take pictures with cell phone camera, although not of a great resolution. I have been to the stadium many times in past and it has generally meant a tough time for spectators with little to eat and drink inside and cement slabs as seats, shoddy restrooms and general chaos. But this time it was different. This was world cup finals and Wankhede had been renovated completely for this event, this day.
Now we had enough security to last a war with our neighbor, checking and frisking at every corner and I was frisked 4 times at different points and a very decent standing in line experience I had. It also helped that I was about 5th in line and generally chaos happened close to match time. As the gates opened I was further checked and I slowly made my way to my stands and my seat which was on the top tier, front row of Garware Pavilion, which meant a spectacular view of the entire ground, right besides players dressing room and VVIP boxes. The view was simply breathtaking as I entered my empty stand. I settled down made call home reporting my safe arrival and took general pictures of the ground, the pitch and whomsoever I could see. It was T-3 hours.
The crowd kept filling in slowly and steadily. I made several new friends who all had brought huge banners which we tied it to front of our stand for easy visibility. ‘ Dont Go Gary’, ‘Sach is Life’, ‘Dhoni the Boss’ and there were several more. Some of them cannot be printed here 🙂 I was checking out every corner of the stadium and occupied myself by having some decent sandwiches and drinks and generally made more friends then the first day of my college. It was T-2 hours.
At about 1 pm or so players started appearing and huge cheers went around whenever anyone from both camps appeared for practice, warming up which included catching practice, throwing balls at stumps, slip catching and some mild exercises. Sri Lankan nets was right under our stand but of course everyone in the stadium was looking out for Indian stars and one particular man. The in-house DJ was warming up now and the fantastic audio system inside the stands was blaring the latest hits and favorite Indian cheering songs with an occasional Sri Lankan song too. The moment Indians came in ground, the sound level doubled and when everyone spotted the ‘God’, all of us rose from our seats to bow to the almighty, the one and only Sachin Tendulkar. If you dont know who he is and why he is called God, then please stop reading this RIGHT NOW !!!
T-30 minutes and toss time. There was some confusion during the toss but then Lanka won the toss and elected to bat which was slightly disappointing as we all know its always a good thing to bat first in big matches. Then came the national anthem when the players lined up to sing the anthems for both nations. It was a historic moment when the entire stadium barring few sang ‘Jana Gana Mana’, it was goosebumpish to say the least. The crowd was full, stadium jam-packed with almost all seats taken. Must give credit to the excellent security arrangement, ushers and cops all around to help. The stadium is as world class as it can be. Comfortable seating ( almost) , superb view, airy stands, neat and clean rest rooms, lobbies to walk around and quality food stalls make it a great experience now.
The match begun and I am not going to write a ball by ball report of it as I am not best equipped for that and most of you reading this already know what all happened. Just to summarize the in-stadium experience that it was an experience of a lifetime for me. Huge crowds, cheering every Indian run or a super fielding effort and egging our players by singing songs, shouting slogans, creating giant Mexican waves which went around the stadium multiple times and even booing the opposition at times. Watching our favorite cricketers in action on a world stage was something all of us have a dream off, I certainly did and today I was getting my dream realized. The match as all know had its ups and downs and as Ravi Shastri would have said. ‘ It was swinging both ways’. The atmosphere was electric to say the least and the 300o0- plus strong crowd just had one ambition, to see India lift the world cup, to see Sachin complete his glorious resume by getting the world cup medal. Everybody from common laborer in the ground to the biggest of celebs ( and there were many) all had just one wish today and it was to see Dhoni lifting the world cup and gifting it to the ‘God’
India of course started well and till about middle of Lankan innings we all had hopes of restricting Lanka to about 230 or so but Jayawardane played a brilliant knock hitting a century in world cup finals, with nice support by Sanga, Kulasekara and Perera in the end to reach a solid figure of 274. A score that has never been chased in a world cup final. No centurion in a world cup final was ever on a losing side. The signs were ominous and chances of an Indian victory were bit distant now. The crowd was slightly muted and nobody wanted to predict the outcome at the break. The cellphone service inside the stadium had died by now and hardly anybody could make or receive any calls but strange SMS’s were doing round about how the match was fixed and how certain things would happen. Of course the messages were as dumb as it can be as I got 2 messages with same details about the match but one of them had India winning and 2nd one had India throwing the match. I of course chose to ignore all such foolish stuff and knew that all of them were nothing but idiotic claims by conspiracy theory experts and were as dumb as April Fool jokes told to me by my 5 year old son !!
Going back to the start of Indian batting, the moment everyone was waiting for happened. God entered the ground in his customary style and you could hear the voice sitting in Shivaji park. The match had more twists in store and when we lost Sachin and scoreboard read just 31 everybody started worrying, 1996 collapse was remembered and world cup seemed distant at that moment. I had my hopes high and I had seen the Lankans batting on that pitch and deep in my heart I knew that if India batted 50 overs, it would get the runs. The pitch had no cracks or no vicious turn in it, neither it had any big seam movement. In fact it was bouncing very well and I knew our batsmen would relish that true bounce.
I was in top tier front and cameramen ( some Afro guy) came up and asked us to sing some ‘Indian victory’ song…this when Sachin had just got out..of course all of started cheering India back and I had a huge Pepsi finger in my hand too, which I was waving almost in the camera lens…after all this jugglery …I think I spotted myself on big screen for about 2 seconds ….I don’t know if Live TV caught us as it was between overs and in stadium feed was not always same as Live TV. This was at about 7.45 pm IST. My two seconds on the giant screens on the historic day, justified my existence !!
We started rebuilding thanks to Gambhir and Kohli and Dhoni and banners were furling again, horns were blaring, clapping and Mexican waves all around, song and dance blaring from the in house system and DJ was playing the best club tracks by now. The lights were on long back and every run was cheered for by the privileged few in the stadium. The in-house entertainment was on all the time and between overs we had mini contests and advertisements and songs and dance on big screens. Hope was slowly getting back in the hearts and mind of all of us.
As India inched closer to the victory people were getting more anxious and to hide their anxiousness they were shouting at the top of their voice. I took few strategic food breaks to settle my nerves and the last 5 overs was a stuff legends are made of. Dhoni and Yuvraj hitting the runs clinically and when Dhoni hit the winning six over long on fence, it was the biggest moment in Indian cricket. Everything froze, I was jumping on top of the seat while shouting at top of my voice and throwing my cap high up and I noticed history being made. The moment billion people had been waiting for since 28 years. The world cup was our. India were the champion. The most exhilarating moment ever and I WAS THERE !!!!! Dream was now reality, victory was ours and Sachin had that final wish completed. We had won it, won it for India, won it for Sachin and I WAS THERE to witness it from the grandest of grand seats screaming at top of my lungs, with tears in my eyes. I could no longer control myself.
I WAS THERE !!!!!!!!
Post match presentation, players hugging and dancing and doing a victory lap when Yusuf Pathan lifted Sachin and did a victory lap, when Harbhajan and Yuvraj cried and then danced to ‘Ganapati Dhol’ , the flow of emotion on the ground and all the speeches and interviews are worth watching over and over and perhaps I will watch all of them all day long and I wont get tired ever watching them. This is the experience we all tell our grandchildren about. This day, 2nd April 2011, I will never forget. This day my favorite hero Sachin got his final wish fulfilled and I was there to watch the historic moment. As Virat Kohli rightly mentioned in his interview that for 21 years, he had carried the burden of billion dreams, it was time for his teammates to carry him for victory lap, tonight. That sight was fulfillment of everything to me. Dream achieved. Time to dream new dreams now.
All of us partied in the stadium with players and spectators dancing to the DJ tunes and sounds of dhols. Nobody wanted to leave and there were firecrackers everywhere, people on the road, traffic jams everywhere and Indian flags on every corner and on top of every car. It was like India achieved freedom once again. I reached home at unearthly hours and even at that hour my wife, mom and elder son were waiting and we discussed the entire match and my experience in details and I couldn’t sleep all night and I had to write this. I still cant sleep.
In 1983, I watched India win it at an hour which was way past my bed time then. I was 9 1/2 years old then and could only imagine what it actually meant. Today my elder son is 9 1/2 years old and as they say history repeats itself. Just experienced the circle of life.
Lastly, to all the moronic conspiracy theory experts who think this match was fixed, here’s my self-censored message “GO TO HELL”. To all the special people who watched this match Live in stadium, ‘Best Decision ever”
I can write on and on but now will stop and perhaps sleep, if I can.
To summarize, when Dhoni lifted the cup and gave it to Sachin, life was complete for me and I WAS THERE !!!!!!
P.S. I have lots of pictures of stadium, players etc. which I shall upload when I return back to earth !!
Here’s link to some of my pics on Facebook