Thursday, April 22, 2010

17. To the cricket

Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

A cricket match in India… this should be exciting.

After bidding the Spanish speakers buenas noches, I headed down to another restaurant which was the last place open, and met up with some people I’d met earlier. We were soon joined by ten or so expats who didn’t look like part of the Indian backpacker trail. I asked them if they were going to the IPL cricket match the next day and they said they were covering it – it was part of the commentary and camera team.

We were the only other table in the restaurant and we soon joining in their discussions of India. One of the guys said they’d been to 25 cities in India and this was the first place they’d been able to see the stars at night cos of the haze/pollution.

We had quite a few laughs, the leader of the group was an English guy named Gavin and I think I recognised his voice from the cricket commentary. Another guy in the group was Pommie Mbangwa, and he was a crack up. His challenge at the last game was to slip “lemon meringue” into the commentary which he’d been able to do.

The IPL is quite a phenomenon. Take cricket-mad India. Rather than try and wean them off their cricket drug, let them go nuts and have a two month long cricket binge, with not one, but two Twenty20 matches every night, featuring the best local talent playing alongside some top international talent. It’s got to be great for young Indian cricketers. It seems like everyone wins – the players earn a shitload (it’s the 2nd highest-paid sports league after the NBA), the teams are all very profitable, and the cricket-mad Indian public get their cricket fix.

Anyway, so the next day I met up with a group of Australian guys and a local guy, Shami, who were keen to go to the cricket. Shami was organising us and although we already had tickets (650 rupees - NZ$20), our tickets didn’t have seat numbers so the first in would get the best seats. The game started at 8pm and Shami was adamant we’d have to leave at 3pm to get there early enough to get a good seat. I was doubtful – I knew it was a small stadium (capacity 21 000) so even if we were up the back we wouldn’t be far from the action. The commentary team had thought that arriving at 3pm was a great laugh since the gates don’t open until 5pm.

But Shami was the boss so we met up at 3pm. By the time everyone farted around we didn’t leave until 3:45pm and got to the ground at 4:30pm. As predicted, gates opened after 5pm so we had to queue up in the hot sun for a bit over half an hour, but the ridiculous thing was that the police would come along and make sure we were in single file. We’d be standing around in our group but then the police would come and we’d have to totally squish back into the line, chest to back and cock to ass with the guy in front. Of course it was all men too, and it was quite intimate. One of the Australian guys asked if anyone else was feeling “saustrophobic”.

Security at the ground was extremely tight. No drink bottles, food or electronic devices, which meant no cameras and no phones. An intimate pat down, empty pockets, through metal detectors, another pat down, over to the stand, another pat down, and we were in. Second row. Oh, and only 3 hours til the game starts.

The first shitter was that evidently you were allowed cameras and phones in but Shami had been told otherwise and made us leave ours at home. So none of us got photos of the game, unfortunately.

The ground itself was very picturesque – a huge view of the mountains is the backdrop. Again, no picture unfortunately. And that was about the only advantage of arriving as early as we did – we got to see the mountains in the background, because by the time the game started at 8pm it was too dark to see them, which was a shame for the TV audiences.

Here’s the best I could find on google:


Before the game started about ten dudes were walking around carrying smoke machines – which evidently carried a really toxic smoke which killed mosquitoes and flies. It worked a treat but stunk pretty bad, but it didn’t help with the moths which were thick in the air.

The game was Australian-heavy Deccan Chargers vs. Punjab Kings XI. It was a home game for Punjab but I hadn’t heard of any of their players, and they are bottom of the IPL table, so I decided to cheer for the Australians and go for Deccan.

The atmosphere was good – but it wasn’t as crazy as I was expecting. Since we’re in India I was expecting madness – songs, threats, violence, similar to watching a football match in Argentina. But the truth is Himachal Pradesh isn’t really a cricket-mad state, the Dharamsala ground is relatively small, and the crowd didn’t really care who won, so long as a lot of sixes were hit.

It was good though – cheerleaders for both sides were scattered around the ground, and whenever a 6 was hit or a wicket was taken the corresponding team’s theme music would play, their American cheerleaders would dance, and actual fireworks would go off.

In the end Deccan won with 5 balls to spare, and the game finished around 11:30pm.

Update: well it seems the heavy security at the ground and the paragliding ban were justified, since a terrorist group let off multiple bombs at another IPL game in Bangalore only a day after the game I went to watch in Dharamsala. Scary.

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