A chance of IPL
I’ve always wanted to see cricket in India. Wellington’s Basin Reserve is more special that we Kiwis realise, but I knew India would be something else.
Once we had booked our flights to India, I realised we were going to be here during the Indian Premier League (IPL) – I didn’t know before we chose the dates, I promise, although Sarah remains skeptical. “Cricket! In India!” I told Sarah, she didn’t seem as excited, so I had some explaining to do.
For those of you who don’t enjoy cricket, stick with this, cricket in India is something else. Those of you in the know, will be well aware that cricket is a religion in India. Everywhere we go, and the end of the day kids and their fathers are in the streets playing cricket – every day.
The matches on TV give some insight into what I was trying to explain to Sarah. The grounds are one massive party, there just happens to be a game of cricket in the middle. As a side note, not one drop of alcohol is available at the grounds and I can assure you, everyone has an incredible time all the same.
I set out trying to find a match in a city that lined up with our itinerary – I found the Kolkata Knight Riders were playing Sunrisers Hyderabad, at Eden Gardens. A man on the street told me “If Lords is the Home of Cricket, Eden Gardens is the Mecca of Cricket”. If I were to have chosen a place to see a match, Eden Gardens was it, so I couldn’t believe my luck.
I wanted to get the tickets locked in before we headed to Kolkata, I didn’t want to risk missing out at the box office. Unfortunately, after signing up to an account and choosing our seats, my New Zealand credit card wouldn’t work.
I set about trying to sort a Plan B. A colleague of mine suggested chatting to our hotel. Once again, the team at Four Seasons Mumbai went out of their way to help. The concierge was able to book the tickets on the hotel manager’s credit card, email me the confirmation and charge the bill to our room.
Once we were in Kolkata, collecting the match tickets was top priority. Match day collection was not available, but we were here a couple of days ahead, so no problem.
We arrived at the makeshift box office, a few containers in a field, and found the right queue. Of course, it was the longest queue! We waited around 45 minutes, while police on horseback managed the crowd. Anyone trying to hand their printed confirmations off to someone in the queue, to avoid waiting, were given a loud telling off and chased to the back of the queue.
Once I had the tickets, it was all about waiting for match day.
We decided to taxi to the ground. We wanted to get in early to watch the match build up. An accident on the motorway created some unexpected traffic, so we were a bit behind our plans.
As expected, security was going to have a large presence. We experienced this elsewhere from airports and shopping malls, to the vehicle checks entering a hotel, so it was no surprise to find the streets around the stadium, closed off from a few blocks back.
That didn’t mean we missed out, we could hear the announcer firing up the crowd as soon as we stepped out the cab. The massive roars from the crowd was just a warm up act for the main event. A particularly big cheer was reserved for Indian hero Yuvraj Singh. Even though he was playing for the away team, Indians have huge affection for ‘Yuvi’.
Eden Gardens did not disappoint. Getting in took a little time as we went through security. Luckily we knew up front that cameras were not allowed, only phones, wallets and definitely no tobacco. The guy in front of me had his chewing tobacco found in a pat down, he didn’t hesitate in binning it to get into the ground.
The seats are packed close together, you’re siting right on top of the person next to you and your knees almost touch the person in front of you. We made the call to settle in for the first hour or so before venturing out for food.
I was really impressed by the respect of the crowd. If a boundary was hit, a wicket taken, or a moment of excitement, everyone was on their feet. They would quickly return to their seats as soon as the crowd at the back called out, to make sure everyone could see.
On the respect front – Indians know and love their cricket, so they have no problem acknowledging good play. Sunrisers Hyderabad are captained by David Warner – an Australian that has had no shortage of controversy with India in his International career.
Warner is an extremely talented cricketer, and in the first innings those talents were on display. He would have saved his team at least 10 runs in the first few overs. In New Zealand, I would expect a controversial figure like this to be booed every time he touched the ball (for those of you disagreeing, I’ve got plenty of examples). Warner’s outstanding fielding was met by loud applause every time – the home crowd more than happy to acknowledge good cricket.
I feel spectators at home could learn a thing or two from the crowds here. I cringe when I here a player booed for doing nothing but touching the ball, our international reputation is of fun, friendly people, we undo it a bit with our behaviour at sport. I’m prepared to put my hand up as a guilty participant on occasion.
I went wearing my Black Caps shirt. KKR had two Kiwis on show, Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme.
Its fair to say Sarah and I stuck out from the crowd. Many people we’ve bumped into on the streets and museum have stopped and asked us for pictures, most of the time we happily obliged. Our Airbnb host informed us not to flatter ourselves into imagining people thinking we’re famous it’s “they just want a photo with white skin”.
The cricket dialed up the photos, everyone around us leaned in for selfies. I got stopped many times on my way to and from collecting food, and at least ten times that number called out “New Zealand man!” from the stands and waived at me, as I collected our food. Every person I waived back to, meant 10 more saw me – I imagine this is how the Royals feel, waiving aimlessly at anyone who calls out.
It’s hard to put the experience into words. The crowd was louder than anything I’ve ever been to. There were loud chants, dancing, a huge Mexican waive and a good bit of banter back and forth between the supporters.
The MC keeps the crowd going through any low points, and people respond. There’s music at every opportunity and loads of dancing.
Sunsets in India are something else. We had the pleasure of watching it set in the grandstand just to the side of us. The pictures on my phone do it no justice.
At one point in the match, some murmuring went around the stadium and shortly after 50,000 mobile phone lights lit up the grandstand. I’m not sure of the point behind this, but it looked cool. Unfortunately David Warner complained and another ball was not bowled until they were switched off.
The ground looked spectacular under lights, and with any sports match, it takes on a special feel as day turns to night.
Yuvi had a pretty good run with the bat, and although the Sunrisers were behind the game, he was keeping them in it. The Kolkata crowd loved watching him bat and cheered every boundary, although you could sense they were acutely aware that he could take the game away from KKR. They were pleased to see some big hitting from Yuvi, but weren’t too disappointed to see him get out.
The result will show that KKR won by 17 runs. It reality, it never felt that close once the Sunrisers lost their openers. However, it always felt bigger than the result, it was all about enjoying the cricket.
For me, it was the experience of a lifetime. I’ve had the privilege of visiting a few of the world’s great sporting theatres (Yankee Stadium, The MCG, Murrayfield and Old Trafford) and I can now add Eden Gardens to that list. I can now also say I’ve played and watched cricket in India – what a life!