A million articles would be written about India's victory in the 2011 Cricket World Cup, so why am I writing one more? Because, since several years, I have been told stories by my parents and uncles about how the country celebrated when India won the World Cup in 1983, in the era of 60 over cricket and transistor radio commentary. So, now it is my turn to archive memories of this glorious occasion to narrate to my kids twenty years down the line.
The year is 2011. Twenty20 and IPL have begun to dominate the Indian cricket scene. Some people have started calling traditional 50 over ODIs "boring" and "outdated". Enter World Cup 2011, being hosted mainly on Indian soil, with Sri Lanka anfd Bangladesh sharing some matches. That one chance for 50 over cricket to regain its lost popularity. It did, and how! Instead of after-office T20 tamasha, once again the cricket crazy Indians around the world began to spend entire days watching matches, even if it meant bunking college, taking off from office, or waking up at unearthly hours if they are in other timezones, like I did. In spite of being 15,000 km away from the actual action, it has been a memorable World Cup experience.
Two days before the start of World Cup, someone mooted the idea of screening World Cup games on campus. Since Star Cricket does not telecast matches in USA, the only legal option was to purchase a subscription of Willow TV. Students were asked to contribute $2 each, and who would have thought that time that these were going to be the best $2 we ever spent. And so the stage was set. Thanks to timezone differences, all India matches, scheduled as day-night encounters, started at 4am local time here. Logistics were worked out, the car-owning students driving remaining fans to campus in the dead of the night, Virginia Tech graciously allowing us the use of TV room at the International Center, and we were set.
The first match against Bangladesh saw a small but enthusiastic crowd, complete with Indian flag, vuvuzelas et al. The next match against England was worth every minute spent, ending in a nail biting tie. Every Indian boundary and opposition wicket were cheered, while boundaries by opposition resulted in reaction that is, to put it subtly, not suitable for family audience. And this became the usual story for every game that India played. That is, until the Semi-finals.
Then came the big one. India vs Pakistan. World Cup Semi-final. Stuff every cricket fan's dreams are made of. Obviously the TV room was not going to be enough for this occasion. So we upgraded to bigger arena. Now it was time to watch on big screen. And it was a weekday. So, classes were bunked (a rare occurence for engineering grad students in a US university), labs were rescheduled, assignements were completed way before deadline, and eight hours on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 were spent in an extreme display of patriotism, furiously cheering every Indian run, and meeting every Pakistani boundary with choicest display of colorful language in the form of the popular chant that goes "Mohali mein aaya bhoot, Pakistan ki...(complete with rhyming profanity)" and not to forget the all time favorite- "Gali gali mein shor hai, Pakistan chor hai!". And at the end of it, when India won, it was celebration like never seen before. I was seeing so many grad students so happy for the first time in my two years here! It was a dream come true. Indian cricket fans attaining nirvana. Nothing could be bigger than this. But wait, there is more!
Come Saturday, April 2, 2011. The Final. India vs Sri Lanka. Waking up at 3.45am, watching Sangakarra make a mockery of the toss bordering on blatant cheating, almost giving up hope before start of game when Dhoni announced Sreesanth is in team instead of Ashwin, heading to the auditorium of the local church on campus in freezing cold, cracking customary Rajinikanth jokes on seeing him in the stadium, watching Jayawardene bat like a hero hell bent on stealing a victory for Lanka, the church people giving a pleasant surprise by graciously offering free breakfast for the hungry crazy students, Malinga getting Sehwag out with scoreboard reading 0/1, The God getting out early with score looking even more ominous at 31/2, Gambhir and Kohli playing a slow sensible inning to stabilize the chase, getting into the typical Wankhede atmosphere with chants of "Sachin Sachin
" and "Ganpati Bappa Morya", watching captain Dhoni himself hit that final six into the stands to end it all in the best possible way and breaking out into insane celebration, it has been a truly epic day.
All these sleepless nights over the past six weeks, listening to Ravi Shastri who goes on and one like a tracer bullet with his torture-on-ears commentary, which included gems like "This stand is veru sunny right now, that's why it has been named Sunny Gavaskar Stand", feeling like pulling hair every time Sanjay Manjrekar said "Tainduulkar", bearing Willow TV's heights-of-cliche advertising, from "gujaratimatrimony.com for NRI Gujaratis like us" to "G1G Insurance for parents visiting USA" to powerpoint-slide ads of estate agents and software consultancies, screaming "Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega!" thousands of times until throat went totally hoarse, all of it seemed totally worth it for that one scene- Indian team carrying The God aka Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar around Wankhede for a victory lap. Absolute speechless moment.
I have never been that crazy a sports lover that I get emotional over wins and losses, but the sight today, of Sachin running into the field, later draped in an Indian flag made me teary eyed, further pushed by Virat Kohli's soon-to-become-immemorial lines "For twenty one years this man has carried a nation's burden, the least we can do tonight is carry him on our shoulders".
Dhoni lifting the World Cup trophy and the celebration that followed has been an occasion that has overwhelmed my emotions, so much so that for hours after the match I was in a state of clueless limbo as to what exactly happened and why am I grinning for no reason. Of course adding to the fun was the fact that it is the day of International Street Fair on Virginia Tech campus, and after the match, around a hundred Indian students march into the venue, screaming, shouting carrying Indian flags and Dhobighaat Blues, our local band, dedicating songs to the Indian team resulting in massive cheers from the Indian crowd, leaving everyone else at the venue flabbergasted! The day has long come to an end, but the celebrations have not.
It will take some time for the feeling to sink in, but the fact remains -