Cricket to me is in a village on a quiet sunny afternoon, a crisp summer breeze, summer dresses, perhaps with some Pimms or a shandy, and the players all dressed in white. The odd applause from perhaps 20 or so people watching from the pavilion or around the boundary sat on picnic rugs.
This is not the case in India!
In India cricket is a religion that breaks all boundaries (pun intended). Cricket is a passion that unites the nation. It unites people from all castes, religions, age and gender. Since the introduction of the IPL (Indian Premier League) Indians can now enjoy watching international and local cricket stars (and they really do have celebrity status in India) play 20/20 matches throughout April and May each year. For those non-cricket fans, 20/20 is when they play 20 overs each and not the traditional test cricket that can take 5 days. Yes really!
When we first arrived in Mumbai almost 3 years ago, I was amazed watching the IPL matches on TV and how hyped and crazy the fans were in the stadiums, I wrote a blog about it – read it here, but I can’t believe it took me 3 years to get to a live match.
Wankehede Stadium (that really is its name) in Mumbai sits behind the Queens necklace on Marine Drive and is not too far from the Intercontinental Hotel. We all met at Pizza By The Bay for an early dinner and drinks before the match. Its just a short walk from there to the stadium and like any sporting event you’ll be offered flags and team shirts of the teams playing. Which we bought from a little girl who looked about 6 yrs old. Only to find when we got to our seats, that each seat had a flag already. Tonight it was the Mumbai Indians (the team owned by the Ambani family behind Reliance Group) versus Chennai Super King “CSK” (owned by Bollywood star and Mumbai resident Shau Ruk Khan – he was not present at the match due to a disagreement 2 years ago which left SRK banned from the Mumbai stadium!).
SRK’s absence didn’t seem to have any impact, the Super Kings were the better team on the night and Mumbai Indians were consoled by the presence of cricket legend Sachin Tendulka who is the coach for the Mumbai Indians. Any time he was caught on camera on the big screen the entire stadium went nuts and cheered! Not bad for a retired cricket player.
Entering the stadium is quite a feat in itself with 3 levels of security, including 2 bag checks (don’t take a lot of cash, my friend’s loose change all got swiped), and a pat down. Once through, we had 3 flights of stairs to climb to find our allocated seats up high, great view but really really hot. It was 8pm and must have been about 30+ degrees, with the humidity it was like being in a sauna with 30,000 people.
The atmosphere was electric, they had a pre-match MC revving up the crowd, music blaring, Mexican waves, I felt like I was in a massive night club. Everyone was hyped and so excited but the stadiums in India are all dry – no alcohol served. Only flat Pepsi and cups of water (you can get a bottle if you’re clever).
So much activity on the pitch as well as in the stands, I was very surprised by the number of food vendors walking around who insisted on squeezing their way along our row of seats selling sweetened corn, pop corn, pizza and ice cream until we stopped them, it was hot enough without having to stand up every few minutes. The seats are quite narrow.
Cricket in India even has cheerleaders! Dressed in tight outfits, short skirts and figure hugging lycra all in their team colours. They are international dancers, and are dotted around the boundary and dance on a little stage when their team gets a 4 or a 6 and also during the breaks. They rev up the crowd who are behind a metal fence to stop them rushing the pitch – those fences that have been banned in England since the 1980s.
As it was an evening match, we decided not to take our children it started at 8pm and would not finish until about 11pm. Too late for them, and as we had not been before I wasn’t sure what to expect – and I certainly didn’t fancy taking them to the bathroom every 5 minutes, even I had to hold on until we left and walked to the Intercontinental hotel which was our meeting point for our driver – and my toilet stop before the drive back to Bandra.
The atmosphere was unlike any sporting event I had ever been to, even the HK Rugby 7s which is a 3 day marathon of fun and some rugby, but alcohol is served. The IPL in India is definitely worth doing if you visit India during April or May or are living here. Its an Indian experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Check!
Written April 2014