Cricket, as a sport, dominates India in ways I can’t even begin to relate to sports events in the US. After students finish exams (or as Indians say, “write” their exams) in early March, many boys catch rickshaws together to spend their days playing the game. Walk by an empty field on the way to a market and you’ll see dozens of these boys gathered together with a big, flat bat in hand, playing the game against a blue, cloudless sky. I was cursed by many friends I met when I told them that I once sat across from a former professional cricket player on a train from Jaipur to Jodhpur; my vice being I never asked for his name. On another instance I was riding through Udaipur with one of my friends on his motorcycle when we noticed a group of people distributing what we assumed to be free cricket bats. When we got closer, we realized that the same people weren’t distributing cricket bats, but instead incense, the back of the package marked with the words “pray for India’s victory.” Another time, my classmates and I were celebrating the end of our program’s classroom phase and the beginning of our internship phase at a local rooftop restaurant. After receiving the eye (not the you’re a foreigner eye, but more of a get out my way eye) from a group of men next to us, we offered to move tables so the guys could see the projected image of India’s cricket game better.
Anyone who knows me know that my knowledge of sports is extremely limited, but while I was in India a sports event of such great magnitude occurred that I would be portraying a false image of the country without including a description of it. Every four years, the International Cricket Council hosts a world cup for cricket-playing countries around the world. In 2011, the ICC hosted the world cup in Mumbai.
Throughout the month of March I heard various stories of how India continued to win game after game to proceed in the tournament. After the festival Holi, India was doing so well that it seemed that the country maybe had a shot to become world cup champions.
Here’s what went down:
February 19: India beats Bangladesh by 87 runs
February 27: India ties England
March 6: India beats Ireland by 5 wickets
March 9: India beats the Netherlands by 5 wickets
March 12: India loses to South Africa by 3 wickets
March 20: India beats West Indies by 80 runs
March 24 (Quarter-Finals): India beats Australia by 5 wickets
March 30 (Semi-Finals): India beats Pakistan by 29 runs
April 2 (Finals): India beats Sri Lanka by 6 wickets
If you didn’t know, relations between India and Pakistan are pretty hot. There has been religious tension between Hindus and Muslims since the Mughal empire. Couple that with the heat between India and Pakistan since Partition in 1947 and the Muslim resurgence movement of the past decade and…let’s just say that the semi-finals cricket match between India and Pakistan was more intense than even the finals match between India and Sri Lanka.
I was lucky enough to watch the semi-finals game between India and Pakistan from the comfort of room 4319 at Fortis Escorts hospital. News channels flashed the title “World War III” across the screen before the match. I chose to watch the game despite my failed efforts to grasp the concept of cricket (it looks like baseball; don’t be fooled). A surprising fact about cricket is that it is a game lasting upward of 7 hours. One of my teachers, Mitaji, kept me company for the first few hours of the game. I dozed/read during the middle of the game and caught up on the end with one of my nurse friends I met when Jezelle was in the hospital. My doctor, in his infinite wisdom, decided that watching the cricket match was more important than making his hospital rounds…thankfully the loose motions were beginning to subside by that time. I tried to gauge the success of each play by the reactions of fans and players I saw on TV. It was clear, by about 10:30, that India was going to win the game. When India had finally won, I heard screams and fireworks.
A few days later India played Sri Lanka. I watched the game with a few other interns from Seva Mandir. Despite a rocky beginning at bat (two of India’s best players struck out almost instantly), India managed to pull off another win. I didn’t watch the end of the game on TV, but instead, I stood on the roof of my host family’s house, and watched the city of Udaipur celebrate India’s victory.
Like I said, I’m no great sports fan, but it was cool to be in India the year India won the World Cup. Nationalism at its best!