Late Saturday evening, I got a call from Rachna: “Dad managed to get us tickets for the England-India cricket match! Come to Kolkata tomorrow morning.” So I woke up at 6 AM, boarded an early train, and went to Kolkata to see my first cricket match at Eden Gardens, the biggest cricket stadium in India–and second-biggest in the world.
You might know that I played cricket for a year while at Oxford. After meeting one of the girls on the team, I showed up for practice one evening. Due to my persistence (and the very inclusive atmosphere of sports in England), I ended up playing the season for the Oxford Women’s Cricket Team and got to even travel for a few matches. I have some embroidered team clothes which I still wear regularly–playing at Oxford was one of the highlights of my exchange experience.
Despite my familiarity with the game, I have actually never watched a cricket match! I much prefer playing sports to watching them (basketball being the one exception)–and had always assumed cricket to be a rather slow game.
Despite my preconceptions, I couldn’t turn down the offer and really was excited to watch India win. Outside the stadium, we purchased an Indian flag and I had my face painted as well. The atmosphere was electric inside. A few weeks ago, I posted this article about how sports and nationalism are inextricably linked and at the match, I really felt the nationalist fervor. “Bharat Mata ki jai!,” the crowd yelled. “Jai Hind!,” I joined in. The match atmosphere reminded me not of other sporting events I’ve been to in the states, but the passion I felt at Wagah border–just last month.
There are several types of cricket matches and this one happened to be a 50/50 ODI match which meant that the game went on for about 9 hours! (Test matches, in comparison, go on for five days…) To pass the time, I took lots of selfies, ate several ice creams, and compared different instances to my own short-lived cricket career. “That catch was just like one that I made!,” I told Rachna, who smiled and nodded.
I was not familiar with most of the team but knew a few names–MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, and Virat Kohli are all household names in India and these athlete-celebrities are lionized in the media. At the half-way point, MS Dhoni, the larger-than-life Indian cricketer who stepped down from his captaincy earlier this year, was presented with an award from the West Bengal Cricket Association. Luckily, I watched Dhoni, the movie about his rise to stardom just earlier this month so I had a frame of reference and could really appreciate his contributions to the team.
Alas, India lost the match by 5 runs! It was really tragic but luckily–we did win the ODI series (2-1). It really was a special experience and I’m so thankful that I was able to attend.