Sunday, 27 April 2008

Bird-shit, Beer and Boundaries

We've got a couple of people from the Boston office in town right now, and they decided that they'd like to watch one of the IPL matches live, so a bunch of us from work decided to go along (read: team outing=company paying). As a result, I got to view my first Twenty20 match live - Bangalore Royal Challengers versus Rajasthan Royals at the Chinnaswamy stadium.

The tickets we got entitled us to a couple of free beers and dinner. However, when entering we found that they didn't allow bottled water in, and worse, didn't sell it inside either. This made things pretty bad for the visitors - they had chosen to walk down from their hotel, and were already red from the exertion. Drinking the water from the available dispensers was not an option, since there was the risk of picking up an infection. Surprisingly, hard liquor was also on sale at the venue, but they refused to sell Sprite without alcohol. Vijay Mallya certainly knows where his money comes from.

We had got seats in what was referred to as the 'Royal Challenge North Terrace' (all the stands were named for booze brands from the UB group, with the janta stands named after Bagpiper, the hep one near the pavilions named after Black Dog and so on), which overlooked the sight-screen from the Cubbon Road end. Getting to our seats, we found that, firstly, although the tickets had seat numbers on them, the seats didn't - you just went and parked yourself wherever you wanted. Worse still, Kailash Kher was performing on a stage next to our stand, and the noise had literally scared the shit out of the birds gathered in the roof overhead. The floor and all the seats in the front rows were white with guano. Considering the amount of money being thrown into getting in cheerleaders and such-like, you would think that they could afford to spend some to at least keep the seats clean. Anyway , after first depositing the visitors and a few others in the back, a few of us decided to sacrifice our jeans to be able to catch a better view of the action, moving right up to the first row. I joked that if we wanted to be shown on TV, we just had to move around while a ball was being bowled - the batsman would surely complain and the cameras would pan to where we sat to show who the offenders were. That didn't really happen though, but it would have been worth a try.

Having got a look at the players practicing (its surprisingly exciting to be able to recognize them purely from how they move on the field, without the aid of the camera close-up), and seen a couple of routines by the cheerleaders, we figured it was time to go get our free beers, only to find that a whole bunch of other people had the same idea. Which meant that there was a line that nearly stretched out to the entrance to get it. By the time we got the beer, we missed the first two balls, which encompassed Rahul Dravid's entire innings.

The cricket itself was fairly exciting to begin with. When you've gotten used to watching cricket on TV, it's tough to get used to not having replays and close-ups. Not having to listen to the endless prattle of the commentators is a blessing, though. I was really surprised to see how far the leather ball travels - Ross Taylor managed to top-edge one all the way over the third man boundary. Watching Taylor bat brought two things to mind - one, that he's an amazing talent and you wish he would not just throw it all away after a few bold strokes, and two, that bats these days are just fantastic. The aforementioned top-edge, of course, is an example, but there were also a few sweetly timed strokes that just seemed to keep going when you would expect them to land a few meters inside the boundary. Once he was gone, though, the rest of the batsmen were rather subdued, except for some late hitting by Praveen Kumar, who I think should be sent up the order to shake things up a little - the current Bangalore batting order just looks too slow-moving at times. The other highlight of the Bangalore innings was watching Shane Warne bowl. The waddle to the crease, the wind-up, the twirling delivery - they're all there, just like on TV. I tried to get a couple of pictures on my phone, but most were too blurred, which is just as well - I wouldn't want Lalit Modi coming after me. The Bangalore team was pretty disappointing in their batting, and if not for Kumar's slogging at the end, would have been hard-pressed to get to even the 135 they finally managed. Not too many pom-pom-waving moments for the cheerleaders, unfortunately.

It was approximately dinner-time by then, but since the whole stand decided to head toward the buffet tables, the queue spread across two floors and the intervening staircase, so we decided to chuck dinner. The Rajasthan innings began shortly after, and a few early wickets notwithstanding, it was a fairly easy effort for them. The field settings were a mess at times, with Dravid seeming to make an extra effort to appear different and aggressive, with two slip fielders and loads of people in the 30-yard circle. While aggression is all very well, you have to temper it with common sense - with small boundaries, big bats and little pressure, the opposition batsmen could just swing away in the knowledge that even mis-hits would get them boundaries. Comparing Dravid's captaincy with Warne's, it seemed somewhat forced, especially when trying to build camaraderie within the team. Warne, on the other hand, seems to get along much more naturally, although it must be said that he has a whole bunch of youngsters who are already in awe of him, so its easier to make his presence felt.

We left the stadium early, just as Shane Watson took a liking to Kumar and pasted him for 26 in one over. This time it seemed the crowd didn't anticipate our move, and we could get out easily without having to shove and push our way through. Our visitors had left early since they couldn't survive without the water, so we dropped in on them at the hotel and chatted for a while about cricket and all the ads they'd seen on TV before heading back home.

Overall, what did I think of the experience? Worthwhile only if someone else is paying - which I guess held true for most of the other people in the stand, most of whom seemed to be there with free passes or because they knew someone in the setup. Apparently for the first game the beer had been unlimited, but they realised that too many people just didn't know when to stop. Mukul Kesavan had a long rant on Cricinfo a few days ago about the IPL and Twenty20 in general, and I'm guessing he was in a particularly bilious mood only because he watched the match at the ground. It reduces him to cribbing about the fact that you can't figure out who the players are because the game's too fast, unlike Test ('real') cricket where
you get to know the players, specially if you're at the stadium because you watch them move about when nothing is happening; cricket has lots of "dead" time in between individual deliveries and overs, which helps the spectator into a state of relaxed alertness.
I've never heard someone extol the virtues of dead time before, and really, since the players are all in white (as his blog's name so clearly states), it would have been pretty difficult anyway to identify them without looking at the scoreboard, which is an option available even in Twenty20.

Having said all that and done my little bit of cribbing, however, I have to say that I think the game, stripped of the razzmatazz and the flying Bollywood heroes and all that, is still exciting, fun and does showcase the skills of the participants very well. The fact that the players are playing for personal and professional pride rather than national honour takes some of the pressure off them, and allows them to give their talents free rein. It's still early days for the tournament, and pretty soon the actors will all have to go back to running around trees, the American cheerleaders will be replaced by East European wannabe models, and a lot of the big name foreign players will head back for national duty. That's when the real staying power of the format will be tested, when the young Indian players have to start shouldering greater responsibility, and everyone starts to figure out each other's game. I think there's definitely going to be a dip in viewership at least till the finals, but the hardcore fans will still stay on, and will be rewarded with an early look at some of India's future greats. Now, if only there were some way to replace those annoying commentators on TV.


  1. IPL is really getting everyone talking.

    Did the Boston people compare it to Fenway Park?

    I'm actually surprised that they serve alcohol. Sounds like it could get chaotic.

    It's absurd that there isn't any water on sale. Someone should write a sternly worded letter.

  2. the Boston people did not spend much time in the stadium. I suppose I shall have to make that comparison when I'm there - are you interested in going?
    They do have free drinking water from large dispensers which is perfectly alright for us hardy locals, but there's no drinking water in bottles.

  3. Yes we should go -- I never went last year. If you're interested, then I can get the tickets etc, because they can be hard to get. When will you be here?