Heading into the heart of the Commonwealth, it’s a given that you’ll have to learn to like cricket, or else spend two long years explaining why you don’t. It’s easier to give in...
But for the first few months, I couldn’t get into watching the seemingly silly sport. Even as India kicked off the 2011 Cricket World Cup in mid-February – a quadrennial tournament between a dozen or so mostly Commonwealth countries held this go-round in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – I had only tepid interest as the world around me shifted into cricket overdrive.
It would take a long paragraph to explain how one-day international cricket is similar to baseball, except that every major facet of the game is pretty different. And in truth, I wouldn’t have been able to write that paragraph until Wednesday, when I turned on the tv to watch the India-Pakistan semi-final and BAM! All of a sudden, cricket made sense. All the back-and-forth rules, all the crazy numbers at the bottom of the screen. It was kind of a great moment in time.
After a month of round-robin play, 8 teams made it into the elimination round. After first-round wins, India and Pakistan won the right to face each other in the semi-finals. There was a wee bit of build-up for the game, as this match would be akin to your choice of:
Ali v. Frazier in boxing
Packers v. Bears in football
Yankees v. Red Sox in baseball
Federer v. Nadal in tennis
(except, I suppose, more like Serena v. Venus...)
Hungarian v. Soviets in water polo
Forrest Gump v. the entire Chinese Ping Pong Team
Oh, and just for fun, the countries have fought four wars since 1947.
Oh, and let’s double down, they share a contested and militarized border.
Oh, and no big deal, but they have a bevy nuclear weapons pointed at each other.
The match was so big they threw a screen up in the cafeteria and the local staff, with a smattering of interested Americans, caught bits of the game during the afternoon. It’s a slow paced game, like baseball, you can come and go without missing too much.
Cricket happens in halves. First, one team bats. They bat until 10 batters get out, or until 50 “overs” is complete, whichever comes first. (Each over is 6 bowls, so that’d be 300 pitches.)
India won the toss and batted first. Most teams subscribe to that theory, unlike deferring in football, thinking that it’s better to go first than the pressure of needing to chase a set number. They started at 2:30, but I didn’t pay attention. When I walked out of work at 5:30, half the staff was still watching the game. India was still batting. Faces were long, thought, India weren’t (yes, this is correct, per South Asian English!) racking up big runs like usual.
When I got home at 6:00, Pakistan was just starting to bat. I was amazed to understand the game when I turned on the tv, so I had no choice but to order a pizza to make the evening complete. (It arrived 2.5 hours and two phone calls later...)
With each swing, the Pakistan batsmen fell further and further behind. With each over, hoots, hollers and firecrackers would burst on the street as India inch closer and closer to victory over their fierce (and real-life) rival. When India finally sealed the game, young cricket fans poured into the streets with song, dance and flags. I watched the spectacle, under a firework-lit sky, from my window high above the street.
On to the finals, today, Saturday. Excitement in the streets, although in comparison I would say it was less than a Wisconsin city when, say, the Packers are in the Super Bowl.
Sri Lanka batted first, but it wasn’t until the switch that I joined Yogi and friends at a nearby house, converted into viewing parlor with a projection screen. Again, things weren’t looking good. Indians were pessimistic, and swearing off the importance of the final. “It’s far more important that we beat Pakistan in the semi-finals,” more than one said. I had already started to prepare a thesis, relating India’s foreign policy to the attitude of its sports fans. Namely that Pakistan mattered than everything else combined...
The mood bottomed out when national hero Sachin Tendulkar struck out after tallying only 18 runs. For many overs, India just barely held on. But captain M.S. Dhoni slowly started swinging for the fences. A long series of 4s (a ball that bounces out of the playing area) and 6s (a ball that clears the playing area on the fly) later, he sealed the already-decided game with a massive six. Boom, turns out the Indians actually did care about the final, they poured into the streets again for fireworks, jumping on trucks and other assorted tri-color merriment. Tendulkar carried off the field. Dhoni given a new place in subcontinent lore.
The Indians liked it. And so did I, just not quite as much. So it goes with a sport where you can wear ridiculous hats during gameplay...