One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the floor with my Dad and listening an Ashes test on the radio, when Australia was playing in England. Dennis Lillee was bowling from one end, Rod Marsh the wicket keeper, and Bob Massie was demolishing the English batting lineup from the other end. Dad let me stay up late because, well, because it was the cricket. And we listened to the radio because we didn’t have a TV.
Leg side, onside, offside and bowling the maiden over. Lunch break, tea break, googly, wrongun, silly mid off, silly mid on, and the controversial Duckworth Lewis Stern protocol. I have been asked to explain cricket a few times and, sigh, the quickest explanation is to agree that it is like baseball. There are batters, bowlers and fielders. The batting team comes in, the fielding team bowls and fields the ball and the batters may or may not be out.
After a few non-cricket appreciating years I’m back and I’m a cricket fan, working in a country which I think could lay a strong claim to being the modern spiritual home of cricket – India. Cricket in India is like football in other countries – on every spare pocket of dirt there is a group of kids with a bat and ball playing cricket. I’ve seen cricket being played in stadia, on the ‘maidans’ or parks that are in the middle of the big Indian cities, on roads, on any vacant block and even underneath a flyover, next to a motorway.
When I was listening to cricket with my Dad in the ‘70’s, there was nothing else except test cricket. These are the games that routinely last for five days. I grew up with test cricket, and I used to love a day out at the cricket where you could sit on the grass and absolutely nothing would happen for the whole day. I went to a game at Trentbridge once in the UK, where the Australian opening batsmen batted all day without getting out. We were delighted.
Things change and now most people these days watch T20, where two teams each bowl overs of 6 balls twenty times. Five day test matches are still played and loved by cricket fans, but T20 is an easy and accessible way to enjoy cricket, complete with a DJ, cheerleaders and a ripping sound track. In India there is a domestic competition called the India Premier League (IPL).
The hottest of hot cricket players are currently (and arguably) Indian Captain MS Dhoni and his pretender – Virat Kholi. To give an idea of their popularity, MS Dhoni has 18,463,725 followers on Facebook at the time of writing and Virat Kholi has 29,407,434. For perspective – David Beckham has 54 million, Wayne Rooney (current English football captain) has 24 million, Lionel Messi 1.6 billion (!), and Australian cricket captain Steve Smith has 1 million. In non sporting terms, Taylor Swift has 75 million and Kim Kardashian 29 million. Reportedly, MS Dhoni has the same level of protection in India as the Prime Minister.
Recently, the country of India boycotted British Airways because when Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar tweeted about one of his relatives having lost their luggage, the British Airways tweeting person asked him to confirm his identity, i.e. asked him who he was. Quelle horreur !
Apple CEO Tim Cook came to a game this year. One of the IPL teams, the Kolkata Knight Riders is owned by Shah Rukh Kahn who is a Bollywood superstar and another, the Mumbai Indians is owned by ‘the Ambanis’, one of India richest families.
All this money and glitz made IPL an easy target when an individual instigated a Public Interest Litigation against the games being playing in the area around Mumbai because of a severe drought. Hard to argue against it because the drought is indeed severe, but water was being wasted in many other ways and the main benefit was to raise the profile of the crisis. The incredible thing was that the organisers of this hugely influential tournament managed to move the games out of the State of Maharashtra and to other stadia with about two weeks’ notice.
And the best experience? Well I’m a bit biased but Eden Gardens is a big old stadium in Kolkata, and is the home of the Cricket Association of Bengal plus arguably the spiritual home of cricket in India. At capacity the stadium seats 67,000 extremely noisy and passionate people. The weather is balmy to hot, and humid so it is no hardship to be outside in the evening. And these people love their cricket.
If you want a good adventure, follow an IPL team and see them play at more than one venue. The glamour team is Royal Challengers Bangalore, with Virat Kholi as captain. Or go with Eden Gardens’ home team Kolkata Knight Riders to see them play at home in Kolkata and then away in Mumbai, subject to drought restrictions or in Bangalore.
The IPL tournament is proudly family friendly and encourages women and children to attend games. Even if you don’t like sport, an IPL game should be on your bucket list. If you don’t like big noisy crowds, then not so much.
To get to a game:
The IPL Seasons normally start at the beginning of April and finish at the end of May. For Eden Gardens, tickets are on sale online via the Kolkata Knight Riders’ website . Or if you are lucky you can buy tickets at the box office. Don’t make the mistake of going to the stadium to buy tickets, the Box Office is over the road at the Mohammedan Sporting Club. Tickets start from INR400.
If you can’t get to Kolkata, check the IPL website for other venues.
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