With the beginning of the ODIs on Saturday, April 2, Atlanta's Indians revved themselves up for a fortnight of unabated excitement and thrill as they set out to watch the famed men in blue take on their fierce neighbours beginning with the match in Kochi, Kerala.
While a segment of the Diaspora was glued to their TV sets at home--the majority slice ditched the dish to gather in huge numbers at Jimmy Carter Blvd's Global Mall for a special screening of the matches on a 100-inch projection screen TV. An active Indian hub even otherwise, the mall wore a look of anticipation and throbbing life as families, kids in tow sauntered in to catch the very first ball of the very first match on Friday.
Even though it was a rainy, cold night, with the match beginning only at 10.30 pm local time, it did not deter ardent cricket zealots to turn out with their friends and turn up the decibel with every Sehwag stroke that kissed the grass in the sweltering Kochi stadium.
Crowds poured in early in the day to watch the unleashed genius of Virender Sehwag along with the resuscitated class in Tendulkar as India set out to bat. While the former reached his swashbuckling century after 30 ODIs eliciting cheers and whistles from youngsters, the latter disappointed masses whose verbosity turned to momentary sighs and 'oh-nos'; only to be replaced by cheers and unstinted support for Rahul 'the wall' Dravid, as he went onto his century, being all along the succour for Team India.
With a steady score and a very tired Pakistan coming onto the field, here in Atlanta folks were back from their midnight snack and smoke to witness Sachin's masterly bowling. As we snagged our first ODI victory, patrons at the screening moved from elation to heated debates on the efficacy of Sourav Ganguly, the vicissitudes of Sachin's brilliance, the bullish ardour of Sehwag's strokes and the sidelined genius of Dravid.
The cricket screening, organised by India Sports is popular in not just this area code but also beyond. Advertised heavily on the Internet and otherwise, the event was open to all cricket fans, irrespective of their nationality. With tickets ranging from a single match pass at $10 to an all-event pass at $40, it offered an exciting interlude to many looking for healthy, social activity with family and friends.
India Sports and Recreation Center, the primary organizer of the event has been active in promoting and fostering recreational activities for the growing community of Indians in metro Atlanta for the last few years. Indo-Pak cricket matches have been extremely popular in the past, especially during the World up Series and cricket remains the overriding factor amongst all sporting events, the organizers claimed.
"We had more than 280 people for the Indo-Pak matches last time. There were many people who were willing to watch the match sitting on the floor, when the seating limit was exhausted", said Jairam Yerramilli, the man behind India Sports. Although he was happy with both the patronage and the returns garnered by the India-Pakistan matches and cricket in general, he lamented the fact that the community isn't as active in sports and recreation as it should be, given the numbers and the financial muscle of the Diaspora here. "We are somehow averse to the concept of enjoying life, taking each day as it comes. It would be good if one could let go and participate in community sports and other recreational activities with friends", he said.
Although the sports club is open to members and walk-ins on most weekends, it is for special screenings such as these that people turn up in large numbers. Among other activities, the club has play equipment for ping pong, billiards etc which is open to members for an annual/monthly fee. Attractions such as Indian TV channels, Indian newspapers and magazines as also a lounge catering to desi taste buds go a long way in constituting the complete 'Indian' experience.
For a nation that follows cricket with as much vigour as is possible, this screening was more than a hard day's rest earned through scintillating victory over our west side story. It was a window into the life back home, mirrored passionately in the faces of all of us watching the match, waiting for a superlative snatch. Yes, it was poetic.