I was at the Feroze Shah Kotla to catch the third day of the just-concluded first Test of the India-Pakistan series. I couldn’t believe it. I was watching a live match after a gap of 24 years! I was so excited that I even went to the salon for a special shave the day before. Subhas, the young chap trimming my beard, was feverish with excitement. He was constantly talking and peppering the conversation with his ‘expert comments’. “Sir, the morning hours are crucial for us. If they stay on the ground they will make a big total tomorrow.” All the while, the match played on the small TV set in one corner of the shop.
When I reached the venue the next day, I discovered that the parking space was quite a distance away. As I walked towards the stadium, I noticed the ‘pilgrims’. A young couple, who looked like they hadn’t managed to get tickets, was quarrelling outside the grounds. “I got late because of you.” “No, you.” “You.” “No, you!”
It was a perfect Delhi winter morning. Vendors had mushroomed all over the place. While some sold tricolours, others, armed with a brush and pots of paint, were ‘tri-colouring’ the fans. The flag came for Rs 40. I forgot to find out about the colours.
I finally got past the crazy crowds and into the press enclave. The Indian team was all out and the crowds were waiting impatiently for the players to return to the field. And then, almost suddenly, the match began. But was it inconvenient! If your eyes were trained on the pitch, you missed the action on the outfield. If someone next to you cheered, you got distracted. And most importantly, there was no action replay — the screens were on the other side of the ground.
Twenty-four years ago, I was at an India-West Indies one-dayer in Srinagar. The Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium was much smaller than Feroze Shah Kotla. But it was the atmosphere that was vastly different. The crowd, for one, was rooting for the Caribbeans. India lost that match by 10 wickets. I remember reading in one of the papers that Kapil Dev had said that under his captaincy, he would never play any match in Kashmir again.
Twenty-four years later in Delhi, I left during the lunch break. I didn’t want to stay. The same person who stays glued to the TV set for hours altogether when a match is on, who goes through re-runs late into the night, didn’t want to stay longer.
I guess in the intervening two decades, I have become enslaved to technology. And quite happily at that too. And that is all the playing field I need.