India started off this cricket world cup, like many other tournaments in the recent past, as favorites to win it. Some may say that this was guided not by the talent or form of the team but more by the sheer financial muscle of the Indian cricket board and consequently the media hype surrounding all its activities. Whatever be the reason, India have been the favorites and playing at home, with this being the last world cup the great Sachin would play, the really tall batting order (at least on paper), and of course the spin friendly subcontinent tracks have all been reasons used to justify India's expected fortunes in this tournament.
So far, the progress of the team has been quite steady in the tournament, helped, in no little means, by the way the tournament has been structured and the way India's matches have been scheduled. India has already played the minnows and beat them (not too comprehensively though, raising a few eyebrows enroute) and tied a game with another big contender, the set-on-revival-course England. Almost through to the next stage (pre-ordained of course given the format of the tournament), India met South Africa at Nagpur on Saturday, March 12 in a game that was supposed to be the first acid test of a team that has, in such a matter-of-fact manner, put its claims on being world champions.
This was the background with which I and a few colleagues from office were viewing the upcoming match. Having already made our train reservations to Nagpur, we were frantically looking out for tickets for the match. Things turned to desperation and we turned to desperate measures, buying tickets at 6X premium and actually feeling pleased about it. Slight goof-ups and certain presumptions also meant that we didn't have confirmed train tickets while coming back. Expecting the wait-listed tickets (wait list 6 onwards) to get confirmed with time, we were quite gung-ho about the entire idea of the weekend trip to Nagpur.
And it was time as the whole lot of us found ourselves at the CST station of Mumbai on Friday evening, ready to set off for the Orange city. The start of the journey itself was fraught with events that were quite unexpected. The boss had got extra tickets and one of us had latched on to it, getting last minute wait-listed tickets and the rest of it. Having reached the platform with all of us, he realized at the last moment that the boss's train was re-scheduled and he was not sure if he would make it and if he didn't make it, so wouldn't our guy's match tickets that were with the boss.
Our guy was of the hardened material, though and he took the plunge and got into the train. It was real good that he did, for though the boss didn't manage to come, he ensured the tickets came through and what an extra-ordinary turn of events this resulted in for him and for the rest of us!
As we touched base at Nagpur station amidst the early morning cool breeze, the signs were all there and it couldn't have started any better. Thanks to one of us, who had arranged for a guest house, we were soon refreshed, fed, and ready to take the stadium on. A party shop in Bandra had completed our wardrobe and get-up and we were all set with the tricolor painted on our faces, glowing glares, multi colored and shaped wigs, etc. We had bought Indian flags on the way and even had a couple of posters enticing ESPN and Star to cover us during their broadcast.
Entry into the stadium and our stand was smooth considering the early start we were able to manage from the guest house. The stand itself was awesomeness personified, right behind the bowler's arm and at reasonable altitude, arguably the best place from which one can watch live cricketing action. And what action it turned out to be! It just seemed to get better and better and we were witness to some brilliant batting by India, another masterful century by the little master, some hard hitting by Sehwag.
The peak was built up over such a long time and at such a pace that when the fall came, it hit us real hard. Right from the moment we had got hold of match tickets till the time Sachin was at the crease, things were going in only one direction...up. And down it came after that but how! 29 runs - 9 wickets...the last over by Ashish Nehra...the heart-breaking loss...
As if this was not enough, we realized that the tickets we were counting on to get confirmed did exactly the opposite of our expectations. With the e-ticket automatically canceling itself, we were left without any tickets for our journey back. With our hearts heavy after the Indian defeat, we did not want to spend any more time in Nagpur than necessary and decided as one that it will be better to try getting back to Mumbai as early as possible instead of trying to figure out some other options that will add to the time and more importantly, the money.
So it was that except for the lucky colleague (who, by the way, won a contest in mid-innings, getting a tee and goodie bag for it, got himself snapped with South African fans of the fairer variety, and finally even came on TV when despite all our efforts, we didn't) of ours, we found ourselves in the sleeper coach of the train begging people to let us sit down for a bit. Our friend, of course, got to fly back on a cheap ticket even though he did not even have a wait-listed ticket to begin with...all backed by one of the weirdest stretches of good fortune I have ever seen.
By the time we reached Mumbai, we were completely done in by the heat, dust, discomfort, and all associated perils of the journey back. The only thing we did not feel was boredom, thanks to the amazing gang we befriended on the train who not only happily shared their seats with us but also chatted and played with us all the way through.
Battered and hardened, as we made our ways to our respective homes with drooping shoulders and hoarse voices (what with all the Saccccchhhhiiiin....Sachin shouting), I thought of the team that was played out to be invincible before the tournament started and which was considered so vulnerable now with every day, every match bringing out some new chink in the armor. We will all get back to work the next day I thought, shrugging off the travails of the Nagpur trip slowly and surely. Will the Indian team also get over the pedestals they have been placed on and then thrown out of, all of it in such a hurry? Will they get back to believing in themselves and not the hype surrounding them? Will they stop being blind to their faults and finish wallowing in the make-believe world their fans would want them to be a part of? Will the day we were just witness to turn out into being just another day for the Team in Blue or will it be the day that made a difference...ye sab dekhenge hum log!
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