“From our broadcasting box you can’t see any grass at all. It is simply a carpet of humanity.” – Richie Benaud
I don’t remember a time when I was not fascinated by a test match. Cricket in it’s other forms, yes. Vacillating when it came to One Day Internationals, a resolute no when it came to 20-20s. But a test match played between 2 of the best internationally matched teams ? Count me in. Hell, as a kid aged 9, I would even follow the fortunes of Ranji teams in India and first class matches in England on the back pages of the dailies.
Testing a player’s grit, stamina and temperament, their ability to break down a mammoth 5 day affair into a couple of hours at a time, drawing out fascinating battles between bat and ball, these are all characteristics that test matches have dished out in droves over the years, inadvertently creating true classics of the sport. And these are oddly, the same things that are in short supply in the other formats. So it was no surprise, that when a dear friend called me up, to ask if I was interested in watching the 2nd day of the India v/s Australia test match at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium at Bangalore, early March of 2017, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.
I have some memories of an attempt to watch a test match earlier. That was a decade and a half ago, as a freshman in my engineering college. A classmate had an extra pair of passes to watch India take on the West Indies at the Wankhede in Mumbai on a rain-drenched weekend. On the 4th day of the test match, I distinctly remember traveling for more than 2 hours and setting my foot in the Garware pavilion end’s stands, only to discover that the match had already been wrapped up some time ago.
This time though, we arrived right on time. India, after having ignominiously lost the opener at Pune, had put in another dismal performance with the bat. A score of 189 had left even the pundits wondering whether this was the same team that had beaten South Africa and England so emphatically in the last 6 months. But nobody could have foreseen the fascinating duel that lay ahead.
Here, I have to put forth a few observations about watching a match from the stands, as compared to watching one on television.
There is an interaction between the spectators and the players, that is not immediately evident on a digital screen. Whether it is booing the opposition, or rooting for the home team, one can see the immediate effect the crowd’s loyalties have, on the playing teams.
It is a matter of give-and-take as well, because, in a session that leans towards sopor, a Virat Kohli can whip up enthusiasm with his gestures and ask the crowds to get going. At which point, the crowds, roaring, infuse an amount of energy that lifts drooping shoulders and spirits, and veritably the ball, the over and the session itself. Things that I never realized all these years, from television. Heck, at one point, Kohli even introduced a change in bowling just as Ravichandran Ashwin was getting ready to bowl his next over, just because the crowds started chanting Ravindra Jadeja’s name. This dynamism has to be witnessed first-hand, to appreciate the nuances that test match presents to the crowds, who are treated as much a part of the game, as the players themselves.
Then there is the rhythmic, thunderous beat that accompanies a bowler as he runs in to deliver. Ball after ball, in anticipation of a something that they hope would materialize, the spectators keep up the tempo. Like the background score accompanying a cinematic sequence.
Exchanges between spectators and the players, who are demi-gods in India, are as much a matter of pride and inspiration, as a matter of mirth and much joy. A kid no older than 5 or 6, shouted himself hoarse for every player that came to field near the boundary ropes. Only one, KL Rahul managed to hear the kid and looked up, and that acknowledgement, lent itself into a great cheer that rang through the stands for the kid. A dose of inspiration for the kid, who, you never know, could wield the armor for his country some day.
As is wont to happen, we also overheard a bit of backyard punditry on the game. One that veered from the correct line and length to bowl to paeans on how cricketers from a previous generation would have coped with the situation.
As the hours ticked by, the Indian bowlers put up a great spell of bowling to restrict the Australian batsmen, but didn’t take too many wickets. In a match where fortunes swung a lot, not much happened on a Sunday when my friend and me happened to witness one of our favorite sports, live. But as we were to introspect in the days to come, our team began to claw their way back into the match and series on that very day. Us, with the players and the rest of the spectators, had played no small part in keeping the spirit of test cricket alive.
Ball by ball, over by over and session by session, as the cricketers toiled away, we had realized what a great microcosm of life, a test match was.
The featured image on this blog post belongs to a wonderful photograph, shared on Getty images and here: http://www.thecricketmonthly.com/story/1083469/the-end-over-jitters
A much better account of the test match we witnessed, can be found here: http://www.cricbuzz.com/cricket-news/93110/a-day-for-the-ages-at-chinnaswamy