I am not a cricket fan! The husband is a cricket "fan"atic!
In a desperate attempt to get me to "share" the cricket watching experience with him, he tried to bribe me with "Delhi Daredevils Marquee tickets" for yesterday match between Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals. I couldn't exactly be churlish and refuse after he had procured the tickets, so I consented to join him, given that at least the 20-20 matches are finished within 3 hours or so.
Little did I realise that, that time frame works only at home on TV. If you want to watch it at the stadium, you have to get there at least an hour earlier. To reach the stadium you also have to battle mind numbing traffic, crazily numbered gates (Ferozeshah Kotla grounds management - numbers have a sequence or has that concept passed you by?), one ways, thronging crowds.
If you have been daring enough to wait till the last minute to buy a ticket, you also have to battle Delhi's famous non-queues to arrive at the ticket counter, all the while praying that they do not run out before you jostle your turn to the front.
Hence it means leaving from home at least 2-3 hours before the start of the match. Oh and if you have to pick up someone who works on the other side of town, add another hour or so. So that now brings us to 7 hours. Then of course there is the rush to get out of badly managed parking spaces at the end of the match, that can easily add another hour or 2 to your "evening outing" and the drive home through traffic. 8-9 hours! Thats how long it takes to watch a 3 hour match in the stadium. That's a full "working" day for government employees.
Traffic hurdles crossed, you also need to remember that you aren't allowed to take anything inside with you except cell phones, paper money and keys. Pens, paper, water bottles were all duly retained at the multiple checkpoints. If you are coming to the venue from the office. remember to leave your laptop behind. Some people did manage to get cameras and small purses into the venue. But unless you are a famous face, it may not be worth the time wasted at every metal and human detector to explain why you are carrying a purse when expressly instructed not to.
Once we got in though, things improved drastically. The marquee, had an airconditioned inside section which would later serve dinner & dessert. 2 bars and 4 semi-self service refrigerators stocked with Coke products (aerated, water and juice) and Beer.
Beyond this was an open seating area with 3 rows on each side designated for the team owners (home & away). Many of the seats were marked with stickers for sponsor companies and this was being regulated to a decent extent. The DLF hopitality staff was very polite about it all. "Im sorry sir, but this particular area is reserved for SAB TV, you can take your choice from any of the seats which do not have a sticker on them" This did upset (to put it mildly) people who had paid Rs20,000 per ticket for each member of their family, but the staff did try to be as polite about it as they could.
There was a further diferentiator even within this enclosure beyond the owners/sponsor ticket holders/ ticket buyers. Some got blue paper hand bracelet tags, some got pink plastic and some got red leather. All that I could figure was that the red leather bracelets could walk in front of Shilpa, Shamita and Raj get an autograph/photograph/smile, while the others were kept a fair distance away by her personal security. 2 burly rude goras who snarled at even the littlest kids who wanted an autograph. Such behavior was uncalled for, as the crowd within this particular enclosure was quite well mannered for the most part. But maybe the snarling, scared the trouble makers away. There were quite a few Delhiites in the audience who suddenly switched allegiance to Rajasthan just to get Shilpa's attention. Each time Pathan hit a 6, they would spring out of their seat.. First check to see if they had by chance caught her attention and then look back at the grounds and continue their half hearted jig.
For all of that, she herself was pretty obliging towards her fans who were at a distance. Before the match started and during the strategic time out and break, the stalls next to us would suddenly erupt screaming her name and she would turn around and oblide them with a smile and wave. This behavior obviously did not continue once the 1st over of the 2nd half was bowled.
After this the crowd had to content themselves with blowing kisses at the cheerleaders. I read somewhere that 50 of them have been hired 40 South African and 10 Ukrainians on standby. Thackeray's next target anyone?
The cheerleaders closest to us were clearly even less interested in the game than I was. They were normally just sitting on their seats, backing the grounds, having their little conversations in their groups of 3. They knew it was time to do a little jig when the music started to play and when it stopped, they duly climbed down to revert to their conversations.
Coming to the game, there was obviously huge excitement when Karthik and Pathan hit their sixes into the various enclosures. Fortunately unlike baseball, if a spectator catches a ball, he can't keep it, so the scrambles to get ahold of the ball weren't too vicious.
Perspective is sorely lacking when you watch a match at the ground. You have to keep checking the large screens to see if the ball had been stopped before it touched the boundary line. Unless you are following the game really closely, you lose track of who is at bat. In this regard the big screens really help you stay up-to-date.Perspective improves slightly as you climb higher. The stalls had 3 tiers. So I assume the top tiers would have the best overall perspective. Suprisingly, the stadium was completely full. Cricket in India, can draw more crowds than even Big Bazaar's annual sales
Sitting outside in the heat can get quite oppressive in Delhi's summers. So, while it is already hitting 40C during the day, we were fortunate that it at least cools down in the evenings, without the oppressive humidity of Bombay's summers.
Food and drink are complimentary in this particular enclosure (as compared to a minimum 100% mark up on soft drinks and packaged snacks in the stands). The refrigerators were self service although there were bar tenders who would serve you wine, alcohol and beer in appropriate glassware.
There were waiters serving finger foods like kebabs and corn cakes and stuff, but this was only inside, in the bar area. The inside area was divided into 2 horizontally. One half for bar and snacks and the other half for dinner.
Dinner was an average spread that wasn't great tasting food, (don't buy the ticket, hoping to make up the price on the food) but it wasn't terrible either. Chicken biryani (one of the few good things on the menu), chole pulav, chicken curry, paneer curry, grilled fish, potato curry, rotis. A salad table, a fruit table, a dosa counter and 3 types of dessert - a layered chocolate mousse cake, a dryer date and walnut tea cake with custard on the side and moong dal ki hawla.
We did leave after the 8th wicket fell, as there was no chance of a turnaround and because we did not want to get caught in the outgoing rush. It was a good thing that we did, because there was so much barricading on the way out that we had to walk for almost 2 kilometers from our gate to our exit on to the road. Fire and stampede hazard anyone?
Has the experience made me convert? Well, while on the ground I had no choice, I couldnt carry a book or my laptop in, so I had to watch the game in between my people watching and behavior observing. Being in Delhi, the sheer crowd energy can make even a reluctant cricket watcher happy when the team scores a boundary or drops a wicket of the opposition. But will it carry forward? Well, he's watching the Kolkatta KnightRiders vs Deccan Chargers and I'm in the other room at my desk, blogging about it. Enough said. . .
Also published on desicritics.org