Packed into the West Pavilion stand with throngs of people seated on red plastic chairs and tons of others filling up the aisle, I saw theater at its finest. There were 22 characters on the field trying their best to stay alive on a journey that most remember with pain and anguish. But there were way more in the stands, invested deeply in the actions of these men on the field, who brought to life a tremendous game.
The West Pavilion stand at the Sardar Patel stadium in Motera has little going for it on first glance – it is dark, muggy and cramped. The seats are hard to sit on and, as the guy in front of me found out, are incapable of withstanding heavy set men. All this can be forgiven, or rather forgotten, once the drama on the field starts. ODI cricket does itself no favors with inconsequential bouts (as India-Sri Lanka ties have painstakingly proved) but this time, oh boy this time, we finally had a game that mattered.
Clearly, we could not afford to lose. Losing would mean that the greatest one day cricketer would leave without the format’s ultimate prize. We could not lose. This is for Sachin. This is for India. In that order. Imagine 50,000 people in the stadium channeling that energy, imagine all your personal demons popping up simultaneously, imagine a team in yellow that’s been there and done that. Imagine. How did the men in blue not crack?
I would like to think that we in the crowd helped. We sang the national anthem with a pride that made ‘Jaya he!’ reverberate all around Motera’s concrete cauldron of heat. Uncles forced to lead dignified, routine lives on the outside bent their backs and swiveled their hips to the DJ’s tracks, cheering and pumping up the more self-conscious sections. The gyrating uncles did not give up even when smacked with cups and signs by those whose views they were blocking with their moves. Dot balls were cheered like they were wickets and wickets like they were match winning boundaries. The Aussies’ DRS review against Sehwag with the DJ playing pounding heart beat sounds in the background was intense. The consensus from the crowd being “Out! Not out! Edged! It swung! Cheaters!” only to end in hugs of joy when the screen screamed what we wanted to see.
I need you to imagine the pressure once more. This time add a ‘special person’ to the mix, maybe a little master, a cherubic genius who you’re trying to win this game for. Now add a left arm fast bowler who you cannot read, a set southpaw who has run himself out and a captain who has smacked the ball into the hands of the Aussie captain-in-waiting. Imagine the dust and the heat of Motera – the stifling heat. How does a man not crack under that?
It was the 39th over and a close-up of Yuvraj’s face, tortured by fear, was shown on the big screen. He walked over to Raina before the last ball of that over. I don’t know what they said to each other but the next ball he smacked Tait over point for four.
The crowd that had gone in to silent prayer mode found its voice again when the uppish cut from Yuvraj’s blade beat the third man fielder. Chants of “Ganpati Bappa Moriya!” slowly increased in volume, interspersed with shouts of “LOSER!” whenever the Aussies gave lip to the batsmen. The gap between the runs required and the balls left grew and Raina put the minds of the fans and Yuvraj at ease when he welcomed Brett Lee back with a muscled loft over long-on. Lee, the top of his right eye bandaged, watched the ball disappear into the crowd. This was not subtle theater – the symbolism and the clubbed hits drove the message home. The Aussies, prone to being invincible, had been defeated.
A searing cover drive for four. Yuvraj, on his knees, roaring into the night.