I hardly follow cricket (or any sport, really) and don't quite understand the intricacies of some of the rules. From what I can tell, many of the players seem to spend a lot of time standing around doing nothing. But a few years ago, when IPL fever was at a high, I got tickets to a match between the Mumbai Indians and the Kolkata Knight Riders at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
(photo by G. Patkar)
Approaching the stadium that day, it was impossible not to feel the excitement thrumming through the air. Hawkers outside the stadium were selling t-shirts, miniature bats, whistles, caps and more. The Arabian Sea itself seemed eager to hop the wall and trickle in over Marine Drive. I stopped at Pizza By The Bay for pizza and beer before the match and the energy was electric.
Other people's excitement almost always rubs off on me, but in that little restaurant by the sea, even the most stoic and cynical of us all would have found herself chugging beer and cheering -for everything. My allegiances were not deeply with either team but the thrill of being there was enough to want to celebrate.
I wore a Kolkata Knight Riders t-shirt. I had recently been in Kolkata and I thought the purple was flattering against my skin. A journalist approached me with her cameraman and said she wanted to interview me for a live show about the match. Flattered because I thought the camera always picks up on the pretty people in the audience at sporting events, I agreed easily.
"You're the only one here in a Knight Riders shirt! Can you sing their anthem for us?" she yelled into her microphone over the din of the stadium.
"I don't know their anthem, sorry," I said. I guess it had nothing to do with my face and everything to do with my purple shirt in the midst of a sea of Mumbai Indians supporters.
"What kind of fan are you?" she screamed.
"What?" I said.
"This is Mumbai! Why are you supporting the Kolkata Knight Riders?" she hollered. Then she chanted, "Mumbai! Mumbai!" in an attempt to get others around us also chanting for her live feed. Fair enough. But I was not about to have thousands of angry fans descend on me for a sport I did not feel that strongly about. So I reached into my purse and pulled out a Mumbai Indians t-shirt.
"I support both," I said. "I'm half-Maharashtrian and half-Bengali so I'll put this shirt on top depending on how the match goes."
The journalist frowned at me and hissed at her cameraman to "Cut! cut! This won't do," and went off in a huff.
I don't remember the details of the match; I don't even remember who won. But I do vividly remember the excitement. Recently, I attended my first baseball game (the die-hard fans I was with did not like me calling it a match). It was the Atlanta Braves vs. Someone (again, my memory for sports-related details is not good) and I had the opportunity to attend in Atlanta, Georgia.
I felt the same excitement, I drank similar lukewarm beer, and I waved around a foam finger. There's a delightful uniformity to be found among sports fans around the world - maybe not the fancy tennis fans that, I'm told, drink champagne and eat strawberries at Wimbledon - and no matter what they tell you, you don't have to pick a side to enjoy the game.