| Indian supporters wave the Tricolour during the semifinal against Kenya on Thursday. (AFP)
The Thursday thriller — a World Cup semifinal involving Durban darlings India and giant-killing Kenya under thundershower threat — meant different strokes for different folks at Kingsmead.
For some in the sanitised VIP lounge, it could have been anyplace, anytime; just another chance to be all dressed up and have somewhere to go.
A cursory look revealed a section in the elite gathering with variously-attired backs turned firmly on the on-pitch action, others stealing an occasional glance at the Sachin-Sourav partnership, and only a few glued to the cricket. Careful whispers and coiffured gestures is the name of the game in the air-conditioned star chamber. Thankfully, the carefree and the cacophonous rule, out on the Kingsmead greens overrun by Tricolours.
The Bharat Army — with around 30 in Gandhi topis, tricolour T-shirts and Sachin posters (“Durban was Gandhi’s town before Tendulkar made it his own, maan”, is the explanation) — is raising a din that could get dead men running. “Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega”.... “We will rock you, Kenya”... “Go for it, India”... and, of course, “Hoo, haa, Tendulkar, say, hoo-ha Tendulkar”...
No Indians, no Cup
This is fast becoming the anthem for all organisers of cricketing events, worldwide. World Cup ’99 in England was a case in point, with Asians (read: many Indians, some Pakistanis, a few Bangladeshis) filling up the stands and raising the decibel. It’s no different here in South Africa.
Ground reality check: The refusal of St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, to fill up for the first semifinal between Australia and Sri Lanka. There were hardly 5,000 spectators to watch Gilchrist and Hayden go out to bat. By the time Brett Lee started steaming in, the crowd count had crept up to around 6,000 less than the 19,000 capacity. And those making up the numbers were, mostly, Indians rooting for the Lankans!
Virtual reality check: Forty-five per cent of the 800 million combined hits on cricketnext.com (the Mumbai-based official Internet partner of the ICC for CWC 2003) and cricketworldcup.com (the URL created for the tourney) have originated from India, and another 35 per cent from Asian — again, overwhelmingly India — homes in the US. Webcasting, too, has been a hit among Indians settled in the US and denied a taste of free, live action from the Proteas pitches.
Pegged at $149 for the complete Cup or $19 per big match, it’s been kept online by the “terrific response” from Indians in America, confirms Sanjay Jha of cricketnext, heading a 20-member Cup-on-the-click team. There is pitch action, close to 60 interviews and much more for the whole wide web world. So, here’s another piece of the Cup of, by, for India.
Remember Sunil Manohar Gavaskar raising his bat triumphantly while taking his 20th run in front of 2,000 spectators in an inconsequential World Cup ’79 tie against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford, for no apparent reason' Well, whether you do or you don’t, now hear it from the man the Little Master’s willow was waved at.
“I was driving the Indian team around and had become good friends with Venkat, Chandra, Bedi and Gavaskar, who was going through a poor patch. So, just before dropping them off for the Sri Lanka match, I bet Gavaskar he wouldn’t cross 20. He took me on, promising to pay me 2 pounds if he didn’t, while I would pay him 10 pence for every run he scored over 20. While running for his 20th run, Gavaskar was waving his bat at me and no knew why. Luckily he didn’t score too many and I lost only 7 pence,” laughs Steward Gibson, the 51-year-old blonde Brit who works 250 days a year — driving music groups (he’s done it all, from Rolling Stones to Spice Girls) — to fund 100 days of ‘sports’ travel around the globe.
This Tottenham Hotspur fan has been to every soccer World Cup since 1982 and is now tracking his third cricket World Cup. “For me, Gavaskar was the ultimate batsman (‘I can never forget the 221 he scored at the Oval’) and Sachin looks like just another Gavaskar who plays more strokes,” says Gibson, who also recounts how Chandra, “a magic bowler and compulsive gambler” would keep slipping chits to him whenever he would be fielding on the boundary line, to place his next bet.
“It was all good fun, no match-fixing there, sir,” smiles the Ian Botham devotee who found David Beckham “not the brightest chap around” when he would be driving the Spice Girls and the Manchester United star, then dating Posh, would often turn up for concerts straight from a game. The sports freak who loves Indians “because they are so crazy about their cricket”, even took two hours off from driving Miss Britney Spears just to catch Baichung Bhutia in action for Bury versus Cardiff, two seasons ago, when he heard “a lad from the hills of east India was playing soccer in England”.
And you thought Calcuttans were sports-crazy!