The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rude awakening after a prolonged dream

Calcutta, March 23: The prayers had been uttered. The blue jerseys had been brought out and worn. The giant flags spanned the widest streets and the giant-screen television sets adorned the pavements. And the replicas were there, replete in gold (leaf) colours. Calcutta did everything it could, save bringing home the real thing.

That was in the morning.

The match began and, as it appeared that the Cup was heading towards Aussie lips, the prayers changed colour. From a pale blue (the colour of the Indian jersey), it changed to a heavy black (the colour the sky would have to take to enforce a weather-driven disruption).

As 11 Indian players battled it out in Johannesburg, the city knew what it was like to swing from one end of the emotion-pendulum to another. From being confident about an Indian win (before the match began) to despair as the Aussies butchered every Indian bowler in sight to hope (of a come-back-from-the-brink disruption and living to fight another day), the city went through the whole gamut of emotions.

The day, however, began more confidently. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee and Sourav Ganguly’s elder brother, Snehasis, kicked it off with a multi-religion prayer session (there were a Hindu priest, a Muslim imam and a Sikh granthi) organised by Calcutta Municipal Corporation borough X chairman and Trinamul Congress councillor Aroop Biswas.

It was held at the same place – New Alipore – where a yajna had started off the city’s World Cup preparations.

A giant-screen television was inaugurated and everyone sat down to watch the match. Those who could afford it wore the Indian jersey (Biswas himself wore no. 24, that worn by Sourav) as a giant replica of the Cup stayed rooted at the traffic island, reminding everyone of what a billion-strong nation was chasing.

The scene was replicated everywhere with smaller screens and humbler replicas. The pavements became smaller versions of the Wanderers –- replete with public address systems to air the commentary -– as an entire city hoped and despaired for Team India.

If the pavements were for watching the match, the space on and along the thoroughfare was reserved for the Team itself. From some valuable road-space at the entrance of the Mohun Bagan slums in north Calcutta to the tram-track divider on S.P. Mukherjee Road, Sachin and Sourav stared out at a cricket-crazy city — perhaps a little bemused at the emotions a cricket match had aroused.

The streets in the morning –- before the belting by Messrs Ponting and Gilchrist –- were full of tricolour-draped cars, honking their way through the saner traffic. From the swish Qualis to the humble autorickshaw, every vehicle on the road followed the route to the nearest television set with single-minded intent.

Post-1 pm, however, you could be forgiven if you thought that the missiles were raining here -– and not Baghdad –- and had driven every sane mind into the homes or, at least, the relative safety of the temporarily-covered pavement.

The prayers continued, first for a win, then for a rain-drenched disruption (the New Alipore brigade even hoped, when it started raining, that Bhole Baba would bridge the gap between the Cup and the lip) and next for a miracle as the sun frowned through on Indian fortunes.

But every prayer failed.

Miracles didn’t happen, especially if you were battling a Lee and a McGrath, Calcuttans learnt the hard way, as they came woke up to reality with the end of the (mis)match.

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