India finally set their ODI record straight at Wankhede. As far as I could remember, after the memorable Titan Cup win and the one–off match against SA in the 96-97 season Wankhede has proved to be a graveyard for the Indian team when it came to ODI matches. The added security measures made watching the match anything but a memorable experience. Indian victories could have proved to be a balm on these discomforts but even they were hard to come by except the one victory against Bangladesh in 1998 where I’m sure the stadium did not overflow with spectators. (Two reasons: Opponents were Bangladesh and the torturous May heat!)

But seeing the second innings on TV on Monday 28th November brought back tons of memories and I started missing Wankhede all over again!

  • The long queues (to get into the stadium) that begin at 9.00 in the morning; when the stadium gates are slated to open at 12.30.
  • The colourful crowd dressed in their sporty best
  • The huge Indian flags flowing all along
  • Little flags painted on cheeks and hands
  • Young little tots on their way to experience their first match live at the stadium, all excited and lost
  • Teenage girls screaming and yelling to catch a glimpse of their cricket heroes
  • Despite seeing them several times the excitement to catch the cricketers in flesh and blood
  • The mad rush to get the best of the seats (Seat numbers rarely matter in any of the stands except the MCA Pavilion and Garware)
  • The frenzy to get hold of all the water bags and eateries cause there won’t be a break or a chance to get out once the match starts
  • The loud cheers that welcome the two captains for the toss
  • The never ending wait between the toss and match to start
  • The discussions across age-groups; almost like a pre-match analysis
  • The deafening cheer to mark the start of the match when the bowler comes in to bowl the first ball
  • The chants for fours and sixers when the Indian batsmen are on a song
  • The sudden silence when the Indian wicket falls and the next moment a loud applause if the opposition batsman has played a fine knock.
    (Yes, the Mumbai crowd has still not lost the spirit to applaud the opposition. I hate the silence that follows a good stroke or a wicket-taking ball from the opponents! Come on cheer a good player and the game!)
  • The outstanding live commentary that is going on, in and around you, trust me you learn a lot of cricket there by listening to the people around. Yes, most of them do know their stuff
  • The hilarious moments when you see people passing themselves off as experts when they don’t even know ABC of cricket! I know it’s sadistic but it’s fun to hear them yap away to glory
  • The fear that you will miss the shot to the boundary or the fall of a wicket because there aren’t any replays at the stadium
  • The thundering roar that marks the arrival of local boy Sachin Tendulkar, ‘Amchya Mumbaicha Mulga’ (Our Mumbai’s Son) to the batting crease. (If Tendulkar is slated to bat one-down or two-down, Wankhede must be the only ground in this country that cheers the fall of the Indian wicket the loudest! Yes, they are human at times and can be partial!)
  • The chant to cheer individual players which goes for e.g.: ‘Dra-vid, Dra-vid (clap along in the beat) and followed by quick three claps, accompanied with loud whistles in the same beat.’ (Drums and dholkis have been banned since the Mumbai blasts, else the beat and sound was phenomenal, you got to witness a fine example of unity in diversity)
  • The Mexican waves splashing across stands and the crowd booing the stands that refuse to show the energy to continue the wave in the same vigor (Garware stand is often the target!)
  • The chanting of ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya’, every time the Indian team is in trouble
  • The entire ground singing ‘Hum Honge Kamyab’, when ever the team needs encouragement
  • The chants and discussions that follow post the match, when everyone is tired yet energetic, relishing every moment of the day ; hoping to see one and all the next year once again to cheer their team and see the best of cricket yet again.

Sigh! It’s noisy, it’s discomforting, it’s maddening, it’s crowded, it’s frightening, but all the moments above make these small complaints look miniscule compared to the tremendous atmosphere at the stadium. One walks in as any other spectator and walks out only as an Indian and a true sports lover (where one learns to appreciate a good play even if it is by the opponents). The one quality that binds one and all coming to see the match. Yes, it’s one of the smallest things of many important ones that makes one proud as an Indian and unites one and all.

Savour the experience for a lifetime and keep visiting again to relive it. I have surely tried it in the last 14 years of watching cricket. I would give anything to be at the stadium rather than watch the match in close comfort at home on TV. The two are simply not comparable!