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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Holland hosted an India-Pak cricket game (Part 1)

The cricket World Cup starts within the next 48 hours. Similar to the football World Cup and the Olympics, this event also comes around only once in four years. So you can imagine the excitement in the cricketing fraternity right now.

As if this once-in-four-years anticipation is not enough, this time it is being hosted in the Indian sub-continent. For security reasons, Pakistan is not a hosting country, so it is going to be India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who will have the honours of hosting the tournament.

The excitement and the hype right now, at least on internet sites and forums, have reached crescendo level. Although I am not physically in India right now, I can only imagine how the mood must be in that cricket-crazy country, especially as it is hosting the tournament and is one of the hot favorites to win it.

But I am not going to write about the World Cup here. There is SO much being written about it, it has reached saturation point. Everybody is suddenly a cricket “expert” making predictions, everybody is going nostalgic about his/her World Cup experiences. And while it all makes for a reasonable read – and I do have my share of World Cup memories - I do not want to add more noise to what is already out there. At least not on my blog.

What the cricket World Cup has however done is to rekindle certain memories in my mind about some personal experiences I’ve had at a cricket ground, here in Holland. These memories have less to do with cricket and more to do with me being the guy who somehow gets himself into situations that either nobody else gets into or other people easily get out of. :-)

I will keep the cricket-related aspects of the narrative to a minimum because I think it may not interest many here. (not that the non-cricket related aspects will interest many but, as is my wont, I will ramble on anyway).

It was the 21st of August 2004. India and Pakistan were scheduled to play a one-day international game. Not in their home countries but at a neutral venue.

Amstelveen, Holland.

Now, anybody who knows anything about India-Pakistan rivalry and cricket as a religion in both countries will know that no game between these two countries is “just another game”. The passion of fans, and players too, reaches a different level altogether and the bragging rights are more cherished than many other trophies in the game.

Besides, normal cricketing ties between the two countries had only just resumed a few months earlier, after a hiatus of almost five years, following the war in Kargil, Kashmir in May 1999. So cricket fans were even more eager than ever to lap up any cricket between these two countries.

Fans had come from as far off as the US. As one of them, who got friendly with me, told me, where else would he get a chance to see an India-Pakistan game? Not in the US (maybe in the future, but not at that time). There were fans from all over Europe, from Spain to France to Poland. Almost all Indian or Pakistani-origin, of course.

It was quite a sell-out that day in Amstelveen, much to the surprise of the KNCB, the Dutch organization that runs cricket in the country and responsible for running this event. I could see them struggling at times to cope with the crowds – I am sure they had not anticipated this level of popularity for a cricket event in Holland. I read later that they were very happy with the event because it had made them a lot of money. Good for them.

As for me, I was so excited, I took the day off from work – I just had to be there at the game. I had booked a ticket online, making sure I got one of the best seats in the house, in line with the stumps and almost at touching distance of a player if he were to cross over the rope. It also happened to be right next to the media box. Although I did not realize it at the time, this would turn out to be a hugely “strategic” seating arrangement for me. Though the ticket did cost me an arm and a leg, I did not think twice about it then.

And it turned out to be totally worth it. I suddenly found that being next to the media box meant that I had access to various celebrities who would pop in and out of the media box for a break or for a snack or so. In India it would have been unthinkable but in Holland, the security was not strict at all. The entire atmosphere was very casual and festive. The Dutch are basically fun people and, I think, though they were outnumbered 9 to 1 on that day, those who were there were just happy to soak in the atmosphere very unlike a football match that they must be so much more used to.

Anyway, I got to meet and chat with the media team, including Farokh Engineer, Kapil Dev, Barry Richards, Sanjay Manjrekar, Arun Lal, Sivaramakrishnan, Rameez Raja, Michael Slater and even Mandira Bedi. It was a lot of fun, especially because they were also extremely relaxed.

I got to take pictures with them (thanks to a digital camera I had borrowed a day earlier from a friend of mine – am SO thankful to him for lending it to me). A couple of days later I got to take some pictures with some then-current cricketers, including Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif, Balaji, McGrath, Gillespie and others but that is another, less interesting, story because it was just pictures and nothing else. I’d rather have a chat with somebody than have just a picture taken.

Anyway, a funny thing happened at the ground. Probably as a result of my “strategic” positioning AND my grey hair (lending a totally misleading impression of wisdom) AND the fact that I had a laptop with me (yes, I had to drop in at work first to finish something before heading for the game), I was mistaken for a knowledgeable person (and possibly even a media-person) myself.

So I found myself being interviewed by NRC Handelsblad, a reputed, somewhat “high-brow”, newspaper in Holland. They carried a half-page story on the cricket match the next day and, typical of NRC, “positioned” the match in the context of India-Pakistan relations.

I was also interviewed by the national Dutch TV channel. It was not planned, I was just picked out of the crowd (the grey hair may have helped ;-) ) and a mike thrust in my face. It was about 2-3 minutes (longer than I thought!).I was mainly asked about what an India-Pakistan game meant to me.

I remember saying that it meant a lot to me in the context of furthering relations between the two countries and was therefore more than just a cricket match to me. I intentionally wanted to underplay the enmity/rivalry side of the relationship that Western hawks are so keen to project about India-Pakistan. I did say that, though there is intense rivalry between the two countries, there is a lot in common too and cricket, as one of those common elements, is an excellent medium to build a relationship from.

I was also interviewed by a BBC radio channel representative – maybe their Asian network, I am not sure. The guy, typically (BBC after all!), asked me questions about the Dutch cricket structure, the clubs and league system (similar questions to what Anil Kumble had asked me way back in 1996 when I’d met him in Holland). I don’t think this particular interview went too well – anyway I never got to listen to it though the guy did tell me when it would air.

This was all a load of fun – I would never have had these experiences in India, for sure. It is these things more than what actually happens on the cricket field itself that make a visit to a ground worthwhile.

And this was just at the start of the day. As the day progressed, I had other experiences, whether trying to get something for lunch or celebrating during and after the match.

To prevent this post from becoming one long, unreadable post I am going to split this story into three parts so that I can then have three, relatively short, unreadable posts. :-)

So here was the first of those, with two more to come. Watch this space.


Shilpi Bose said...

"I was also interviewed by the national Dutch TV channel." Watching live cricket, chatting with the cricket stars and also being interviewed, I envy you.

raja said...

Let's just say it was one of those days when at least SOMETHING happened in my otherwise extremely uneventful life. :-)