Sunday, May 22, 2011

My First Cricket Match

A few days before returning to India I received a note from friends indicating that they were planning to attend the Delhi Daredevils' season finale and wanted to know if we wanted in. The Daredevils are Delhi's representation in cricket's Indian Premiere League (IPL). Even though we returned from the US just a day before, "attend a cricket match" was on the India "to do" list. It seemed an opportune time to take them up on the offer and finally get to a match. Plus, I wasn't sure there'd be many more opportunities.

IPL is a more "commerical" variety of cricket and lasts for 20 overs (which typically takes about three hours to complete). This format is much more viewer-friendly than the longer 50 over format of One Day Internationals (ODI) favored by the latest world cup won by India and much, much more viewer-friendly than the five day test matches favored by the staunchest cricket traditionalists. Having only basic understanding of the rules and having watched only a few ODI's, I can say that the 20/20 version seems fast, hurried, and a little too full of offense. I can understand where people that grew up watching the game might not like the format. ESPN published this article titled "Why You Should Care About Cricket" and I recently heard the author, Wright Thompson, on one of Bill Simmons' podcasts basically pose the question, "how would you feel if the NFL suddenly decided to shorten their games to fifteen minutes?" You get the point.

Having not checked the standings, I didn't realize tonight's game between Delhi and the Pune Warriors of India was actually a battle to see who wouldn't finish in last place in the league. Unlike soccer's English Premier League (EPL) where the lowest finishers are sent to a lower league, there is no risk of relegation in the IPL, which would have made the stakes higher than just playing for the pride of not finishing last.

Not cheap, even by American ticket standards, I was surprised that our Rs. 1750 (around $40) entrance only granted access to a general admission section in the northwest stands of the Feroz Shah Kotla cricket grounds. We arrived just as the match started and couldn't find seats (at least with a view) on the ground level. We were told there were seats in the upper deck, so we climbed to the top of the stadium and found a fairly empty section. The only down side was that we couldn't see the entire boundary (this is a little like when you're at a baseball game and can't see the entire outfield from your seat). The only other ticket options were Rs. 17,500 or Rs. 25,000. Do the math based on the conversion rate implied by my Rs. 1750 ticket and you can understand why we went with the general admission option.

The stadium was dressed up for the IPL though still wasn't in the best condition. I remarked to the wife upon leaving, "the stadium was kind of a piece of shit." She was more diplomatic, saying it was probably as nice as most minor league baseball stadiums (though in the 10+ years I've known her I've never known her to attend minor league baseball so I wasn't exactly sure what prompted the comparison). Regardless, it had a field, it had seats, so there's really not too much to complain about seeing as how it was my first live sporting event in India (at least the first one that required a ticket).

The stadium aesthetics notwithstanding, the atmosphere within was extremely festive and, not surprisingly, the crowd was pro-Delhi. Even with the pro-Delhi sentiment, I get the general sense with the IPL that people follow the players more than the teams. After all, it's a made-for-TV two-month season and only in its fourth year of existence. It's a great way for cricket's stars to get a little more visibility and also earn a little extra money (the best cricketers make a lot of money; however, cricket isn't nearly as monetized as other sports so outside the Sachin Tendulkar's and MS Dhoni's of the world, you don't see nearly as many astronomical salaries as you might in the EPL or many of America's major sports leagues). Much like other sporting events, there were cheerleaders that would dance on platforms between overs and when boundaries were scored. There was also advertising on the field. The coolest part of the on-field advertising is that it's stretched in real-life so that it appears correctly based on the angle of the camera on television. In other words, the Citibank logo was much taller and skinnier in person than it appears to the average television viewer. I wish I had gotten a decent picture, but being a little too much of a rule follower, I took the "no cameras allowed" notice a little too seriously. Very few others did.

About midway through the Daredevils innings (i.e., their set of 20 overs), it started to sprinkle. This wasn't that surprising since it was pouring down rain as we left Gurgaon to head to the match. What was surprising was that I, even though I knew it was pouring earlier, though enough to bring a rain coat yet still decide to leave it in the car. With sprinkles, not such a big deal. With the showers that followed, not so bright. Thankfully, there was enough cover for those that wanted it. However, since much of the stadium was general admission, as soon as the rain would slow, the masses would race down for the best seats. As soon as the rain came back, they'd vacate as quickly as they had left.

After 45 minutes of waiting out the rain entertained by those fans dancing in the rain with the Indian shoulder bob (it's one of sports greatest celebratory dances, famous round the world, or at least famous in countries where cricket is played), we decided to call it quits. The rain was slowing but the flashes of lightning made sitting in a grandstand, even though it was primarily concrete, not the best of ideas. At least we had seen a little bit of action but, as our friend Jay pointed out, even if it stopped raining we were probably another hour away from seeing any additional action. As a result, we made our way for the exit turnstiles. Since we were leaving before the game was official, we were forced to show our tickets, which seemed a slow process to exit the stadium and a process you'd hope they would abandon in the event of an emergency.

On the bright side, we made the right decision. Shortly after leaving, the match was called on account of the weather and we were able to quickly move away from the stadium. On the down side, since there was no result, I now live in a region forced to lay claim to the IPL's cellar dwelling franchise.

No comments:

Post a Comment