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The moment the World Cup schedule was (finally) announced, my children and I knew which game we most wanted to attend. Pakistan was going to play Australia – on a Friday, in our city – and we weren’t going to miss out. For weeks the boys would speak of nothing else, excitedly tracking both teams’ progress through the tournament. Younger son called first dibs on Pakistan, so Australia obviously became his brother’s “all-time favourite”.
There was only one problem. The match was to start at 2pm, while the children’s school, an hour from the stadium, ends at 2.30. Matters came to a head the morning of the match – the boys threatening an all-out revolt unless they get to watch every single ball. So I was forced to write an ingeniously-drafted email to their teachers that cited unspecified yet unavoidable personal circumstances that required me to pick them up early from school. I take pride in the fact that I made it sound like an emergency (which it was, trust me Ms P and Ms S) without uttering a single outright lie.
Affinity, attendance and attire
The children got their first of many lessons in the politics of the subcontinent when it came to choosing what to wear. Older son wanted to wear an Australia jersey, which was obviously fine. When younger son asked for the Pakistan one, I had to sit him down and have an uncomfortable conversation that I had hoped to avoid for another few years. In the end they both settled on wearing their India jerseys (one Virat and the other Rohit, of course).
We were surprised at how full the stadium was for a non-India game. Given the sparse attendance at the other centres, my glass of expectation was at best half-full. Yet we were confronted with a wall of noise immediately upon entering our stand. There wasn’t an empty seat in our stand, nor in any of the other cheaper to mid-range stands.
While the overall ground was easily at 75% capacity, a few stands were embarrassingly empty. The huge Members’ Stand – nominally for the state cricket association members and their guests, but used almost exclusively to bestow patronage – which has the best view of the pitch was less than a quarter full.
Similarly, the sponsors’ and hospitality boxes were virtually empty for a game that held immense cricketing interest but no prestige in attendance. The only other stands that had vacant seats were those out of the reach of all but the richest Indians – it would take a lot for an Indian family to spend Rs. 60,000 (£600) or more on a non-India cricket match. This contrasting attendance spoke of poor judgment in both allocating and pricing match tickets.
The reason behind such massive interest in third-country matches is, of course, the IPL. A comfortable 20% of the crowd was wearing yellow, and the vast majority of those had Glenn Maxwell’s name on the back. Maxwell is the star player of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, and like AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle, a bonafide Bengaluru maga.
Having grown up in an extremely partisan Indian cricketing culture, I still rub my eyes in wonder when I hear an Indian crowd chant a foreign player’s name with genuine love – in this case the rather unimaginative “Maxieee, Maxieee!”.
David Warner also got dollops of affection from the Bangalore crowd, presumably as much for his Indian dance moves on Instagram as for his batting.
The cricketing admiration was reserved for Adam Zampa, the tormentor of Bangalore’s favourite son Virat Kohli; and hearteningly Shaheen Shah Afridi, who has lately been less effective at destroying Indian batsmen’s stumps and so can be applauded safely.
The kids, thankfully, understood none of this and focused on enjoying the game on pure cricketing merit. Their concentration was broken repeatedly – and willingly – by the variety of food on offer in our stand. I have watched international cricket at many grounds in India and abroad, and in matters of food, Bangalore stands head and shoulders above them all.
Earlier this year I watched a Test match in Delhi from an expensive stand, and our lunch was a box containing a soggy sandwich, an insipid, cold samosa and a box of Frooti. In Bangalore, we feasted on dosas with hot sagu, soft thatte idli, three kinds of vada, chicken biriyani, dahi puri, popcorn and kulfi – all freshly prepared on site.
A set of two dosas cost Rs. 100 (£1) and excellent chai and filter coffee were to be had for Rs. 20 (20p) a cup. It is a matter of immense joy for me that the authorities haven’t succumbed to the temptation of giving the entire food concession to Dominos or KFC and instead provide fresh local food at reasonable prices.
The downside… the DJ
The IPL giveth, and naturally the IPL taketh away. While some of the IPL’s famed “innovations” – cheerleaders, after-parties with the players – have mercifully faded away, one has cemented its place in the Indian stadium experience: the on-ground DJ.
While I have grudgingly come to accept the role of music between overs and upon wickets and boundaries, the DJ’s ever-expanding job description is a source of much distress. It started with the notorious IPL countdown – itself an artifact of the “strategic timeout” in the middle of a T20 innings to create more advertising time – where an MC was thought to be necessary to read the on-screen numbers to the audience. Now the DJ/MC provides “commentary” before and after every ball, shills the sponsors’ names and products, exhorts the crowd into Mexican waves and chants and provides “energy” to the proceedings. The only time he is not shouting is when the ball is actually being delivered and hit. I’m quite prepared for him to start appealing on behalf of the fielding side and asking for DRS reviews soon.
Eight hours of this aural assault is classified as a human rights violation in many countries, but my problem with the DJ goes beyond the noise. First, he infantilises the audience by constantly violating the “show, not tell” premise of any performance art. Shouting “THAT’S A CRACKING SHOT” or “BOWLED ’IM” immediately after the event assumes the crowd needs help reaching that conclusion. Second, it leaves no space for a genuine crowd response. The player-crowd connect is the entire point of having a live audience at the stadium. When the DJ continuously tells the audience how to react – the high-decibel equivalent of the “laugh” and “applause” placards they hold up at TV show recordings – he prevents the organic build-up of crowd energy in support of, or in opposition to, a player or a team. The DJ makes it impossible for the crowd to be the twelfth player of a cricket team, and Indian cricket is the poorer for it.
My kids reacted to this tragedy with a grace only children can muster. Throughout the game, they kept up a parallel commentary mocking the DJ. Their reactions ranged from puerile giggling at his chants of “Ho Ho!” to multilingual puns that made me proud. By the end of the match, they were taking bets on which hackneyed line he will repeat in the next over (“IT’S A YUUUUGE SIX” was the consensus winner).
Given this was a Pakistan game, I was concerned about crowd behaviour towards the Pakistani players. While nobody expected an Indian crowd to get behind the Pakistan team, the Bangalore crowd was sporting to a fault. The Pakistan players were applauded without hesitation, and younger son and I felt entirely comfortable cheering for wickets and boundaries by the Pakistanis.
The crowd tried to engage the Pakistan players on the boundary (respectfully, like we do the Indians), but with one or two exceptions (thank you Shaheen and Shadab!) they refused to even look at the crowd. The majority of the crowd was neutral, while the yellow shirts were rooting for their favourite Aussie players for entirely cricketing reasons. There were no rude or jeering chants.
Right at the end of the match, I feared the worst when my entire stand erupted in chants of Vande Mataram, India’s national song – till I was both delighted and charmed to learn that the chant was being led by an Australian man wearing a yellow kurta. It was a gesture of gratitude towards the Indians, not of aggression towards the Pakistanis.
An excellent day’s cricket was capped by an act of kindness that is entirely Bangalorean. As we were walking out past the concession stands, the kids demanded one last ice cream. I hesitated, carefully considering which was worse – listening to them complain the whole way back, or hearing them bounce around in the car with the sugar rush. The ice cream vendor, a kindly lady who had clearly seen this dynamic before, came up bearing two cones that she offered to the children and refused to take payment for.
As the children licked their ice creams with satisfaction, I felt a sense of satisfaction too – from belonging to a city with a real cricketing culture; from a stadium experience unlike any other in the world, the DJ notwithstanding; from knowing I’m passing my love for the game to a new set of fans.