The bus arrived at 10:30 AM, 9 hours before the scheduled start of the match between India and Australia. It takes 7 hours to reach Delhi from Pilibhit, a small town near Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. Enough time.
I am wearing the Indian team jersey. I had it in my wardrobe for the past four years, although the ritual to wear it on every match-day began during the Asia Cup in February, 2016. Of course, India lost only once since, so superstition gradually followed.
Pilibhit is a peaceful district, surrounded by green fields on all sides. Many years ago, it was known as the ‘Bansuri Nagar’, or the land of flutes. Almost 90% of flute exports depended on this small district in UP. Although it shot into national headlines through an infamous hate speech by a certain Gandhi from BJP, during the 2009 general elections.
‘Match dekhne milega?’ (Will we get to see the match?), a passenger reluctantly inquires, quite certainly because of the jersey I’m wearing. We went to the driver to confirm. ‘Aaram se’, he replies. More people join in. We are now talking about the possibility of Rahane replacing Dhawan.
This is no ordinary game. A virtual quarterfinal. ‘Yuvi achha khelta hai Australia ke against’. Cricket usually connects strangers in India, no matter which piece of land they come from.
Life is usually slow in these parts of the country. Bullock-carts carrying tonnes of sugarcane is a common sight. Autos don’t run here. Haath-Rickshaws are the soul of this city. And while the whole world wears Allen Solly and Lee Cooper, Pilibhit has its own, elite brand clothing – Lee Solly and Allen Cooper (I’m a proud owner of their products as well). WiFis are rare. It is far from the maddening rush of the big cities. There’s a thread, though, which connects people here with people of all places. A common thread, woven by the madness and devotion of a 1.2 bn population. Cricket.
Cricket talks soon died and the usual journey boredom catches up. Some are busy with earphones, some are now sleeping. I take a quick nap, assured of reaching well in time before the game.
Afghanistan beat West Indies, in the meantime. Sitting in the window seat, staring at the blankness, I’m almost visualizing their celebrations. Afghanistan was a country I always recalled as a place associated with terrorism in my childhood, mainly due to the news channels. What a remarkable story of success. What a huge day for this country.
I post a few tweets complaining about travelling woes. I don’t get a mention.
You cannot predict traffic jams. They’re the Shahid Afridi of road journeys. Unpredictable, annoying, with a bit of Boom-Boom if driver loses cool. I’m stuck at Ghaziabad, 50 kms from Gurgaon, and it’s 7’o clock. It’s dark, and I can clearly notice a huge Cricbuzz logo on a window reflection in front. There’s another mobile phone peeping through the gap between the seats, where a man was trying to download hotstar. Maybe I should have stayed at home for today.
I kept on refreshing my twitter timeline until a tweet popped up, saying ‘Australia won the toss and chose to bat’. Impetuous Virat Kohli picture. Go get back jumping down under, Kangaroos. We are sure as hell winning this one.
The man who asked me about the surety of catching up the game on time exchanged anxious glances with me. Indian bowlers were getting smacked, left right and center. I just want to watch this bloody game so badly, now. It is bad when you see the team playing badly, but it is worse if you actually can’t see the team playing badly. Because there is already a lot of frustration stored inside the tiny little brain at not being able to watch the game, and you are basically relying on CricInfo and Twitter. Every ball smacked for a boundary is a head-bashing, fist-clenching outburst of anger, not to forget, the various abuses of highest quality complimenting them.
At Vaishali metro station, I received a call from a friend, and he agreed to fetch me with regular updates on SMS, mainly because both of us knew that metros don’t get internet signals once they go underground. I reached Rajiv Chowk at 9:30, and honestly, I had never seen an emptier Rajiv Chowk in my life (or maybe I have but I refuse attempting to remember because of the high charge of emotions).
Many people were on their phones, dragging down the screen to refresh scores. There was a racing game for latest scores, with fortunes at stake. Cricket conversations gradually followed. Those who had partners shouted the score aloud to get involved. Common practice.
I reached home when Virat was just about to explode in what would be the most spectacular display of batting I had seen in my life. It is as if Virat was holding a magic wand, an elder wand, no less. The ball obeyed his orders, and the bowlers were reduced to mere balling machines, the control of which was held exclusively by the batsman. The innings was a monster. Virat Kohli was not a man. He was not a beast either. He was a megagodzilla. The world was Virat Kohli’s. We were living in a Virat Kohli world.
And then, as it usually happens, and as Ravi Shastri would have said had he been on-air, Dhoni finished things off in style. Perfect.