Alek in Wonderland- at the G

A once in a lifetime experience of a Cricket fan

February 2015. An innocuous advertisement from an automobile major about a contest comes to my notice. They were to take winners to Melbourne to watch the 2015 World Cup Final. I enter myself in it, and forget about it completely amidst the hullabaloo surrounding the cup.

After the quarter finals began, I get an unexpected call: my entry is shortlisted, from about a thousand of them. The rest is a blur—right from getting the visa just in time to getting on the flight to Melbourne.

However, this post is not about the contest. It is to describe, pictorially, what happens when a cricket fan grabs the best seat in the greatest cricketing Colosseum in the world for the biggest game in the sport. It’s been a little more than a year since the day, yet every single moment is still etched in my mind—a day which apparently turned me from a selfie-virgin to a selfie veteran in the words of one of my friends.

Pic1

The ticket. My hands trembled as I received the ticket to the finals on the day we were flying out (the day of the second semi-final; India were losing to Australia as we were prepping for the journey). Little did I know what ‘Olympic Stand’ at the MCG meant. At that point, I was just happy to land at the MCG for the finals

Pic2

Strolling around Melbourne in the night before the finals. The Yarra looked majestic and the MCG’s towers in the distance were dressing up beautifully for the finals. As I stood in the distance and admired the scene, I kept on pinching myself—am I really here? Won’t be the last time that I would be doing that in the next 24 hours.

Pic3

Our chauffeur for the day, a jolly fellow who was very well informed about the game. He apparently was a Keith Stackpole fan. He asked us which stand we were in, and on hearing ‘Olympic Stand’ he turned around and said ‘You are lucky mate; you are in for some experience today’. I grinned, but could hardly fathom the awesomeness that was in store.

Pic4

The Aussie fans on the way to the stadium were making some noise all right. I spotted a few Black Caps too, but the numbers paled in comparison. My mind went back to the crowds I would see on the morning of a bilateral series match at the Eden Gardens; it would be at least 10 times noisier than what I was hearing from the Aussie fans on the day they could win their 5th World Cup title.

Pic5

The first sight of the MCG. Goosebumps #16

Pic6

Dennis Lillee welcomes us as we get out of the car. That majestic action!

Pic7

First shocker of the day was in the form of Fox panel 6 feet away from us. I could see some gentlemen called Shaun Pollock, Mark Waugh, and Brian Charles Lara sitting on the makeshift set just outside the gate.

Pic8

A look at the practice nets. The teams had just wrapped up their last drills and had gone inside when I took this.

Pic9

A mural commemorating the 1956 Olympics on the stadium walls as we enter, with the names of the champions across various disciplines. Suddenly I wished I had more time before the start of the game to go around the stadium and soak in the history a bit more!

Pic10

As we went through the gates and took the stairs to go up to the Olympic room, this wonderfully crafted mural of ‘Rules of Play’ greeted us. The design was on a surface that looked like a red cherry. Just could not get enough of the calligraphy!

Pic11

The first sight of the greens from the Olympic Room. It is HUGE. And when a Calcuttan, who has grown up having seen matches at the Eden Gardens, tells you a cricket ground is HUGE, you believe him. The stands are massive and I was wondering how it would feel to walk down to the middle of this Colosseum before a capacity crowd. I would actually get that very chance in less than an hour.

Pic12

As is customary these days, both the teams were busy playing football to warm up before the game.

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I was soaking in the atmosphere inside the Olympic Room, which was, well, quite classy. The décor, with the official cup merchandise, was neatly laid out. In a little while, the actual trophy would be brought in. Suffice it to say, I have spent more time in the same room with the World Cup trophy than anyone in the England, New Zealand or South African squads

Pic14

The huddle of the Black Caps. Reminds me of Dada and 2003 every time I see this formation.

We were told that we would be going down to the ground for the official match ball handover ceremony. While I tumbled out of the Olympic Room with the others scarcely believing my ears, what I saw next took my breath away.

I spotted a queue where the following were being checked while trying to enter the Olympic Room:Kapil DevNikhanj, ArjunaRanatunga, and Clive Hubert Lloyd.

Pic15

Spot decision: the match ball and MCG can wait—what if I don’t get to meet Paaji again?

I go up to him: ‘Paaji ek selfie?’

Kapil: ha lengena, abhitoh match dekhenge, tab lenge.

Me: Paaji, baad mein mauka na mile toh?

Kapil: (with that famous grin) Abhi bhi mauka? Chalo aao.
Then this results. I know, not the best angle, double chin et al, but it was the first one of the day, and I improved with each

Pic16

Down on the ground. Waiting to get on the greens with the ‘Field of Play’ tag around my neck.

 

Pic17

I spot Maxwell on my left, practicing his switch hit. That won’t be required in the match though.

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Allan Border and (my English friends won’t like this) KP to my right. They were getting ready for a quick spot with the Fox team on the ground.

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While we wait, the captains walk out for the toss amidst a huge roar from the almost 60% filled MCG.

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The 4th umpire for the final – Ian Gould. He was shit scared the moment I asked for a selfie with him; he cited some ICC guidelines for refusing and then apologized.

Pic21

The box with the Kookaburra match ball. #Goosebump #HadLostCountByThen

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And that’s the closest I got to the boundary on the day of the World Cup Final at the MCG.

Pic23

We come back to the Olympic Room. The short closing ceremony is about to begin. My heart twitches a bit as I spot the tricolour among the other flags.

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The Cup comes out and the two national anthems happen. The Australian National Anthem absolutely brings the house down, followed by fireworks et al.

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The Kiwi openers stroll out.

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The first ball.

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Starc comes back to the boundary after sending down the best possible first over of the match, removing Baz and with that, possibly New Zealand’s chance for a big total.

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Met this fan from Pakistan who had also won a similar spot in the Olympic Room. He says, “Bhai Lloyd hain peeche dekh!” I said, “No way!”, and then turned to where he was pointing,

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To spot the ‘Supercat’ calmly sitting behind us. He looks too grumpy. Spot decision to track him down a little later.

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Michael ‘Slats’ Slater and ‘Mad Max’ Aravinda de Silva engrossed in some serious discussion behind me., I overhear Slats saying ‘’beer’, and then make my move

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Slats is more than happy to share a beer. In fact two by the end of the evening. He asks me who I think will win. I say of course the Black Caps; he guffaws and says good sense of humor I got

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Met de Silva next. Told him how he broke our hearts with that stroke-filled majestic 66 in the ’96 semis. He smiles, and then I tell him how my father was a fan of his square cut, especially the arc that his bat made when he completed the shot. He smiles a little wider this time.

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Meanwhile the Supercat has nearly dozed off; clearly, no intention to pose for a picture/autograph.

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First drinks break

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When I return to the Room, it’s Matthew Hayden standing with the SAP (System analyse und Programmentwicklung; Systems, Applications & Products in Data Processing) team for a presentation on analytics solutions done by SAP as official Cloud Partners of ICC.

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Alistair Campbell. Very humble, was candid to say that Mooney had possibly not caught ‘that one’. Also said he was hopeful things would look up soon for Zimbabwe cricket. Here’s to hoping it does. We need more of them.

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Hayden, the stats cruncher par excellence, was really impressed to find his penchant for interpreting the numbers fulfilled.

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Chatted for about fifteen minutes with him on the need to measure the runs saved on the field; we both concluded the SAP team had a long way to go to develop HANA (SAP High-Performance Analytic Appliance) further

Pic39

‘Skipper’ Ranatunga comes calling. He was strolling around the room – much like how he ‘walked’ his singles during his heydays…

Pic40

The one with Martin Crowe. Wished him well, and while talking to him, overheard Sambit Bal (the one who took the picture) mention that someone wants to meet him during the innings break. Someone named Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar

Pic41

Kiss Cam. Someone is happy.

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What an honour! To watch the match with one of the world’s Most Powerful Women!
So delightful of her to take off  her glasses for the perfect picture. And then I hear a pandemonium at the back.

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Sachin checks in. He had stepped in to meet Martin Crowe. Absolute chaos outside the glass walls, people shouting “Sachin! Sachin!” Even the Pakistanis joined in.

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The only selfie with Him in the frame. Only a handshake and an autograph followed. Felt blessed to be near Him for those many minutes

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And finally, Australia come out to bat.

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On the giant screen, that’s Steve Waugh being interviewed.

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With Boria Majumdar and Gautam Bhattacharya of ABP; was funny listening to them plan the match report.

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ICC CEO Dave Richardson watching the final few minutes of the Cup.

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Finally managed to coax the Supercat to give his autograph on his picture. Dared not take a pic with him though; too much in awe of the man. This autograph on the official ’15 cup book.

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93,013. The match attendance being confirmed on the giant screen. I was there!

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The winning shot from Smith; MCG erupted. Australia does a Brazil Penta in cricket.

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The Cup and I.

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If I ever have to make my horcruxes, rest assured these will be in the list of seven.

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