ICC World Cup: In Praise of the Calm Nottingham Spectators
The train from London to Nottingham carried a large contingent of Indians, all going to watch the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup match between India and New Zealand. As I got into the compartment, I was reminded of a journey I had undertaken around four decades ago from Kochi to Chennai to watch the test match against India and Australia. The compartment then was full of people who were going to see the match and cricket had created a wonderful bond between all of us as we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the sides and the merits and demerits of the individual players till well past bedtime. However, this time there was hardly any conversation between fellow passengers; just a nod and a smile to acknowledge the fact that we hail from the same country and are proceeding to Nottingham for the same purpose. Further, there was another vital difference; all the passengers in the train to Chennai were men travelling alone while the trip from London was undertaken by entire families. I also fell in the same category of mixing business with pleasure as my better half was also in the train to Nottingham!
Nottingham is a small town in central England made famous by the
folklore of Robin Hood. But, for cricket fans, this place is better known for
the presence of Trent Bridge, a stadium where test matches and One Day
internationals (ODI’s) are regularly held. This ground is also the home of
Nottinghamshire County side and has produced many cricketers of repute. Hence
when I saw that the World Cup tie between India and New Zealand was scheduled
to be held at this venue, I felt thrilled as it gave me an opportunity for
visiting the town and seeing the ground.The fact that this game
was slotted between India’s matches against Australia and Pakistan, which was
part of my itinerary, made this decision easier.
It was drizzling when the train reached Nottingham and sky was filled
with dark rain-bearing clouds. It rained throughout the evening prior to the
match and the Met department predicted more rains on the match day. However, a
cricket fan is an ultimate optimist and this was in full evidence when we
reached the bus stop, where hordes of Indian supporters were waiting to go to
the ground. The journey to the ground from the city centre was almost alike a
trip on a BEST bus in Mumbai as one could hear near continuous chatter in Hindi
and the occasional chant of ‘Indiaaa India’ from the crowd that filled the bus.
It was not raining when the bus reached the stadium. Entry to grounds
in England are smooth affairs with little time being wasted on queue and
checking of baggage. Almost all stadia have a concourse running full length
round which permits spectators to walk around and try out the food and drinks
sold in stalls set up there. On the beverages side, Beer, wines and soft drinks,
besides tea and coffee, are available in these shops which also sell food
belonging to almost all cuisines. People are permitted to carry food and drinks
into the gallery and have them while watching the proceedings on the ground.
This makes viewing the game a more enjoyable experience while contributing to
improved business opportunities for the vendors who run these shops.
Setback to spectators
It was announced immediately after we reached the ground that umpires would inspect the ground at 10.30 a.m. to decide when they could commence the match. Since the match was scheduled to begin at this time in the normal course, this meant that the start would be delayed. Even as one was waiting anxiously for the umpires to come out for this inspection, it started raining, prompting ground staff to cover the pitch and adjoining areas. This was the first of the many setbacks that spectators were to experience on this score during the day.
Umpires decided that there was no point in inspecting when it was raining and decided to do so after an hour by which time rain had stopped temporarily. However, they found that there were some wet spots on both sides of the pitch which carried the potential of causing injury to players and preferred to wait in the hope that matters would improve. But periodic light showers and absence of any good spell of warm sunlight prevented any improvements on the score. Finally, after repeated visits to the middle and many rounds of deliberations, the match officials decided to call off play, without a ball being bowled, by 3 p.m.
What does one do when waiting endlessly for the match to begin? I went through the Members Pavilion and found that Nottinghamshire county cricket club has been playing the game since middle of 19th century. Trent Bridge ground is one of the oldest in England and hosted its first test match in 1899! Of course, the stadium has been rebuilt and possesses all modern amenities besides four towers for floodlights. The legendary Gary Sobers, the greatest all-rounder that the game has known, used to play for this side and also captained it during the 1960’s. Richard Hadlee, the first bowler to break the barrier of 400 wickets in test cricket, also turned out for this county during his playing days. Dilip Doshi, the bespectacled left arm spin bowler who played from India from 1979 till 1983, used to play for Nottinghamshire as a professional between 1973 and 1978. Incidentally, it was only after his days as a professional in county cricket circuit that he could get an opportunity to play for his country!
Time for playfulness
While walking around one found that various groups of spectators had found different means to keep themselves occupied and amused. While some started singing and dancing to the beat of music or to the drums they carried, certain others kept on chanting slogans that they had come prepared with to support the national side. Food and drink stalls did roaring business as, with nothing else to do, eating and drinking became a full time exercise. But here one saw that maximum crowds were in front of shops selling chapatti and curry; some groups had even brought their food with them which they spread out in ‘desi’ style and partook of it sitting on the floor! All this added further proof to the old adage that one can take an Indian out of India but cannot take India out of an Indian!
Sensing Indian players made occasional appearances in the balcony of the pavilion which sent the fans into raptures. A large contingent of spectators gathered beneath the pavilion hoping to have a glimpse of their heroes. The players sensed the disappointment of the followers of the game and obliged them with a wave and a smile, which helped to bring a beam of happiness on the face of everyone. Amongst the players, Virat Kohli, the Indian captain and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former skipper, were in demand, while former players such as Sunil Gavaskar and Saurav Ganguly, who are part of commentary team, also received generous applauses from the crowd.
The last word should be about the spectators who had thronged the
venue despite being aware that the possibility of play taking place was not
very high. They were well behaved and tried to make the best out of a bad
deal. Each visit by the umpires to the
middle was accompanied with vigorous clapping of hands, more in the hope that
good news might follow. Even the announcement of the decision to call off the
match was taken in the proper spirit with there being scarcely a boo or a
catcall. Hence, in my mind, these devout followers of the game deserve the
title of ‘Man of the Match’ for the encounter that did not take place!