India: Ferris Bueller's Day Off - in Mumbai

And now for some real fun.

One of my daily habits is to come into the office well before most so I can get a start on the day in relative silence.  A good 30-45 minutes of reading email and the news while I gulp down some coffee is how I roll before things really get going.  The WSJ India edition is on the reading list.  While browsing the site one morning in late October, a story announced that India's biggest cricketer - Sachin Tendulkar - was retiring and would play his 200th and final test match in Mumbai in mid-November.  So began hundreds of stories and articles about this epic match and the speculation of what life in India would be like after Sachin.  Truly, an acronym even emerged for this phenomenon: LAST = Life After Sachin Tendulkar.

Nothing but Sachin articles on the day of the match.
Anyway, to date I had never attended a cricket match.  Anticipating that this is my last foray into India, I was pretty determined to find tickets for this but knew it was going to be tough.  A reported 10% of all available tickets were going to be made available to the public while the rest would be allocated to the cricket clubs (like country clubs), business moguls, and celebrities.  An email was hurriedly fired off to some friends in Mumbai to see who had the best connections. This kind of shameless networking is not really my jam, especially in the US, but as we've established, life in India is all about who you know and how you can get what you want through those connections.  It goes both ways and soon I had a deal going with someone where he looked for cricket tickets while I hunted down an unlocked gold iPhone 5s.

He found some tickets and I found the phone (in Doha duty free!) so there you go.

This final test was such a big deal that it was all over the news in Doha and the airports and everywhere else so I knew it was going to madness in the neighborhood once I got back.  And indeed, it was.  I returned to Mumbai at 4:30 am on Friday and the ride into South Mumbai was full of traffic at 6:00 am with news vans and people lining up everywhere.  An hour's nap and a quick breakfast was all I could do before returning outside to head to the stadium.

Marine Drive was an absolute mob scene by 8:00 am and the hordes of cars and people on the streets was wild.  To queue up for security screening prior to entry, one first had to locate the correct line leading to his/her designated gate.  This adventure ended up taking us at least 30 minutes but eventually we found the D gate line.  Rohit was all prepared to be a polite gentleman and find the end of the line.  I, on the other hand, was fresh off several international flights and knew the Master Blaster was up to bat in just under an hour.  So, instead I took the lead and pulled Rohit ahead where we casually joined the middle of the queue.   He was shocked I was so bold as to jump the line.  When in Rome.... 

Rest assured, we put in our time waiting to enter the stadium (noted by the red line below).  It took a good hour to wind our way along Marine Drive and then onto some nondescript lane to find the D Gate, after which we then had to trek through a university running track to find what felt like the back door of the stadium.  All the while, street vendors are literally in your face with horns, trinkets, or snacks.  Or, they are trying to paint your face with green, white, and orange war paint.  Rohit had to shove aside many a paint brush from my face.  These guys were aggressive!

The excitement and dedication to cricket was easy to detect in the days leading up to the match but its longstanding place in everyday Indian life was made even more obvious when I looked at this map. The areas outlined in yellow are two of only a handful of public parks in Mumbai.  And they are covered end to end with cricket pitches.  As soon as the sun is up, the parks are full of men in white pants and shirts playing this beloved past time, all in the shadows of Wankhede (VON-cay-day) Stadium.

Saturday afternoon cricket.
Cricket pitch at Wankhede
We roll into the stadium around 9:45 and the roar of the crowd is simply electric.  Everyone was out of their seats and cheering on Sachin (Sachinnnnnnnn, Sachin!) in what eventually resulted in his final time at bat.  Celebrity sightings were posted on the jumbotrons in between videos of Sachin's storied career. A constant stream of projected text messages from people in the stands clearly illustrated the pure adulation that this country has for its favorite cricketer.  

By about 10:45 Sachin was out on a caught fly ball.  Suddenly, the crowd was silent as they realized what had just happened.  That was it; no more Sachin at bat.  He shook hands with the bowler (pitcher) and stoically marched off the field into the clubhouse while everyone stood and applauded for what felt like a half hour.   Rohit and I stayed to watch a few more overs and then departed just before noon, and the requisite tea break.  Such a gentlemen's game!

My tickets were for the full five days of the match.  I won't even attempt to explain the rules of cricket and why five days may be necessary to get a winner.  But, the cool thing about having five-day tickets is they were put to really good use by lots of attendees.  The match started on Thursday and, as I was still in Doha, two of the hotel staff used them all day long.  Rohit and I attended Friday morning while two of my coworkers headed over to the stadium Friday afternoon.  Sachin wasn't batting but by then the West Indies team was up so S&P did get to see Sachin return to the game for fielding.  By Saturday, India was up by over 100 runs so everyone was certain the match would end that day, and it did.  I had passed off the tickets to another coworker and his wife so they saw the end of the test and witnessed all the pomp and circumstance of Sachin's farewell speech.  Everyone got to see something!

Things have since quieted down in the city and the news isn't constantly streaming Sachin stories any longer.  It seems as though there really may be LAST.  And while I surely can't comprehend the enormity of watching Sachin's final match (because I have yet to comprehend cricket...) I can say that racing back into town Friday morning, dashing off to the match with a good friend, and throwing ourselves into mayhem steeped in national pride was absolutely one of the coolest things I have been lucky enough to do in Mumbai.

Rooftop dancing and cricket cheering.  This is India.

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