Sometimes being abroad is no fun. The eve of an India-Pakistan cricket match is one of them. Today, I realised that a long distance relationship with cricket can be quite a buzz kill. Even if it is a Twenty20 match.
A little background. The ICC T20 World Cup is on. We’re in the Super 8 round of the tournament, both India and Pakistan still need to qualify for the semi finals. And tonight was a play-off between the two countries.
Under any circumstance, an Indo-Pak cricket match is a big deal. It used to be such a nerve wracking affair, that matches between the nations were suspended when relationships were hostile. In the past, it was not uncommon for people to say “winning a match against Pakistan was more important than winning the World Cup”.
In fact, whenever India played Pakistan in the World Cup, ad rates were comparable, if not higher, than the finals. That is probably true even today.
I could probably give you a ball by ball account of every India-Pakistan match World Cup match, and some of their matches from other tournaments as well, that I have watched. Right down to the position I was sitting in because I believed it would get the team some luck.
In the past few years special friendship tournaments of endless games between the two teams, and the emergence of Australia as the new cricketing nemesis helped reduce the hysteria. But passions still run high. And, any Indian will be proud to tell you that India has never lost a match to Pakistan in the World Cup of any cricketing format (yes, there are many formats of the game. We just can’t get enough of it).
It is with this legacy that I woke up today. A half-baked plan with some friends to watch the match together fell through. The public venue that was to screen the match had probably decided against it. Cricket is not big in Europe (understatement alert!). Many Dutch people will probably be surprised to know that the Netherlands even has a cricket team. It does. Big teams love playing against it because it helps them get their statistics up.
Coming back to our plan. Which fell through. I then started looking for websites which would live stream cricket. Akshay recommended a few. He is in India these days, and tonight I really envied him (the only other time was when he met my dog, Panzer). I was to watch the first innings at home and join another Indian couple – Noopur and Abhigyan- for the second innings, usually the nail-biting part of the action.
The match started at 4pm and so did my long, traumatic experience with pirated cricket viewing.
I cannot tell you what a pain it is to have to stream your cricket. And to have your stream freeze just when Yuvraj Singh makes an appeal for a wicket is nothing short of torture. There were times when I would have to call Akshay or ping Aditya, a friend in the UK, to find out what went on while my black blip buffered. But, I cannot complain too much.
Five years ago when Akshay came to the Netherlands, the first-ever ICC 2020 World Cup was held. Those days there would be a huge time lag between the internet streaming and what we saw live on our TV screens back home. Akshay would generally be more than half an over (4-5 balls) behind us. Whenever something exciting happened in a match, I would call him. Of course, my calling wasn’t seen as quite the romantic gesture it was, because I was killing the fun for him. In fact, on the day of the final of that tournament, an India-Pakistan nail biter final, Akshay switched off his phone 6 overs before the end so he could experience the thrill, shock and eventual exhilaration without any calls from India!
The lag is gone now. I even came across one website where the picture quality is HD. In fact, if not for the constant buffering and annoying pop-up ads, I would have had no complaints with the viewing experience.
What I would miss, and did, is the surrounding aura of anticipation that lurks in every corner of India on the day of a big match. It wasn’t something that struck me while I was watching the first innings. The screaming fans, the updates on Facebook, phone calls with people back home, all of it created a cocoon around me. I felt at home.
Until I stepped out at break time to go to my friends’ house.
I crossed bustling Beesetenmarkt, where large groups of people were enjoying their Sunday evening beer. To them, it was any other Sunday. I scanned the crowd. No one was looking anxious, no pub was screening the match, young boys weren’t wearing India jerseys and there was no palpable sense of drama in the air.
Today, I may be able to get frozen aloo paranthas five minutes from my old Dutch home, but intangible things make you realise that globalisation will never replace that feeling of home.
I missed home today for a feeling I cannot put my finger on. It’s something like a throb in the air. An emotion we call “josh” in Hindi. I don’t know if there’s a Dutch word for it, but I know you have to grow up in the Indian subcontinent to feel it for cricket.