First of all, the scorecard. Here it is. The highlights were the great Tendulkar making 99, Younis Khan's ton, and Shahid Afridi finishing off the innings. In pure cricketing terms it was a very entertaining game. But that's not a patch on what happened off the field.
We tried our hardest to get tickets to the game ahead of time. Both of us contacted people who might have lived in the area, the BCCI (Indian Cricket Board), the local Punjabi Cricket Association, who run the ground… everyone who we could think of. No dice. So we resolved to head up there early ( 8am for a game starting at 2:30pm) and see what we could find. We got dropped off outside the ground and walked around the ground. All the ticket boxes were unattended. A few people were about, but noone who could get us tickets. We walked right around the ground before a policeman saw us and told us we had to leave the restricted area if we didn't have tickets. I don't know how we got in the barricaded area in the first place.
At first we thought – well, we've tried our very best, we should try to get to a pub and just soak up the atmosphere of the game. But we wanted to watch the buildup (the atmosphere was already pretty exciting already), and I don't think either of us had totally given up on our chance to get into the game. While walking around ate a bit of street food for brekky and noticed a few people watching us. We'd only arrived in Chandigarh the night before and we hadn't realised until now that there weren't many white people around at all. I was in my Aussie cricket shirt and a couple of locals sparked up a conversation with us.
Like all conversations in India, this one started like this:
"Hello, how are you?"
"Great thanks, how are you?"
"Very well. Where are you from? England? America ?"
"No no, we're Australian"
"Aaah , Australia ! Australia have best cricket team!"
"Yes but India are better at the Twenty-20!"
"Ricky Ponting is a very good player! Shane Warne! You call Harbhajan the Turbanator!"
As the conversation continued, more people gathered around. Still only about three people were talking to us, but about fifty people were watching enthusiastically, including more than a few police and security men which made me a little nervous. As the conversation continued I mentioned that we'd tried but couldn't get tickets for the game. We spoke for a little longer – about half an hour in total - and then decided to move on and look around a bit. I said goodbye with "Jai Hind!" which I think means "Victory to India" or "Long Live India" – I had read one of Nehru's speeches a couple of days before. It got a good reception anyway.
As we walked around afterwards, a couple of people came up to us quietly and said "you want tickets?" Each time we said yes and they scurried off, presumably to find some. Then an older bloke, probably about 55, in a pink turban and red polo shirt (so probably colour-blind), quietly said "you want tickets?" We said yes and he said "come with me." He took us out to a small alleyway between shops and ordered us some chai from a nearby vendor. The alley was filthy – it stank worse than most places in the area, there were flies everywhere, and some young blokes were preparing food right there also. What's worse, we were sitting about two metres behind a group of about eight policemen.
We sat and drank the chai, more out of politeness than anything else. He was very quiet. No jovial discussion – hardly any discussion at all. I was starting to wonder what the point of it all was. After about a dozen words in total, and no mention at all of the tickets, he said "you come with me."
We followed him along the parade of shops, and noticed another white guy with us. He was English and also after tickets. We chatted for a while and it turns out his mate Taz, also English but of Punjabi descent, was on hand to interpret (and also get their own tickets). We stood on a corner waiting with our mysterious scalper and after a couple of minutes he said "you go now." At first we were mystified but Taz told us that he was worried at how conspicuous we looked, three white guys around a local. So we said we'd meet him in 15 minutes.
We shot off to get some street food (and it was excellent – mini veggie burgers with sweet chilli jam and coriander sauce for only Rs 5, our first really good street food), and after about ten minutes we found the white bloke. They had their tickets and we could go and get ours now. Taz mentioned that they'd paid Rs 3500 each for them, and may have got them cheaper because he spoke Punjabi, but we shouldn't accept anything more than that price.
We wandered over. Our colour-blind scalper wasn't there. We walked further along the parade of shops and right at the end we saw some guy who pointed out the back of the shops and said "down there." We started walking down there and saw our scalper sitting on the back of a moped, with its engine running. He looked like he was waving us closer, but e actually meant for us to go away and send a local over. We realised too late, when we were right next to him. He'd given up trying to shoo us away by then. He blurted out "3500 each, 3500 each. No time." We handed over the cash and got our tickets, and as soon as the transaction was completed he shot off. Our colour-blind, clandestine scalper had shot off down the back street and away.
It was quite an operation!
Once we had our tickets we had to head back to our hotel and dump a lot of our stuff. Mobile phones aren't allowed inside due to terrorism fears. Worse, digital cameras are not allowed in either, so we have no photographic record of what happened inside the stadium.
As you can imagine, security was tight entering the stadium. Our tickets were checked five times on the way in, and we were searched four times. The stadium itself, which is quite modern, was surprisingly clean also.
Once inside, we saw some food available and made a bee line for it. Chow mein (i.e. noodles with some scant veggies), fried sandwiches (?), samosas and heaps of other goodies for Rs 20 each (about 60 cents). The food was great. We were worried when we went to take our seats as they weren't together. As soon as we got inside and were looking for our seats, several groups of people told us that we could just sit wherever we wanted. We did, and immediately befriended some of the blokes around us.
Like so many people we met, they were very enthusiastic to meet us and talk cricket with us. The bloke we mainly spoke with had taken the day off and driven straight from his work the previous day in Kashmir south to the stadium. He was a bureaucrat working for the state government in Kashmir, and had a few mates around him who were all similarly enthusiastic.
One of his mates was a freak though. He just sat in the crowd all day making animal noises, screaming them into the air when there was a quiet moment, and mocking the guys selling food and drinks in the crowd. He was pretty funny, because all Chop and I could think about when watching him was how much he was like our loveable but extraordinarily obnoxious mate Jamie, except this bloke wasn't drunk.
The game itself was an incredible one. As Tendulkar, God of Cricket in India, approached his century the crowd noise built from a dull roar to a screaming din, leaving the atmosphere thick and tense with anticipation. This was immediately juxtaposed with deafening silence when he was out for 99. Its pretty incredible when so many people at an event can be moved to silence, and this was one of those times.
Despite the closeness of the game as Pakistan's run chase continued, we were surprised to find the rivalry was very friendly. Fifteen years ago violence was common at these games but now this game was friendly, with many of the crowd vocal in their support for Pakistani excitement machine Shahid Afridi. Punjab, where Chandigarh is, was split up during partition, so this part of the country has a longer history of friendly relations with Pakistan, and it might have been different for games further from the border. That said, there was blanked coverage of the political crisis that had just broken in Pakistan with President Musharraf declaring emergency rule – media coverage of Pakistan had been very negative for about a week leading into the game.
The attitude between the fans could be summed up by a bloke in the crowd who said to us " Pakistan and India are like siblings," to which he added quietly, "but Pakistan is the sister."
It was a tense finish. After chanting for India in English, I asked some of our new friends what we could say in Hindi to support their team. His response was "just say Chak de India – it means 'go India'." After a while of saying this I got a bit bored and mischievously decided to alter the chant slightly, using one of the few words in Hindi I knew. I chanted "Chak de gora." The bloke who was coaching me fell about laughing, unable to contain himself for about ten minutes and sharing what I'd said with those around us.
Gora means "white man."
The game ended with Pakistan winning after successfully completing an amazing run-chase. I noticed a few younger kids starting to look at us as the game came to a close. Young blokes, about twelve or thirteen were looking at us rather than the amazing cricket being played. Between balls I'd look over to them and smile. I was wearing my Aussie One-day shirt, so they kept saying to me "Ponting, Ponting" and pointing at me. I responded by patting my belly and saying "Lehmann, Lehmann", but I don't think their cricketing knowledge ran that deep.
Their attention was just the beginning. After the game finished, we were talking to the blokes we watched the game with about how great it was. The younger boys came up and started talking to us also. Then a few more people wanted to chat to us and shake our hands. Pretty soon it had snowballed. There must have been about 300 people around us, all extremely happy and friendly – not a hint of malice, ane we never felt we were in danger. Songs from Bollywood movies would come over the speakers and we would dance with our new friends (usually at their insistance).
People from all around us were wanting to shake our hands, ask us a few questions (usually the same ones) and were just very happy and curious to see us. The amazing this is that at no stage did either of us feel in physical danger, or that we would be pick-pocketed while we were there. It was all so good natured.
After about 30 minutes of this unrelenting friendly attention, my sides were sore from laughing, my cheeks ached from smiling, and my back was starting to hurt from the friendly pokes for attention. I had to say to Chopper. "I think its about time we left mate." To clear our path I used one of the only other words I know in Hindi, challo ("let's go"). I was quickly and happily mimicked by the assembled crowd, who were happy that I knew a little Hindi. The crowd then proceeded to join us in trying to squeeze out the exit at once. After many happy goodbyes to our new friends, we finally got out of the stadium and, eventually, back to our hotel.
The whole day, especially what happened after the game finished, was really amazing. I heard often before going that people either love or hate India the first time they go, and that experience would have been a real watershed for most people in that respect: we were absolutely inundated with people, but all of the people talking to us were full of happiness and curiosity – every last one of them. Without a doubt it was the highlight of my entire trip to India. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face for some time after we left them.