MY WANKHEDE EXPERIENCE – THE GOOD, THE GREAT AND THE UGLY
Wankhede! After Lord's this is the ground where we can say that India's dream was won. Ever since 2nd April, 2011, this ground has been considered as holy ground by all Indian cricket fanatics. I have been to Wankhede many times before, I was there when Mumbai welcomed the 2007 T20 World Cup winning team home, I was there for a number of IPL matches, but I had never been there for a Test match. Finally I got the opportunity to step into the illustrious stadium and experience firsthand the famed “Wankhede Experience” when India is playing.
I had only one day off and I hoped against hope that I will get to see India's batting. It was important because I had never seen my favorites Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman bat and also because somewhere I knew that this could very well be the last time Mumbai sees the legends of India's middle order, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman bat together in a Test. And who would not want to see a Virender Sehwag raring to go with Gautam Gambhir on this bowler's graveyard of a pitch? Also there was the golden opportunity of witnessing history as Sachin Tendulkar could, and almost did, score that much awaited 100th 100 in front of his beloved home crowd at a stadium he owns! With high expectations and higher excitement, I was at Wankhede, finally. And after spending a good seven hours there I came back enlightened.
THE GOOD –
I was delighted to see the long lines, the crowd, the buzz in and around Churchgate Station. Any one seeing that could not question the mortality of Test cricket, you could feel that Test cricket was alive and throbbing at the stadium. I read that this was this crowd was the highest turnout of the series and I was proud to be a part of those 15,000 strong supporters. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a sizeable number of women, elders and even children, who had come to the stadium. A lot of offices must have been empty as fans thronged to Wankhede especially toward the second half of the day. It was heartening to see a huge number of diverse Mumbaikars cheering as one for India.
THE GREAT –
Undisputedly the best bit of my experience was the stadium atmosphere. Just the sheer energy, the enthusiasm that you could feel sitting in the stands was enough to get your adrenaline high. The atmosphere was unbelievable, there were hordes of people screaming together, a tricolor flowing in almost every block. I was sitting in the topmost tier of the North Stand and it was then that I realized why everybody calls the North Stand the best place to watch a match at Wankhede. There was a group of fans, all dressed in the Indian team blues that came up with chants that got the crowd on their feet. Listening to some of their rhymes, my friend commented that these guys could easily become copy writers for ad campaigns! Sample this – “Sab ke muh main chewing gum hain, Sachin humaara Singham hain!” But the love was not only reserved for Mumbai’s favorite son, chants such as “India ka Wall Kaun – Dravid, Dravid” and “VVS” were also screamed at the top of their voices. Of course there were some chants that made absolutely made no sense, but the fervor with which they were cried out was enough for people to join in. The rhythmic beating of water bottles on the railing to the tune of lezim, the synchronized clapping, the timely Mexican waves, everything added on to the cricket frenzy. Indeed, there is nothing like watching a match from the North Stand of the Wankhede Stadium!
THE UGLY –
However even the Wankhede is not without its blemishes. One of the most depressing things to see was the blatant disregard of certain fans for the other 10 players in the team, with them being concerned only and only about Sachin Tendulkar. I’m taking away nothing from the Master, Blaster, but is he more important than the rest 10 people in the team put together? There were factions of the crowd that actually cheered the fall of Sehwag and Gambhir’s wickets! I am sure even Sachin would be disappointed to see this boorish behavior of these people who call himself his devotees.
Secondly, as a woman living in Mumbai, I had one of my ugliest experiences there. I was extremely disappointed to learn that such passionate cricket fans behave like cheap chauvinists. There is no place for sexists in sport, your gender does not give you the monopoly of watching sport from the stadium or otherwise. There were a certain section of fans who thought harassing a woman at the stadium is good time pass. Comments such as “Ladies log match dekhne kyun aate hain, aata kuch nahi hain, chila rahe hain”, “Item baithi hain” and singing of songs based on the color of clothes a woman is wearing is ridiculous. And to be on the receiving end of such catcalling is never a good thing.
Overall, my experience at Wankhede was extremely enjoyable. Just sitting there in the stands watching our team bat inspired me to work harder to achieve my goal of becoming a sports journalist. It gave me renewed hope as I imagined myself watching a match like this as a part of my job. I hope one day I can actually live that dream. Till then, I promise you Wankhede, I will be there to watch every Test match you hold!