Through October and November, Aditi Gudi (Sports Desk, UG27) immersed herself in the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2023. While you watched the World Cup matches, she watched you. Here's what she learnt about cricket-watching culture on campus.
On the afternoon of 22 October, the mess was quiet at lunch.
Students and staff alike were deeply engrossed in their phones and laptops, watching intently as their beloved national cricket team faced off against their bitter rivals, the country that had embarrassed us in the previous World Cup’s semi finals, and then again in the World Test Championship final—New Zealand. At first, one might be disillusioned that one of the most crowded spots on campus was filled with people staring at screens instead of talking to each other. In reality, almost every single person in the room was collectively rooting for Team India. The mess is not known to be quiet, but the hopeful silence was quickly followed by a series of groans let out in unison after Virat Kohli's untimely and gut-wrenching wicket. My friends and I weren’t watching the match at the time, but we rushed to check the score after hearing the loud and lamenting groans. The disenchanted atmosphere in the room quickly took a turn though, when Ravindra Jadeja wrapped up the game with a picture-perfect boundary, extending India’s unbeaten streak to 5 and catapulting them to the top of the table for the tournament.
Two buildings away, RH2's TV Lounge saw meetings put on hold as Kohli crossed the 90-run mark. 4th ball of the 47th over, 5 needed to win the match, 5 needed for Virat’s century. The moment Kohli's bat struck the ball, people rushed towards the screens with their hearts in their mouths. Everyone held their breath as the ball travelled high up in the air, and no one could tell if he’d hit it far enough. Ravi Shastri remarks “He goes big, he’s not timed it, and he’s caught in the deep!” and the ensuing reaction was remarkably similar to the one that I’d seen at the mess.
Of course, the hype around the World Cup didn't contain itself within campus walls. Sounds of the match could be heard at the Vada Pav cafe down the road from the university, with cheers sounding every so often from the bhaiya's TV owing to Virat Kohli's phenomenal 95(104), anchoring India to an important victory while coming heartbreakingly close to a record-equalling 49th ODI century.
That Sunday marked the start of an interesting task for me, to say the least. What started as a pitch for an article surrounding viewers' superstitions and rituals turned into my department editors giving me an "assignment", as they called it with fond smiles on their faces—that of letting the Cricket World Cup ‘23 become a part of my daily routine for a month. Wanting to familiarise myself with cricket culture on campus as a first year, I took up the task.
Whether or not India was playing, mornings after matches were filled with discussions about the results. In snippets of conversations overheard at the mess and the Dhaba, cricket fanatics around campus couldn’t contain their shock as England, the reigning world champions of cricket, continued their losing streak this season, suffering another defeat against Sri Lanka.
The next weekend, 28th and 29th October, arrived alongside the much-awaited ABA, the Ashoka’s intra-collegiate Basketball League. Nevertheless, not even the basketball court escaped the phenomenon of cricket fever. People sat on the sidelines, some with phones in hand, watching the match with so much concentration that you'd be surprised to know that there was a basketball match going on in front of them! Amazingly, during the semi-final match of the ABA, I managed to watch 3 games at once—the ABA match in front of me, the Manchester derby, and the India-England clash at the ODI World Cup.
India versus England again saw huge crowds rushing to occupy rooms and tables in the mess building to watch the match together. Not only that, people had begun predicting the outcome of the match days before the big clash. Arguments were overheard all around campus, the words 'England' and 'all out at 150' being a common factor in all of them. Come the day of the match, another Sunday, nearly every room in AC04 and AC02 was occupied, flashes of blue lighting up the room. Yet again, my friends and I took up a classroom to stream the match on a bigger screen, and claimed that room as our den for the day.
The audiences for non-India matches throughout the tournament were understandably smaller, but cricket fans feasted on the abundance of top-quality cricket and continued to find ways to watch the matches, or at least keep up by checking the scores every so often. I noticed people hiding their phones under the table during classes and intermittently switching between their notes tab and Hotstar on laptops to watch the matches!
Sri Lanka's battle against a successful and in-form Indian side ended in a triumphant victory for the men in blue, maintaining their win streak and sealing their spot in the semi-final stage of the tournament. Since it was on a weekday, many weren't able to actively watch the match and keep up with the score. But here's the thing—walking around campus I heard phone speakers blaring the excited voices of the commentators as Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli lit up the stadium with their stellar batting. Groups of people huddled together littered common areas and the lawns with phones and laptops in hand. Is this what it means when one says,"If they wanted to, they would''?
“India has to lose a match, it’s now or never.”
“Yeah bro, they have to lose the South Africa match, something has to go wrong before it goes right.”
“Hoping and praying that we don’t have a repeat of 2003!”
Sport is a weird and confusing part of life, and sports fanatics are even more weird and confusing. When things are going as perfectly as they possibly could, we still find reasons to be anxious. Preceding India’s matchup against the number two side on the group stage table—South Africa—my friends and I had decided that it would be best for us to lose this match. A reality check as we headed into the knockout stages. For better or worse, India ended up victorious, thumping the Proteas by 243 runs.
By the time the India versus Netherlands match came around, which was the last match of the group stage, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa had also secured their positions in the semi-final stage of the world cup. People who were highly superstitious when it came to cricket (read: me) were yet again subconsciously hoping for a loss, because if not now, when? It felt weird rooting for a loss, but it seemed like the Indian team was relentless, and secured their 9th win in 9 matches. The match was enjoyable, both for the viewers and the players, seeing that the Indian bowling lineup had surprise additions that day—including skipper Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, who took a wicket each, along with Shubman Gill and Suryakumar Yadav.
It was a smoggy Wednesday afternoon as students gathered in Takshila to watch the semi-final match between India and New Zealand. Underneath the tables during lectures, where usually only books and phones resided, a covert world emerged—hushed discussions, murmured cheers and suppressed gasps unknowingly became the soundtrack of ongoing lectures. There was a delicate balance between academic responsibility and the irresistible pull of the game.
Even though there were times when Takshila's crowd grew sparse, there was never a quiet moment in the hall, from Rohit Sharma's crowd pleasing innings not failing to keep the crowd heated up, to Kohli's record-breaking 50th century, which had the room light up with loud chants of his name. New Zealand's batting innings kept the crowd engaged too, with the crowd cheering for nearly every dot ball, and the frustration and fear clouding everyone's minds whenever there was a boundary.
As the clock struck 10:15 PM, Takshila yet again lit up with students coming back to the room to watch the final moments of the showdown. 15 minutes had passed, and Mohammed Shami, who was having a great night so far, was bowling to Lockie Ferguson, the last of the men standing for New Zealand. The ball was released from Shami's hand, in the aggressively elegant way that only he seems to have mastered. Everyone held their breath, hoping that this ball would be the gateway to the final. The ball was edged on the outside by Ferguson, and wicketkeeper KL Rahul made no mistake to act on it, quickly catching the ball. That meant that 10 wickets were down for New Zealand, at 327 runs, 70 runs short of what was needed, and that was another strike on the win list for India. Mohammed Shami's 7-wicket haul was also greatly celebrated, chants of his name escaping everyone's mouths. Boisterous cheers erupted in the room, with exclamations of 'We are so back' being heard in a corner. All across campus, from the tuck shop to Roti Boti, celebrations and mighty claims (accompanied by the usual "Bro don't jinx it") echoed.
At 5 pm on Thursday, when Australia played South Africa in the semis, I could hear the match playing on the bhaiyya’s phone in the tuck shop. Holding two packs of milk, I asked him the score. This sport, and all its emotions, tie people together. I cannot count the number of times I went up to people I didn’t know during the World Cup to ask about the score. How many times people across batches, disciplines and backgrounds were united in the emotions each match elicited. Asking about cricket broke down, even for a few moments, the unspoken barriers between the students and staff, the students and faculty, among different groups of students who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths.
The usual group of seniors who sit at Fuel Zone watching each match were not-so-secretly hoping for a South Africa win. Unfortunately, these hopes remained hopes— Australia emerged victorious, with a 3-wicket win over their opponents. With that, the finalists were determined— India would go against Australia the following Sunday to decide the ODI World Champions.
1.50 pm on Sunday, 19 November. The Sports Multi-Purpose Hall is filled with students, faculty and staff alike, ranging from hardcore cricket enthusiasts to casual watchers, waiting with their hearts in their mouths for the first ball of the game to be bowled. The entire auditorium is reverberating with the sound of seats closing shut as people stood for the national anthems of both countries. Tension and excitement hung, teasing, in the air, waiting to rise and fall with the spin of each ball and swing of each bat.
In the days leading up to the final, students finished assignments and readings early to devote their Sunday to the match. Sunday brought a whirlwind of emotions—at 11 am, motorsport fans were engrossed in the world of Formula 1, the Las Vegas Grand Prix. For Ferrari fans, the unfortunate results were only a preview of the day’s other proceedings. Lunch at the mess was a blur of blue, people dressed in India’s colours rushing to get food before occupying the best seats at the Sports MPH. When Australia won the toss, choosing to chase, groans resounded in unison.
5 minutes have passed. Skipper Rohit Sharma and skilful youngster Shubman Gill took their places on the pitch; the skipper on strike. It was time for the valiant men in blue to face the first ball. The room erupted in yells and claps after Rohit’s first boundary. Team India was in the match just as much as their rivals.
At 4.1 overs, a problem arose. Shubman Gill’s wicket, sought-after by Australia, falls. This, however, does mean one thing— the entrance of the man everyone has been waiting for. Virat Kohli, record-breaking batsman, stunning the world time and again with phenomenal performances on the pitch.
The former and current captain duo got back into the game fast, continuing their assault with the bat. Boundaries after boundaries ensue. At 9.4 overs, trouble struck again as all-rounder and star performer, Glenn Maxwell. Rohit Sharma out at 47 off 31 balls.
The middle overs were a blur. Groans erupted ever so often; the match wasn’t going as well as it was meant to, especially for a final. I heard lamentations for dot balls and Shreyas Iyer’s wicket, cheers for the occasional boundary and Kohli’s half-century. Dreaded silence descended when Kohli’s wicket fell.
Following this dismissal, many exited the MPH, mirroring the scenes at Ahmedabad, broadcast on the huge screen in front of us. The innings break saw the hall fully empty, everyone rushing to grab a bite before the match resumed.
I am sitting on the couches right outside the hall, working on an assignment, all while trying to not get distracted by the reactions coming from inside the hall. Of course, I can’t focus anymore. I rush into the hall just in time to see Mitchell Marsh's wicket. Loud roars of Bumrah's name hit my ears. Loud roars of Bumrah’s name hit my ears and once again, I thought to myself, we’re so back.
Australia, though, are relentless. They continue their onslaught, refusing to give up any opportunity to score runs. Travis Head, a side character throughout Australia’s campaign thus far, was stepping up on the biggest stage, shattering Indian hopes with each passing minute. It was fascinating, how one man could single handedly make an entire bowling lineup shake under pressure. The minutes hurry by, and the match is nearing its end. Australia needs just over 100 runs in 150 balls. Hearts are racing, the occasional deep breath being taken, as the room's atmosphere gets less and less hopeful. My phone lights up every few moments with commentary on the family group chat. A friend across campus has the scorecard open on a tab on her laptop, even though she doesn't watch the sport.
With each swing of the bat, Head and Labuschagne carry on with the chase rigorously. A wicket is needed, but when it finally falls, it is too late. Australia are now at 239 runs, with 4 wickets down, requiring only 2 runs to emerge as Champions of the world. Glenn Maxwell enters the pitch, ready to finish off the game with a blast, in his trade-mark fashion. The last ball is bowled, and it seems as if the entire hall has frozen. It goes for a 2. Australia are the world champions, and yet again, just as it was 20 years ago, India is left behind. I see people tearing up, smudging the Indian tricolour painted on their cheeks only hours prior. The World Cup is over, and so is my month-long task, or as the editors fondly called it, my “assignment”.
Before this month, I'll admit that watching more than 45 minutes of a One Day International match seemed like an exhilarating task to me, because I'm more of a T20 person, but having to check the score every so often on days when I couldn't spare a few hours to sit down and watch the match brought out a sort of constant in this mundane yet chaotic life. Having been an avid fan of cricket my entire life, a very interesting thought struck me about half-way through the month.
Watching cricket isn't just about the game sometimes, it's about the community that builds itself around the sport. Playing cricket in the sunken field, or the residence hall corridors at 3 in the morning, walking up to people you don't know and asking for the score at 5 in the evening—that's what it means to be a part of this wonderful community we've built. The world isn't as big and unknown as it seems, and we're actually closer to people than we think.