HEADS OR TAILS?
The ground was now filling up, almost silently. As the crowds swelled I sensed that ‘something in the air’ feeling, and that delicious shiver down the spine when there is the prospect of seeing a Ponting, Pietersen, Tendulkar or Sehwag bat. I tried to visualize what it must have been like when Viru plundered 195 runs here in less than a day.
As the captains walked out to toss, two enormous display screens came alive with the most breathtakingly crisp pictures. I had never seen such sharp pictures before. I could see Andrew Strauss trying not to smile and Ricky Ponting trying not to scowl.
Strauss won the toss and invited Ponting to bat … but there was no big reaction from the crowd. I was surprised. Tosses are noisy affairs in India, with Ravi Shastri adding considerably to the din.
BEER AT 10 AM
With the MCG almost full – except for an empty stand reserved for members – Andrew decided that it was time to fetch the first round of beer. Beer at 10 am? But, of course! This was the Boxing Day test at the MCG and the experience would be incomplete without beer. He returned 15 minutes later and didn’t seem too happy. “There’s a huge queue out there and I had to pay 34 dollars (Rs 1700) for these four beers!” he told us.
I thought Andrew was unhappy with the expensive beer, but soon discovered that there was another big reason. “What sort of seats have we got?” he asked my friend Indra, and, lowering his voice, added “Poms all around us!”
How does one distinguish between the Oz and the Pom? If they talk, it is the way they speak English. Otherwise look at the T-shirt that they are wearing.
Fortunately there was an easier way that morning at the MCG. Before the game started, both teams queued up to sing their national anthems and the spectators joined in. So I just had to check who sang “God Save the Queen” and who sang “Advance Australia fair”.
The beers finished very quickly (“these are really light beers!” Andrew lamented) and moments later the MCG erupted into a crackling applause as Strauss led out his men, and Watson and Hughes followed, practicing their drives as they walked in. I noticed that English players sported near-white flannels while Aussie flannels had a creamier tinge.
As James Anderson ran in to bowl the first ball there was a slow, rhythmic hand clap. I marveled at how cricket spectators everywhere in the world do the same thing. Well, almost. In India, the rhythmic clap is also accompanied by whistles and a wide variety of other musical and not-so musical sounds.
Anderson’s fifth ball almost got Watson. And then there was exactly the same hushed ooh and aah that we hear in India.