x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Drumsticks vs sixes as a cafe crowd follows the World Cup

It's hard to concentrate on your chicken when all about you are exhibiting an infectious enthusiasm for cricket.

My battle was with a chicken drumstick, but for the rest of the patrons at a restaurant in New Delhi, it was India vs South Africa.

I was the only person in the place whose priorities were not set right. Everyone else, it seemed, was perfectly content to ignore food, drink and company to focus on the cricket.

India was playing South Africa as part of the ICC World Cup, you understand, and as India is hosting the tournament this year, there was all the more reason to seek out an Indian cafe and watch the crowds roar.

Between overs, people around me launched into analysis:

"Who needed this win more?"

"He gave away 17 runs in one over. Why are they bringing him back?"

"Did he fumble with the ball? Did he give up?"

When a wicket fell, buoyed with hope, the DJ, whose booth conveniently faced a giant plasma screen on the floor downstairs, raised the volume, adding thumping beats to the mood.

I found myself doing things like carefully studying the graphics displayed and saying things like: "That was shoddy fielding two balls in a row."

I clenched my fists as an umpire waited to make a call. And flinched when a South African batsman hit a six (would they never stop?).

And then there was a lot of gesturing, hand wringing and screaming. I had almost forgotten what screaming at a bunch of bowlers and batters felt like.

A few weeks ago, when India drew with England, I almost bit off my toenails just sitting in my living room in Abu Dhabi, but watching it in the company of so many others who would have done the same was at once reassuring and maddening. We were feeding off each other's nervous energy. Soon there were sides, those who still believed India had a fighting chance and those who thought otherwise.

This is why sports fans travel around the world, to watch a match in the company of others who are equally passionate about a particular game.

I had yelled at screens before when basketball or hockey teams had disappointed but this, I kept telling myself, this was cricket, and anything could happen.

That evening India lost but I went away with a sneaky feeling that cricket had crept up on me again.

And if you don't understand the game, check into the nearest crowd in Abu Dhabi, huddled around a television set and you'll see what I mean. You may even come to love it.

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