x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The mayhem of Mumbai on World Cup final day

The build up starts way before breakfast for an expectant nation of more than a billion, who are quite fond of cricket.

Indian cricket fans cheer for their national side while watching the final on a projection screen in Mumbai.
Indian cricket fans cheer for their national side while watching the final on a projection screen in Mumbai.

Look, we all know we should not go traipsing into a country for the first time and start running around making judgements after mere hours, so forgive any rashness in this insight that came up yesterday at breakfast:

The people here do seem fond of cricket.

With that just brazenly assumed, this endless city by the sea came to seem an unequivocal vortex of the planet. It supplied that feeling only sport can supply, that of something so consuming that the run-up itself can wring allegiance from the neck hairs.


More on the World Cup final

Dhoni leads by example as resilient India win World Cup

A fitting climax to a special cricket World Cup final

Lasith Malinga can only temporarilu silence Mumbai crowd


It began, as does all of life, on television, where even before the coffee so much as trickled into the cup, at least seven channels ran countdowns to the start of the World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka. In this derby one network clearly outpaced the others when it issued the countdown not only in hours and minutes and seconds but to the hundredths of a second, which did make it seem as if 2.30pm were coming faster.

"Billion Hearts Pound", went a headline on one channel. "A Nation Holds Its Breath", blared the Times of India. "Final Frontier", went the Hindustan Times. The Times of India coverage included at least 30 articles, including an interview with the hairdresser of three Indian players, who reported from his visit to their hotel: "Virat likes it very short on the front and gradually larger on the crown."

One television network updated that 160,092 people had wished the team well, failing to note any who had wished it ill out of hype fatigue or hockey allegiance.

Children appeared on air, as in so many countries, being indoctrinated into a life of suffering over sport. Reporters conducted those crazy interviews, as in so many countries, where the reporter asks the fan for a prediction and the fan shockingly replies something along the lines of: "India!"

It seemed that if you and your buddies could play a little guitar and more-or-less sing and more-or-less sing something cricket-related then you, too, could appear on television because, really, how to fill all that airtime?

Sachin Tendulkar advertised motor oil and really seemed to know his motor oil.

In real life, then, at the Churchgate train station near Wankhede Stadium, the fine feel of frenzy greeted anyone disembarking, as did a realisation that not only in the movies do some people cross platforms by scurrying through stationary trains. Face-painters proliferated as never before on earth, such that if you answered yes to all of them, just scraping it off would have required a garden hoe.

Flags. Heat. Horns. Humidity. Bacchanal. Where Veer Nariman Road runs into Marine Drive right at the sea, the heavy security had its gauntlet, and so crowds and traffic accumulated, and helpful people pointed out a light stanchion of the stadium two blocks up. A man leaned out of a car window with a giant flag and became a favourite subject of photographers, only to go forgotten because of a gathering hubbub around a silver van in behind.

Around the van, the crowd grew, oblivious to other vehicles or the idea of potentially being struck by those other vehicles. Reason in the van: Aamir Khan, movie star.

All the spectacle left ticklish a question - What if Sri Lanka win? - that then skittered out of mind. Around Churchgate station on the other side, away from the water, people stopped at a wooden fence just to look across the train tracks at the stadium. Some walked along with that ancient gizmo, the transistor radio. Then, upon the first wicket at one minute past three, the stadium loosed upon the neighbourhood a mighty roar.

It was the great roar of great want, and it went right at those neck hairs. And while no event can swallow up such a metropolis, and while a big chunk of Mumbai did go on obliviously - selling vegetables, weaving baskets, sitting at taxis that seemed to have few customers, playing its own cricket in dusty fields - you could imagine many of a billion faces contorting through the brilliance of Mahela Jayawardene and India's hard chase through the evening.

Up in the Bandra neighbourhood at a rooftop party, countenances showed fear just after Tendulkar went fishing outside. "Very scared," one man said. Yet as Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni soared and victory neared, fireworks blossomed over the city. And as Dhoni's six flew out and 28 years of wait concluded, the people danced and screamed into mobile phones and gave every impression that they intend to remain altogether fond of cricket.