Straight off the bat

November 19, 2009

It certainly is the best seat in the house, but sitting close to the boundary of a cricket field does not necessarily ensure you would have a good time watching the match. Cricket is like a religion in India. An unusual game, that goes on all day even through lunch and tea. Naturally then, covering this game in India is like covering it nowhere else in the world.

At least four hours before a match, photographers start out for the stadium, winding through noisy, mile-long lines. The lines of spectators are so long that one wonders if the last man actually gets to see the full match.

Security is often difficult. Parking passes are virtually impossible to get. So there’s little else a photographer can do, but walk along crowded dusty paths carrying heavy equipment. Certainly not a good thing for the faint-hearted!

It was no different at the India-Australia one-day match in Vadodara. The intense bag-checking by the police at several places made getting into the stadium an adventure sport by itself. Undeterred, spectators thronged the stadium well before the game. A glimpse of the players during pre-match practice was all it took to drive them into a tizzy. The cheering in the stadium is so loud that all laws on noise levels seem to be breached. Only the law of the willow prevails.

Photographers too go into a tizz when players appear, albeit for a different reason. When players practice in front of photographers, a straight or cover drive or a throw from a fielder sends us scurrying for cover too. Lenses get hit, laptops take a rap. Recently a photographer got hit on his head by a jet-paced-ball from an Australian cricketer. He  was lucky to come away with only minor injuries.

Such escapades happened at Nagpur too, but here, the photographers protested. Most Indian cricketers comply with photographer requests not to practice in front of them. But some young ones prefer to practice in front of the lenses. After several hits to man and machine, a confrontation ensued between players and shooters, and organizers intervened to prevent fisticuffs.

But it’s not always brotherhood and camaraderie among photographers. On smaller grounds, fights break out over a scarce resource – the right spot. Tempers usually subside when the first ball is bowled and lenses are trained on players. The game rolls on under the beating sun, giving us a taste of the warm nay hot country. Water becomes scarce at some venues, so does food. These are available in the press room,  often a winding walk or climb away, but photographers (especially us with news-agencies) usually don’t have the luxury of time to go there.

Not scarce though, are emotions running high. When the men-in-blue (Indian players) hit a shot, or a visiting player is dismissed, the stadium erupts as possibly the noisiest place in India. Turning a deaf ear to the noise, keeping one eye on the game, and the other on the laptop, is challenging. It’s like a circus, a modern-day gladiatorial game, involving sports-persons and photographers battling heat and thirst, dust and deadlines.

For hours players slug it out with bats and balls and we with our lenses and laptops. Finally the match ends, with a non-stop deafening roar from the crowd after an Indian victory or a deafening silence after the home-team’s defeat.

The departure of fans is no less chaotic than their arrival. Crowds are not enthusiastic to leave till the last player has left the stadium in the team bus, waving to them, that is if any were visible from behind the curtains. Now that’s extracting value for ticket-money!

After the crowds disperse, photographers leave too, clean-bowled by the time we reach our hotels or homes. All that’s left now is to dip into some curry, put our feet up and call it a day. Howzatt! for some curry and cricket?

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