I had no idea of what I was setting myself up for when I accepted an offer from yahoo! and its associates to travel to South Africa for the inaugural ICC World Twenty20. A votary of the conventional cricket, there was some skepticism at the back of my mind and I allowed myself to be talked into the assignment.
A journalist friend of mine from Bangladesh, asked me what I would do at T20. It is for P3 reporters, he taunted. But I had made my commitment to watch the cricket for whatever it was worth and enjoy the opportunity of watching the game. Perhaps, pegging expectations low helped and I have a feast that I am unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Two weeks after the first ball was bowled, I am now in the Press Box at the Wanderers, awaiting the excitement of covering the final between India and Pakistan. Had you told me a fortnight ago that the sub-contintental neigbours would be playing for the $490,000 top prize, I may have laughed it off as wishful thinking. But two amazing weeks have changed all that.
With only the final left to be played, I look back at my experience over the past fortnight and believe that game is for the smart cricketer, the fan in a hurry and the young journalist who can find news ways to describe the whole range of emotions that players and fans alike go through in the span of three hours at each match.
I had not even settled down in the press box at the Kingsmead Cricket Ground in Durban when New Zealand pace bowlers Shane Bond and Mark Gillespie claimed four Kenya wickets for one run in the first two overs. The excitement hasn’t stopped flowing since and we have been lucky that we have got a day’s break between matches.
There are so many wonderful memories already. A tie in the India-Pakistan league game and then the bowl out that saw India win 3-0. Indian left-hander Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes off England pace bowler Stuart Broad, Australian paceman Brett Lee’s hat-trick, Pakistan leg-spinner Shahid Afridi’s nagging accuracy. Some stunning games tested my nerve, too.
And now, just 40 overs remain to be bowled for the winner and loser to be separated. I had never imagined that I would be at a T20 final and one featuring India and Pakistan at that! The Wanderers has provided a great atmosphere, thousands of Asians filling in what they call the Bull Ring, waving flags of the two nations and inspiring the DJ on location to play music from the sub-continent.
I have been to Test matches and one-day internationals featuring the two teams in India and Pakistan and in one-day games in places like Sharjah, Colombo and Old Trafford and Southampton in England. And have felt the needle, becoming an unwilling party of the hype that surrounds such matches. Happily, that needle has been absent – or so I would like to believe.
I have had goose pimples at cricket grounds many times but never like I did when the teams had lined up for the national anthems of the two countries at the Wanderers on Monday. India’s Jana Gana Mana and then Pakistan’s Pak Sarzamin resounded at the stadium.