India has something for West Indies fans to savour

‘Are the West Indies playing?’ was a question crossing nine-year-old Shivam Agarwal’s mind when he spotted a section of Caribbean fans when India came out to bat against New Zealand in the first semi-final on Wednesday. Later, Shivam’s father sat him down and made him familiar with the West Indies’ dramatic fall from grace. Shivam listened attentively, asking questions now and then to clarify.

Meanwhile, a multitude of curious onlookers, jestling and laughing, fished their smartphones from their pockets and snapped photos one after the other, as if on cue. The West Indies fans, unmoved, kept to themselves. 

Donning maroon jerseys, the group of six, faces painted with the Indian tricolour, erupted in applause each time a buoyant Virat Kohli hit over the rope. A few college-goers, who seemed to take more interest in them than the match, enquired as to why they were cheering for Team India. “We love Indians as much as we love cricket. We want India to win the World Cup. No one deserves it more than them,” pat came the reply.

Watching the sport with Indians and a large group of New Zealand supporters made it even better for them. All six admitted that the atmosphere felt more electric than usual. 

“I have been to an India game before. But it has been nothing like it is today. The bizarrely dressed-up folks over there, their face-paintings, the drums, the entertaining music…everything is just wow,” said Allen Martinez, an autism researcher from Barbados, who flew down for the World Cup with his brother Joseph and his friends.

“This is such a good experience. I mean, we get excited when we watch it on TV, but there is nothing like watching a cricket match in person,” Joseph added, who is in the country for the first time. 

Also Read: A date with destiny at Wankhede

Joseph’s college friend Molly Taylor, who likes to be regarded as a cricket atheist, maintained that she came to watch the game only because others insisted. “I don’t understand the rules and jargon of this game honestly. For me, this game was just about giving them company. These guys told me great things about Virat. They said he plays really well. So, I’m cheering for him. I hope we get to see a century,” she said. Virat, for that matter, clearly didn’t disappoint.

There were deafening cheers from the group as the former Indian skipper moved swiftly through the 90s and chants of ‘Vi-raat-Vi-raat’ filled the air. 

Much to the delight of his fans from all over the world at Mumbai’s Wankhede, Kohli stitched together yet another whirlwind century proving once again how he has lifted his one-day game. It was a near-chanceless knock filled with sparkling strokes and astute defense defying the Kiwi bowlers throughout the day.

“I knew he would score big today. I hadn’t taken a sip of water all day, now I will buy myself a drink for sure,” said Taylor, eventually losing herself in the lively beats of the Punjabi dance song ‘Ishq Tera Tadpave (Oh Ho Ho Ho)’ by Sukhbir. Unlike Molly, her sisters Stephanie and Celina had a deep knowledge of the technical part of cricket, although they had never been to a cricket stadium before. Cricketing terms like googly and yorkers routinely peppered their speech. 

Celina, the youngest of three, echoed the sentiments of many when she said: “I really wished we had made it to the World Cup this year. They (West Indies cricket team) have been on a terminal decline for the past two decades and they should be doing something about it now you know. India did not come this far so easily, they worked hard for it. They are the world beaters now, they fear nothing you know. Just like how we used to be decades and decades ago. Things are not the same anymore you know. We too, as fans, have lost the zeal to cheer for our team (sic).”

Perhaps, no cricket team in history is as revered as the West Indies side of the 1980s. The Caribbean cocktail of ferocious fast bowling and aggressive batting resonated far beyond the 22 yards. 

Also Read: Fandom at its finest

Gone are the days when the side would whitewash England and tyrannize Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and New Zealand. Now it is the other way around, they have become the ‘minnows of world cricket’, the ‘whipping boys’, so to speak. Or may I add even Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have been challenging for them to overcome. 

Given all that is stacked against, perhaps the wonder is not how far the side has fallen, but more of how it was able to ascend such heights in the first place. 

Yet, Celina insists she will hold on to hope and optimism. After several minutes of awkward silence, she had her gloomy face contorted into a broad grin as Mohammed Shami finished it off for India with a seven-for. 

“We had no idea who Shami was. I heard from an Indian guy that he has been brilliant in this World Cup. We came here to support Virat, but this team has so many match-winners, it is just crazy. I wish we hadn’t missed their previous games,” said Celina. 

Allen, who took pride in knowing all Indian players by their names, suddenly became busy acquainting his friends with India’s league stage performances. “I love cricket so much. This was like cheering for your own team. India, we love you. I’m so glad we’re all here,” he signed off. 

Allen and his friends will now go home with memories that will last a lifetime, or memories that may yet turn even more special, come November 19.

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