Thursday, March 31, 2011

ICC at the ICC: Research Run Amuck

I'm not competitive, I hardly play sports, and I never watch them. If something big is happening and it's right in my path, then I may jump on the bandwagon, but only temporarily, and only because it's in my path. This happened during the Canada/US Olympic hockey game last year (it was blasted in my living room), and for the World Cup last summer (I kept tripping over crowds huddling outside bars while trying to enjoy my trip to Montreal). Last night, Pakistan played India in the ICC, which is like the World Cup but for cricket, which I gathered was big because the India/Pak rivalry is like the Canada/US rivalry.

It was great timing for me because as part of my research for my novel, I needed to watch people watching cricket (because God knows I don't). I've seen crazy hockey/soccer/football fans, but cricket had to be different. I wanted to capture the cricket-y things the fans said, how they acted, who the players were, etc. And I had access to a banquet hall full of cricket fans and the biggest tournament of the cricket world at my service. Perfect.

It seemed less perfect when I dragged myself out of bed to be at the ICC (India Community Center) by 8 am this morning. I really wanted to just sleep, but I knew this was too good a chance to pass up and it was for the novel, Phi, show your dedication, etc. Plus a quick Facebook check, with all my Indian/Paki friends all over the world adding their input, put me in a festive mood.

Upon walking into the darkened ICC banquet room that boasted two large screens, I realized two big problems:

1. I was not Indian.
2. I did not know the first thing about cricket.

A friend from my Bollywood workout class saw me and gave me a crash course on ...something I don't remember. As he did, a man overhearing us gave me the strangest look (I think my friend had been explaining what an over was).

I had my good old notepad (you Karachiites remember it), and was in full research mode. Grabbing a cup of the complimentary chai, I found a seat.

As I sat down (at the back of the room, behind all the people with India flags draped on their shoulders and the India flag colours glued to their hats/coats), something came over me. I was engrossed.

Basically, the last two out of the total eight hours the game lasted were riveting. They would play one over and then have these awesome ads for . ("Living abroad? You can have your very own Gujju/Punjabi/Tamil bride only on Gujju/Punjabi/, followed by a fawning newlywed couple, the bride still donning her wedding mehndi, saying, "' I can't believe I found you here in this country!'").

In the two hours I watched (the last two of the eight, EIGHT, that the game lasted), here's all I learned about cricket:

1. If the wicket gets knocked down by the Indian bowler, the Indian fans will scream and run around but it doesn't mean the game's over and you can go home. There are more overs to come.

2. If a Pakistani batter hits the ball really well, that's not necessarily a good thing because like in baseball, the sailing ball can be caught and that batter is out. If that batter is a guy named Afridi that means he's the captain, the one everyone was pinning their hopes on and that's extra bad.

3. There's a thing called a power play (like in hockey), and the Pakistanis could have used it today but didn't. The commentators did NOT approve of this move. Nor did I. I don't know what a power play is, but I was with the commentators.

4. At the end of the match, "Chak De India" was blared at the ICC, and people danced, waved their flags, took pictures with their friends. I stood eventually, and even as my foot tapped to the catchy beat of "Chak De India", and visions of Shah Rukh Khan, star of the movie by the same name, in his clean front chinos and modern-shodern new haircut leading the underdog girls hockey team flashed through my mind, I was really sad.

I looked at my notepad. I hadn't made many notes. I had been so caught up in the game, I hadn't been a good novel researcher.

Today, I was simply a Pakistani, rooting for my home and native land.