It was a Saturday. I was in Class 9th. The exams were approaching. We were supposed to be focused on our studies, and not be worried about anything else, especially no sporting events.
All this ended up being the prelude to one of my fondest hostel memories in over 12 years of living away from home. Our boarding school authorities decided that they will not be playing the India vs. Pakistan match live on the television for students to watch in the main auditorium.
"Only Class 10th have Board exams, let the others watch it please."
"This is the first match India is playing vs. Pakistan after the Kargil war - please let us watch it."
"This is the most important match for India in this World Cup - please let us watch it."
"You can confiscate all our radios after this match if you allow us to watch just this one match live on TV."
All those pleas fell flat. Our teachers and other school authorities were unmoved, safe in the knowledge that they can still watch it in their respective staff quarters.
On the morning of 1st March 2003 (classes were off as we had 'study leaves'), my dorm-mates and I tried pleading one last time. Once we knew it wasn't going to be successful, we decided to not do exactly what the teachers wanted us to do.
In protest of the decision to not allow us to watch that match live, we took our dormitory's radio set to the grounds, played the radio commentary of the match loud, and played our own cricket match alongside. We played cricket all through the afternoon, which comprised of Pakistan's batting and the innings break at Centurion. We had completed 4 matches in that period - 2 won by Division A and 2 won by Division B (that included me).
At this point, there was a discussion. Some wanted to continue playing a decider. Some wanted to break for studies (oh, how I still pity them today!). And I formed the part of a third group who decided that to try and watch the match by using crooked means.
We racked our collective brains and came up with four staff members' names who we thought would be sympathetic enough to let us watch the match for 10 minutes in their quarters. We took care that these four staff members had their respective quarters at different areas of the campus, so that we wouldn't be caught in our plans.
Just as Tendulkar was marking his guard (yes, I was surprised to see him take first strike), we knocked on the door of the first staff member on our list. As we had expected, he allowed us to watch the match for 10 minutes. We were delighted, and watched that first over by Wasim Akram (9 runs, yes!) and then the second over from Shoaib Akhtar started.
Now here's how bad our luck was! Akhtar took so much of time to start his over, and then ended up bowling two wides too (one of them fumbled by the make-shift wicket-keeper Taufeeq Umar), that the sympathetic staff member turned unsympathetic. After that fumbled wide, he had had enough and shoo-ed us out of his quarters. But because we were all so eager, he said that we could come back after 30 minutes if we spent them studying.
That had been the part of our plan. Oblivious to our dear staff members, these 30 minutes were to be spent at the quarters of other three members of staff whom we had in our list as the ones likely to be sympathetic to our pleas. We ran to the next one. And curse our luck - we missed the shots that would be replayed millions of times in different corners of the earth over the next decade and more. Sachin Tendulkar had decided to take on Shoaib Akhtar just when we were not watching.
When we reached and were admitted into the quarters of the second staff member on our list, we knew something had happened - something good. Otherwise there was no need for such beaming smiles on the faces of our Maths Sir and his wife. I didn't remember him smiling so much even when he'd gotten married in the previous semester!
After the advertisement break was over, we knew. The score was suddenly 27 for 0 in 2 overs, and we saw the replays soon. Even though we've all seen those shots hundreds of times on various news channels, highlights packages, youtube videos and quite possibly in our dreams too, it still irks me that I missed that event live. It was one of the defining moments of Indian cricket's finest era.
We continued our 'plan' for more than 2 hours. No one suspected us even for a minute, or so I believe today because it went off so well. But we abandoned it on our own accord after Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed. We didn't know things were starting to change. We still treated the Lord's 2002 (Natwest Final) as a one-off occurrence. The hangover of watching cricket as toddlers in the 1990s was so disconcerting that we weren't willing to continue with our plan and watch the match finish in what would be a famous win for India. There was no hope after that majestic innings of 98 (75) had ended.
We went back to our dormitory dejectedly, huddled around a radio set, and the live commentary fed us for the next hour and a half. Mohammed Kaif's batting had looked calm, and so we were prepared for the worst when he got out. But the Rahul Dravid - Yuvraj Singh partnership soothed us. And after soothing, it elated us. Every moment could be pictured as the radio commentators went about their business. And the Indian crowd at Centurion could not have been any happier than our huddled group late in the evening.
The cheering and hugging that followed will remain one of the most memorable moments of my life. The memory is still vivid - not decomposed yet despite the passage of time - an entire decade, no less! I have had many moments in my hostel life that I look back at with immense nostalgia - and this one is definitely near the top of that list. I am not in touch with any of the five friends that I shared those 4 hours with, but I am sure that if we were to meet somewhere any time in the future, the memory of that evening in 2003 would make its way into our conversations and would stay with us for a lifetime.
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