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The Voyage of Spectacle The Most Expensive Game Ever Played — Part IV

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

The Most Expensive Game Ever Played — Part IV

 

The Most Expensive Game Ever Played

Part IV — The Match

Because of the (1) 9:30 a.m. start time, (2) need to sell our extra tickets, and (3) choking traffic of Trinidad (L.A.’s got nothing on these folks), we decided to leave the hotel at 6:00 a.m.

Melissa and Andy Decked Out as Sri Lanka SuperfansIt indeed took forever to get there.  We arrived near the stadium at about 8:00.  Ninety minutes before the game, the atmosphere was already electric, including a boisterous carnival procession.  I managed to scalp my tickets (alas, for less than I paid), we bought loads of Sri Lanka merchandise (and suited up in it), and we headed into the ground.

Da In-dya!  These India Fans Reminded Us of the Old Chicago Superfan Skit on SNLAfter our aforementioned amusing interaction with the nut salesman, we made it to our seats.  Just in front of us to the left we had the India version of the Chicago Superfans.  Seriously … check out the picture.  The crowd was about 90/10 for India.

It’s very hard to try to translate the action of cricket for an audience that probably doesn’t contain more than five people who understand it.  I’m going to try to relate it to baseball — baseball terms are in quotes.

In one-day cricket, each team bats once.  Each batting team gets 10 outs (also known as wickets) or 300 balls (“pitches” to us Americans) to hit, whichever comes first.  The rules are well organized so that the opposing bowler must throw something that resembles a baseball “strike” or else surrender penalty runs.  Unlike baseball, outs in cricket are rare – an out is cause for celebration by the opposing fans.  In baseball, the pitcher wins most of the time.  In cricket, the batsman wins (or at least survives) almost all of the time.  Unlike baseball, the batsman continues to bat until he is out – indeed, his teammates are back in the players’ lounge watching the game on television (a minor but, for our purposes, important fact that you should keep in mind as you read toward the end of Part V of this story).  Conceivably, in one-day cricket, two batsmen (there are always two players batting) could play all 300 balls (or, if their team is batting second, as many as they need to win) without making a single out.  Indeed, this has happened in the World Cup more than once (Sri Lanka did it to Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup – Jayasuriya was one of the batters).

The trick to good one-day cricket batting is trying to bat aggressively enough that your team scores a lot of runs but not so aggressively as to make outs too quickly, thereby losing your best batsmen (much like baseball, the “pitchers” tend to bat last and be the weakest hitters) and running the risk of not even seeing all 300 balls if you reach 10 outs.  The batter can hit the ball and (only if he chooses to) run for usually one run or two runs.  If he chooses not to swing or hits it poorly, he just sits still and we move on to the next ball.  If he hits the ball hard or places it well, it might roll over the boundary, a rope encircling the field, for four runs.  In the event he really crushes one and clears the boundary on the fly, it is worth six.  This is pretty rare, sort of like a home run in baseball.

These days in one-day cricket, a good, B-grade team batting score is around 250 (off 300 balls).  Less than 200 is pretty weak and more than 300 is pretty hard to catch (although South Africa chased down an Australia total of 434 last year in perhaps the greatest one-day game ever played).  Obviously, the size and quality of the stadium matter a great deal, as well as the characteristics of the individual players involved.  For example, Sri Lanka is considered a bowling team – it is very tough to put up a big number against them.  By contrast, India is considered a batting team – it is very tough to hold them down to a low number.

So, in our game, the real newsworthy clash would be the Sri Lanka bowlers – Vaas, Murali and company – against the India batsmen – Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Sehwag, Dhoni, etc.  It’s sort of like this year’s Super Bowl – the Colts offense v. the Bears defense was the marquee matchup, not the Bears offense v. the Colts defense.

India won the toss and elected to field.  This meant that we’d have to wait for the afternoon session for India Takes the Field After Winning the Toss and Electing to Field Firstthe big confrontation.  The morning would be to see how high of a target the Sri Lanka batters could set for India to chase.

For a while, it didn’t look very good.  Jayasuriya went out for only 6 (25-30 is a respectable but not great score), followed shortly thereafter by Jayawardene for 7.  Only erratic control by the India bowlers (resulting in lots of penalty runs) and a dogged performance by opening batsman Upul Tharanga, were keeping Sri Lanka Sri Lanka's Opening Batsmen Take the Fieldin the match (remember that there are always two batsmen – both Jayasuriya and Jayawardene were out long before Tharanga, who was one of the two batters the whole time).

Then the last big-name batsman in the Sri Lanka lineup, Kumar Sangakkara (one of the world’s best batting wicket-keepers, the “catcher” equivalent position in cricket) went out for only 15.  Sri Lanka had faced 141 of its 300 balls, had scored just 92 runs and already lost its three best batsmen — not an auspicious start.

But relative unknowns Chamara Silva and Tillikaratne Dilshan – the #5 and #6 batters – reversed Sri Lanka’s fortune, combining to make 97 runs off of 109 balls, Silva finishing with 59 (his third half-century in as many World Cup matches) and Dilshan made 38 off only 41 balls.  By the time they were both put out (in the span of just three balls), Sri Lanka was at 216 with 23 balls remaining.  Now it was up to the end-of-the-order batters to determine whether Sri Lanka would get a shaky-looking 225 or something closer to 275 (the score most people thought they needed with the big bats of India chasing them).

The job fell to Russel Arnold and Vaas, who combined to rip 38 more runs off those 23 balls, including Vaas ripping the only six (“home run” if you will) of the Sri Lanka innings.  After it looked for most of the morning that Sri Lanka was headed for a disastrous 180, all of the sudden the scoreboard said 254.

At the lunch break, no one in the stands really knew what to make of the conspicuously average run total.  After all, when the Bears defense is getting ready to take on the Colts offense, it’s hard to know whether the Colts are going to score 42 or 10.

Vaas started out as Sri Lanka’s first bowler and promptly held India to 0 runs for the first over (six balls), a feat also known as a maiden.  Given the comparative aggression of one-day cricket batters (vis-à-vis test cricket), this is pretty rare – usually only five or so per match.  He bowled the third over (six balls) for 1 run.  It was a good start.

I stood up and started trying to lead the crowd in chants of “Vaas is boss.”  This proved fruitless, as 90% of the fans in our section were supporting India.  Shortly thereafter, the Indian team got to Vaas, hitting consecutive fours over the boundary.  “Vaas is fired!” came back the cheer.  This time, people joined in.

Not for long.  Vaas regained his previous form, taking wickets from opening batsmen Robin Utthapa and the legendary Sourav Ganguly.  The first was a superb catch by Vaas on a “comebacker,” and the second was a surprisingly nice running catch by Murali, a man definitely not known for his fielding.  See the first at the 2:03 mark and the second at the 3:58 mark of this clip.

I tried out, “Vaas is rehired,” “Vaas has been reinstated,” “Vaas actually owns the company.”  Surprisingly, none of these caught on.

Throughout all of this, we were in front of the TV cameras CONSTANTLY.  They probably took 45 minutes of footage of just “Mel & Andy” reaction shots.  We watched some of the late-night replay back at the hotel, and we were all over the broadcast.  Time after time, whenever something good happened for Sri Lanka, they’d cut to us cheering.  And when something bad happened for Sri Lanka, they’d cut to us looking concerned and forlorn.

After Ganguly fell, up came Sachin Tendulkar.  A roar went up from the Indian fans.  This man is an icon, considered by many to be the second-greatest batsman in cricket history (behind the Babe Ruth of cricket, Australian old-timer Donald Bradman).  He’s a small man, but he has presence, in addition to a laundry list of World Cup and other cricket records.  Turning 34 this month, he is nearing the end of his career.  We had come here in part so we could say that we saw Tendulkar play in person.

We didn’t see much.  On the third ball he faced, Tendulkar was bowled out by Dilhara Fernando (see the 4:46 mark of the clip.  His final score:  0 — a duck.  I knew I always liked pitchers named Fernando.

The India fans were heart-broken, some holding back tears.  Their greatest national sports heroLasith Malinga had gone down badly (as had his main long-time sidekick, Ganguly), and India had only 44 runs off 69 balls, needing 255 off 300 to win.  They were way behind “schedule,” thanks to Vaas and fan-favorite and unorthodox hard-throwing “slinger” Lasith Malinga.

Shortly hereafter, Murali came in to bowl.  The guy has devastating movement on his deliveries.  He was facing a formidable combination of Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, the two remaining members of the “Big Four” Indian batsmen.  They hung in there for a while, slowly accumulating runs, but failing to speed things up to the necessary run rate.  Eventually, Murali forced Sehwag into an awkward edge (a “foul tip” if you will) that was caught by Jayawardene (see the 7:53 mark of the clip).  What followed was a collapse of the Indian lower order, with a bone-headed “baserunning” error (see the 8:39 mark of the clip) followed by a pathetic first-ball duck from up-and-coming “sensation” Mahendra Dhoni at the hands of the devastating Murali (at the beginning of this new clip).

Although captain Dravid was hanging in gamely, India was down to the bottom of the order for a battingOn This Shot of the Scoreboard, There's a Statistic Towards the Middle Called Run Rate, Currently 4.00 For India.  Next to Run Rate is Required Run Rate (to Win), Currently 10.87 or Twice as Many Available Balls Left in the Game. companion, and the writing now on the wall – not only were they running out of balls, they were running out of outs.

“Bowl ‘em out” was my new chant.  By now, the Sri Lanka fans were a bit more vocal and joined in.  And that’s what happened.  The bottom of the order capitulated quickly (no Vaas-like grit from the India bowlers-turned-batsmen), and India was all out for 185 – as they had gone through all 10 outs, they didn’t even get to see the last 39 balls.

The India fans were stunned.  More than a few were in tears.  It’s good to know they are taking it so well back home.

We had been told to be back at the Hilton right after the game, especially if Sri Lanka won, so we quickly exited the stadium and started walking back toward the Hilton.  It had been a fantastic day out, watching “our” little island nation dominate a cricket superpower of more than a billion people in The Most Expensive Game Ever Played.  Little did we know that it wasn’t over yet.

For Part V of “The Most Expensive Game Ever Played,” click here.


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