‘What are you guys doing here at this time?’
The incredulity on the Danish professor’s face was quite evident as he posed this question to me and my group of students who had landed in Milan for a five day open enrolment Global Management Program at SDA Bocconi School of Management from March 21st to 25th. The professor seemed quite tuned in to happenings in India and his question was essentially that how could we be missing one of the big festivals (Holi; last Saturday, March 19) and the World Cup and come for a study tour at this time! The way he rattled off an analysis about the India-West Indies game (we had met him on Monday; the match was on Sunday) left no doubt about his grasp on the concept and the context of the game and we were only too glad to indulge him during the class break. Finally I decided to be a bit cocky and answered him that we were not worried about missing a few matches since India will qualify for the final and we’ll be back in time to catch our cricket team winning the cup in Mumbai. The Prof’s instant reaction? ‘Wow! That’s amazing that you guys are missing all this! Forget about Sachin, they have to win the tournament for you guys!’
I may forget all that he taught about Corporate Entrepreneurship that day but those words from Prof. Mikkel Draebye will forever remained etched in my memory; especially after what transpired on April 2, 2011.
Having to go for a study tour to soccer mad Italy where you cant even find a TV channel that’s beaming ‘the cup that counts’ (for a billion plus Indians’ of course!) is a bummer. But lost in the coffee, the classes and the catwalks of Milan (OK, the last one’s an exaggeration) the ICC World Cup was being followed by this bunch of 40 odd Indians on public wi-fi connections, or on the University’s computers whenever there was a break between classes. Removed from the frenzy and the hysteria, reactions to the win against West Indies were mostly muted but by the time the high profile quarter final against Australia rolled around, the mood became quite edgy.
I had to travel to Turin on the day of the quarterfinal. The last update I had was Australia at 140 odd for four wickets with Ponting still there. I had assumed that a reasonable 250-ish target in this day and age of power hitting and power plays was gettable but had no idea what was the target the Aussies had set. In Turin, late in the evening (around 11 PM India time), I walked into a place called ‘Mood Café’ for a cup of espresso that was fast becoming my daily poison. I desperately searched for the Wi-fi (Mood café proudly announced it was wi-fi enables) but my phone wouldn’t connect at all. My heart pounded fast knowing that India’s fate would have already been decided in Ahmedabad by now. My colleague who’d come for the trip seemed quietly confident. Before I left he assured me that the bookies will help India win; there’s no way they can afford to lose. His cynical confidence did little to affect my anxieties as a fan as I nervously waited for some kind of connection.
The espresso arrived with a small glass of soda water which was meant, apparently, to clear your tongue of any other taste before you tasted the coffee. But I needed to clear my mind first. The ‘hallelujah’ moment arrived in the form of a phone call from my a friend of mine. She was also traveling that day and had got the news aboard her bus that India had won. And excitedly she shared the news; roaming charges be damned! The espresso suddenly became all the more enjoyable as my host (a lovely young lady who was the international relations coordinator at the University of Turin) wore a bemused look on her face. I tried explaining her what this moment meant. But amidst the excitement I was barely comprehensible.
In the ebullience of the quarter final win, I had forgotten the other bit of heart breaking news – India would be playing Pakistan in the semi in Mohali and that is the exact day we have a transcontinental 7 hour flight from Brussels to Doha! If being away from the madness of the crowds and the grinding sounds of the gigantic hype machine that was our media had seemed a blessing so far, I suddenly longed for a bit of it. But as luck and our wretched tour itinerary would have it, WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE IN A DAMNED PLANE DURING AND INDIA PAKISTAN GAME!
I must confess that a few quick solutions crossed my mind. How about breaking into the cockpit, holding a knife to the pilot’s throat and demanding ‘Fly us immediately to the nearest airport that has ESPN!’? But then, I didn’t want to watch the final in prison!
We were supposed to fly out of Brussels during the match and scheduled to land in Doha (our transit halt) after about seven hours. My colleague asked what formalities do we do for the transit stay once we reach the State of Qatar. I replied, ‘Here’s how the procedure goes…we land in Doha, collect all the passports of the group and a print out of the list of names and approach the nearest airline official and scream ‘FOR GOD’S SAKE PLEASE TELL US WHO WON IN THE INDIA-PAKISTAN MATCH’.
On semifinal day we were able to catch about three of Sachin’s five reprieves during his 85 and then headed out to the airport.
The Brussels airport sucked. Sure, it had great infrastructure and terrific systems in terms of displaying up to date information about flights, departure times etc. but there was not a single update on the cricket! Look at the Bangalore Airport and learn, people! It uses all its LCD screens to beam the matches. So what if a few dozen passengers would happen to miss their flight. Anyway, I went to the check-in desk having asked my senior in Antwerp to give me a call and update me on the scores. His only update since we left had been disappointing – Sachin had got out just as our bus hit the outskirts of Antwerp.
As I checked my luggage in, the attendant frowned. Too heavy, she scowled. I thought to myself, ‘Oh I am sorry…I think I might accidentally have also checked in the weight of all the expectations on the Indian team on today’s match’. Finally, after much shuffling around the luggage was checked in and boarding pass received.
I moved towards the security gate. Standing in the security line taking off my belt and my shoes I suddenly realized that the Indian innings must have ended by now. On instinct I took out my phone and dialed my senior. ‘Sir, what’s the target for Pakistan?’ I barked into the phone, a tad too loudly perhaps. And then as there were awkward stares from the others in the security line, the realization hit me – what I just said in an European airport security line either made no sense to them or had set off every possible terror talk detector with the perfect set of buzzwords. Fortunately, I quickly clarified the context over the phone (‘I mean sir, how many runs do Pakistan need to score to win?’) and passed through security a couple of minutes later, thus becoming perhaps the first man to not be detained at airport security after having used the words ‘target’ and ‘Pakistan’ in the same sentence.
260 sounded a good enough score to me, although most people thought Pakistan held the edge (and they did start well enough to justify that) and our entire group was on tenterhooks on the entire flight anxious for the result. I eyed the in flight phone and read the charges. Hmmm… $5.75 a minute, not a bad deal I thought, but the only deterrent was the thought of calling up and finding out that India had lost. The moment the plane landed, the wait was over! News immediately came in about a brilliant victory at Mohali and there was whooping and clapping all around the aircraft, Indian cabin crew included. Even my skeptical ‘All-these-matches-are-fixed’ colleague allowed himself some basking in the afterglow. In fact things got a little out of hand on the bus back to the terminal where the cheers drowned the transfer announcements ticking the five British passengers who were on that bus straining to hear which terminal would their connecting flight be at. We couldn’t care less as I logged on to the Doha International Airport free wifi (God Bless the Qatari State) for some details on the game.
So, it was indeed to be as we had thought it was destined to be – watch the final back in India and hopefully watch India realize the dream. Two days later everyone was back in India and everyone enjoyed that magical moment when the country could finally exhale and then exult almost simultaneously as a victory for the ages was scripted by Dhoni and his boys. They had won it for the country! They had won it for Sachin. And if you go by Prof Draebye’s words, they had won it for us!