I had a feeling that watching India v England at Eden Gardens would be an amazing experience. So when the ICC relocated the match to Bangalore we couldn't believe our luck - Ireland were due to play in Bangalore a couple of days later.
The quest for tickets was an arduous one as the official website drew a blank. That was understandable as presumably most of the tickets had been sold for the larger original venue. There was despair among the local cricket fans as the website seemed only to be occasionally operational between crashes.
We were informed by local supporters that there were occasional successes on the website, but when the news spread that further tickets were available the system duly crashed again.
Through an alternative website, I sourced tickets for the India v England match and most suspiciously, I couldn't find out where in the ground my seats were.
That same day Sky News were showing bamboo wielding soldiers beating the ‘rioting’ fans who were queuing in the hope of obtaining ticket. I became sceptical of actually getting the tickets until at 11.00pm the night before my 6am departure when the documentation started to arrive by email. My tickets were due to be picked up the morning of the match, which seemed a bit risky, so I set off with my travelling companion in hope rather than in expectation of getting to the match.
We arrived in Bangalore the day before the match and drove straight to the ground to find large numbers of soldiers and plenty of people looking for tickets for the following day's clash. We were offered tickets for INR20,000 (about 10 times their face value). In fairness, the cost of tickets at INR1,600 and 1,800 did seem reasonable to us and to the middle class local fans we met. Having explained we were trying to collect tickets, we were told there were no tickets available.
Eventually we discovered the ticket office that was issuing the tickets ready for collection – the ticket office that no-one knew about or seemed inclined to tell us about. We spoke to English fans who, much to my surprise, had left the game against Holland early and missed what must have been a very exciting finish. After an hour or so queuing we reached the window, presented the letter of authorisation, the photocopies of the passport and credit card; all of these were examined and tickets issued without delay.
Intent on being early enough to savour the atmosphere, we set off without cameras, mobiles etc as we had been instructed. When we arrived, we hoped the the queue wrapping around the outside of the stadium was not for Gate 16. Alas, it was, and so we started the long walk down the street and round the corner to the back of the queue. It was clear we had made the right call on our attire; the Cricket Ireland tops were greeted with great warmth by all.
We engaged in conversation with those in the queue, all of whom were young (20-35) and upwardly mobile Indians in their pale blue tops. The army patrolled with their bamboos – all too often appearing ready to use them on the wrong sorts while turning a blind eye to the well heeled queue jumpers.
Two-and-a-half hours later when we approached the security checks, we were stripped of pencils, bottles of water and small sun lotion tubes. The delay meant we missed the first over of the match and Tendulkar’s reception as he walked to the crease to the applause of the home crowd.
The seats were not numbered or fixed. If you have a seat and you want to move, you can simply bring your seat with you. You have to excuse yourself as you squeeze past those who had relocated their seats. Towards the end of the match as the excitement reached fever pitch, some fans held their seats over their heads - and thankfully held on to them.
As for the full Indian experience, bottles of water were confiscated at the entrance on the basis of water being available inside the ground. There was a tap which I decided might keep me hydrated for the match, but might lay me low for the rest of the tournament.
Likewise the food on offer was limited. There was a cauldron of stew available, to which water was constantly being added, so we went for the safe options. We had two oranges to drink and three packets of crisps each (before the supplies ran out) to keep us going for the day.
But none of the above mattered. The match unfolded with Tendulkar making a century and India posting what most thought was a winning total of 337. But Andrew Strauss eclipsed the master with his knock of 158 in 42 overs – a total he made under huge pressure and which kept England in the match.
England were very professional and the manner in which they sucked the life and atmosphere out of the game was phenomenal (something they did not do against Ireland). It worked, as thousands of Indians left the ground early thinking that the inevitable would happen. The match ebbed and flowed to the very last ball, with a single tieing the match after England scored 28 runs off the last 12 balls.
On the way out of the stadium, an English interviewer asked would I mind being interviewed. I suggested I take off my jumper as the interviewer asked what I thought of the match. The interview had started before the interviewer realised that I was now dressed in a Cricket Ireland top. His eyes dropped, focused on the logo and he asked if I thought England would go all the way.
“I think Ireland have a good chance on Wednesday – we should have beaten England at Stormont last year and…………”
At that that point I realised that the interviewer had heard what he didn’t want to hear and he was already mentally deleting the interview. Four days later and after the Irish win over England, I met the interviewer and he recognised me as the person who said Ireland would win.
So thanks Hufeza Queresh Ezzi for the tickets – it really was a great day and one to savour. A Tendulkar century (with no more pressure than he faces every time he plays for India), followed by a far superior 158 from Strauss constantly trying to keep the runs flowing when chasing such a large target. In the last six overs the match swung back and forth. We left elated having seen a match that we thought would make the trip memorable – little did we know that the game would be surpassed by the next two matches and Irelands’ phenomenal performances.