Champions Trophy experiences at Edgbaston, The Oval & Sophia Gardens. How was it to follow a cricket tournament?
Following cricket over radio, tv, websites and now phone apps is just how it has been over the generations in many homes like mine. Well before I was born cricket seemed to be the go-to topic during most family occasions and the reason to meet up. As a kid, while talking to my brothers, we used to discuss the desire to follow cricket around the world. It was a discussion we tried to make happen during the 2015 World Cup, but then, my mother got sick – a cricket enthusiast herself.
But now, when I got sick, and mobility became an issue, I needed an aim, something to motivate me. Traveling from Mumbai to London for the Champions Trophy was just that – my motivation. Plus after starting a cricket site with a friend, Suneer Chowdhary, the motivation was a lot more.
Once the tickets opened up, I submitted my requests in the ballot. Hoping to get at least a couple of games. I chose all three India games which were against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa, plus I wanted the two semis and the final. The results were out, the only ones I didn’t get were India v Pakistan and the Finals, but as luck would have it, a friend got the India-Pakistan game and that ticket, as agreed upon earlier, was mine (please sense the subtle force in “mine” here).
Armed with tickets for five matches, my mother and brothers to join me in London, stay booked, flights set up, my luggage, and walking sticks all in readiness – we were off.
4th June – India v Pakistan
I was expecting rain, and some cool weather – I was ready with my umbrella and boots too! But I was seriously unprepared for the temperatures. That’s one thing about the United Kingdom – its weather is unpredictable.
Luckily, under a covered stand and freezing winds (felt like 9 degs) the toss took place, the anthems happened and the game began.
The atmosphere wasn’t dampened by the weather – India and Pakistan supporters grilled each other with their own chants getting behind their teams. Sitting next to two young Pakistani boys who had come along with their father experienced some serious heart break as India managed an easy win against their rivals.
But more than watching the game, there is something special about experiencing friendly and fun banter and that’s what happened. With three very (cricket) knowledgable and drunk English guys sitting in front, I realised how well followed team India was. I also realised that there were quite a few team India chants which I hadn’t known of! There was a Ravi Jadeja chant, a Virat Kohli song and then the typical “ye dosti hum nahi chodenge..” from Sholay being sung. The Pakistanis had their regular “dil dil Pakistan” playing.
My first experience of the ground was fair, I was sweetly given access to locked disabled washrooms of another stand which reduced the amount of stairs I needed to climb – the stewards were helpful in that sense, and I must say the drainage and the ground-staff were quick! What I didn’t have to experience was buying food and hot chocolate – my brother did that for me, so I was saved from the challenges faced there – that wasn’t to happen when I came back during India’s semi final encounter against Bangladesh on 15th June. But more on that later.
8th June – India v Sri Lanka
11th June – India v South Africa
Two games, and two very different weather days. The Sri Lanka game was played under cloud cover with the sun playing hide and seek. India lost and Sri Lanka’s supporters celebrated with their band (although I thought no musical instruments, or selfie sticks were allowed – but they were all there). The South Africa game was under blistering heat which led to my first ever sunburn (in England of all places)!
What makes a good cricketing experience? I used to think it was just good cricket – but as the trend of the Champions Trophy was, these games were another one-sided affair. Easily done by Sri Lanka against India and India against South Africa. What I did begin to realise was the food, the quality of service, the weather and, very importantly, the way people behaved really mattered. The entire ground experience mattered.
The food was definitely below par at the Oval – it lacked flavour and led my family and I to bring our own packed lunch for the South Africa game. The music was being played to just one side of the ground – it definitely didn’t feel very inclusive. What started to also matter was how people behaved and allowing free-flowing alcohol meant the viewing experience and quality deteriorated to levels that would discourage one to watch a game live again.
Alcohol poured on the floors, polite requests asking people to sit down turned into abuse. Not my idea of watching cricket. So, here we were, dealing with disruptive people, not a great scoreboard (basic information of how many balls a batsmen had faced didn’t even show up), replays were a mess – I began to think whether attending games live were worth it. Is this what I had travelled for?
I didn’t want to feel too down about it, I didn’t have the time. I had to travel to Cardiff on the 12th. I was all set for the first semi between England and Pakistan.
14th June 2017 – Semi Final 1 – England v Pakistan
I chose a lodge which was a five minute walk from the ground. Good thinking that was! I got to the ground with my England cap on and a waving flag, but sadly, England gave me and its fans no real opportunity to wave it around!
A surprisingly hot day again but with my sunscreen on, I was well prepared to save myself from further damage. What I couldn’t save myself from was the banter – although, I have to say, it was the funniest. The five lone Pakistanis in a very English supporting stand were the loudest and despite such a large number of England supporters around, I was gently targeted by a few Pakistan supporters – it was fun. They were there to support their team and I was there for mine. Pakistan did well and ended England’s run in another one-sided game.
There were long queues at Sophia Gardens’s well manicured and pristine ground. Now don’t get me wrong, these queues weren’t for getting into the ground. These were long queues outside the men’s toilets. The alcohol made sure the toilets were well occupied and so were the bars within the ground.
With England out, I was hoping my travel to Edgbaston that very night wouldn’t go in vain as India would face Bangladesh, especially after hearing the Pakistani crowd chant “Jeetega bhai jeetega, Bangladesh jeetega!” (translation – Bangladesh will be winning). I soon forgot all that as my friend and I met an Irishman on the train to Birmingham who too was following the Champions Trophy. We spoke a lot about the countries we belong to, football, cricket, tarot and so much more in just two hours. It was quite an eye-opener. On a side note, I’m sure he’s pleased with the recent news of Ireland receiving Test cricket status. Congratulations Ireland!
15th June – Semi Final 2 – Bangladesh v India
I woke up to clear blue skies – I even tweeted about it. But within an hour, cloud cover, strong winds and drizzle began. Toss got delayed, but other than that, the game went off without any hiccups. It was good to see an even start by both teams. India got a break-through in the first over and Bangladesh managed a good third wicket partnership.
— Shruti Chopra (@itstarot) June 15, 2017
I was on my own for this one. After four games of either having family or friends around to help me with food and water – I was on my own. Reality hit me hard. Another experience where politeness went out the window as alcohol seeped through the bloodstream. Manners and respect didn’t exist.
I decided to avoid the crowds and get lunch with Bangladesh still having ten overs to go. Where was the food? There were make-shift bars every couple of minutes, but food was a good 12-15 minute walk for me. Food stalls were near the parking area of the Edgbaston cricket ground. This experience brought me down. My legs started to give up. I contemplated going back to my hotel. It was easier for me to call an Uber as I was practically out of the ground area to get food – walking back felt like a task. I talked myself out of it, reminded myself why I wanted to be here. I got back to my seat not before complaining to the steward as to why I passed so many alcohol outlets before reaching food. He obviously had no answer.
India were in the finals, saw them play good consistent cricket throughout and felt very proud of the sensibility they seemed to exude. But secretly, I was glad I didn’t have tickets for the last one. I didn’t think I could watch another game where focus towards what was happening in the middle was constantly lost and I had to watch out for drunkards instead.
Would I go watch a live cricket match again? Yes I would, but maybe in another country in the hope that their scoreboards would be more informative, there would be someone sensible operating replays, the food quality would be of higher standards and crowd behaviour would be more stable. I’m probably asking for too much, but I’m quite positive that it’s possible.
O’ and one very important thing. There were no metal detectors on any ground, there was basic frisking at Edgbaston and Sophia Gardens (none at the Oval). Bags were not checked properly at all. This is after all that has happened in this country. Quite surprising and highly illogical (I’m being polite). Only explanation here could be they were checking through some invisible ways, but either way, it just didn’t feel right.
Overall, I am truly grateful to have been able to make it to the Champions Trophy and watch my favourite team play. Thank you to every kind steward who offered helped. It was a great family holiday and hopefully just the beginning of our cricket travels together!