The first thing that strikes you about being at Lord’s – the real thing appears smaller in person. For the Women’s World Cup 2017 Final, cricket’s most storied venue (its slogan itself is ‘Where history happens’) was sold out, and it was by a huge stroke of luck that I’d booked my ticket three weeks ago, not really knowing that I would get to see India play in a World Cup Final and come heartbreakingly close to winning it.
And being there to catch every ebb and feel every flow was near about surreal. The frenzy may not have matched the delirium of a Champions Trophy final from earlier in the season but Lord’s as a ground, being the self-appointed bastion of cricketing tradition that it is, unbridled emotion is not what I expected.
The English way
Here, everything, including the noise feels modulated and moderated, like someone playing a metal record on a 1920s gramophone. The stewards will politely ask you to wait till a ball is bowled if you had stepped out in the middle and have to get back to your seat while the play is on. The Mexican wave is reduced to a Mexican ripple that usually dies the moment it hits the nearest banister.
But the orderliness did not completely kill the chaos and the revelry because after all it was India playing the final and Indian fans brought their special dash of colour that they always do - flags, painted faces, chants of ‘Ind-IA! Ind-IA!’, and yes, the dholak. There is always a dholak. In my section it has been brought in by a Punjabi Brit dad and his 11-year old son who have come to watch from the midlands.
The kid is brilliant at literally drumming up support as he expertly plays the dholak, the beat so infectious that an England fan, a lady in her 40s, gets a little concerned when she sees a steward speaking to the father-son duo. She asks me if they are asking them to stop because, she feels, taking away the drum would be such a shame as it adds to the atmosphere. She heaves a sigh of relief when the dad tells her they were just exchanging pleasantries. He then tells me that the atmosphere usually is much sprightlier at Birmingham where he was at for the Champions Trophy and Lord’s is typically sedate by comparison.
Nonetheless, people still join in, including Lenore, a cricket administrator from Melbourne who incidentally has a shield named after her in one of the local grade cricket leagues. Lenore is a little surprised that women’s cricket doesn’t enjoy a higher profile in cricket-mad India, but she also brings to my attention that Channel 9 is showing the final in Australia and with the number of broadcasters showing this match, it could well be the most watched women’s sporting event in history.
A roller-coaster ride
Most watched or not, it does turn out to be a belter of a match, a tense final that twists and turns right till the frantic finish when both teams seem to be out-panicking each other. The start is sedate bordering on soporific but the crowd wakes up the moment England lose player of the tournament Tammy Beaumont and captain Heather Knight to Rajeshwari Gayakwad in quick succession. The chants and flag waving begin with some using their umbrellas as makeshift flag poles.
British weather is notoriously fickle. The first thing the steward greeted me with after I was one of the first to arrive in my section was ‘Hope you have a lovely day at the cricket, sir! And hope the weather holds up’.
There was rain forecast for later in the afternoon and evening and even though we start in overcast conditions and it rains a bit during both innings, conditions clear out, and along with the sunshine, the noise levels also begin to go up.
The India chants dominate as Jhulan Goswami’s second spell during England’s second power play reduces them to 146/5 but on the grandstand opposite to my section a counter chant is building up, and soon it reaches our stand too, led by a bright-faced Arya Stark lookalike of about 15, who is wearing an Anya Shrubsole shirt.
I later find out there is a whole gang of people at the back who are Shrubsole’s own little fan army and for reasons you probably already know – a six-wicket haul – they are delirious by the time the match ends.
England finish with 228, a tricky total in a final - big enough that it is defendable but small enough that it looks easily chaseable. India, of course, begin with a stutter, but thanks to a 95 run third wicket stand between Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur, look well on their way. Even during the innings break at the fan zone near the nurseries the Indian fans seem confident and in a carnival mood.
At 191 for 3 with the required run rate at only about 5.5 an over, the Indian fans seem to be getting ready to get their party on. And at about that point, dholak dad hands the drum to a young English fan to try his hand out. Correlation isn’t causation but the young boy tries out the England beat on it and does quite well – England chants start going up again.
Meanwhile dark clouds appear on the horizon again and seeing India ahead on the DLS par score, the 16 year old kid from Warwick who plays grade cricket remarks that India won’t mind some torrential rain right now. The rain never arrives but the literal gloom soon becomes metaphorical as India find themselves a pickle in a panic sandwich as quick wickets to unnecessary shots and some terrible running between the wickets get England back into the game.
If India are unpacking their sandwich, it appears England have brought their own to this panic picnic on the Lord’s turf - they are uncharacteristically dropping catches and missing stumpings.
Both teams are intent on putting the tense in an intense finish as India survive a close stumping call.
As the visuals of the replay fill the screen, the Indian crowd almost wills Deepti Sharma’s foot to be grounded as the bails are dislodged by Sarah Taylor.
It is a madcap finish and the crowd are completely into it, chanting and counter chanting, with even the choir of children who were singing at the innings break joining in – a delightful sight by itself.
But it all still somehow feels strangely measured, like eating a hotdog with a knife and fork, or like someone choreographed a salsa thinking it was foxtrot. Either Lord’s as a venue seems to have this moderating effect or in this case, the crowd was just as dazed as the players from both teams towards the end.
But once the dust settles over the Indian implosion from 191/3 to 219 all out, it’s all appreciation and applause for the remarkable game we had just witnessed. As I walk out post the match, a dad and his two daughters, decked in England shirts, walk beside me. The younger kid remarks how much she enjoyed the drums at the venue and the cheering and the shouting. For the famously stoic English, maybe this is the kind of release they aspire for. That groovy beat of the Indian drum that’s infectious as heck and doesn’t stop despite a heartbreak.