The Last Minute by Harsha Bhogle: There is only one kind of minute in our cricket: the last but that one. Many others are humbler; their job is to prepare the ground and fill time before the last minute arrives. The gong sounds, the bell chimes when the last minute comes, and everyone is galvanized into action as if an air-raid siren had gone off.
Minds work faster, bodies discover they have four pairs of hands and legs, the intent appears, and the line between night and day disappears. It reminds me of the expectation with which people wait for the moon to be sighted before breaking out into the road. Chaos is the overriding necessity in our cricket, the trigger for action, and the vital ingredient.
The activity needs chaos like an antibiotic needs an infection; one is lost and irrelevant without the other. So, we must lapse into chaos; it is as if the circuit would not be complete without it. Hence the wait for the last minute, the vehicle of chaos and yet the messenger of hope. Now things will happen. You have to be in the secretary’s office the evening before a one-day international. You would think many trains are about to depart, and they are. You have to watch the ground staff function for 48 hours before a game
The last minute: Why it is central to the well-being of Indian cricket celebrations You know it is going to be sighted soon but until it is, there is little you can do. So too with our cricket. Nowhere in the world does as much happen in the last minute; nowhere does as little happen in the minutes before. And so, ‘last minute’ joins the classic list of Indian metaphors. You do things as late as you possibly can and not a minute earlier, then navigate seemingly impregnable chaos and get the show.
Two months before a one-day match against Pakistan, the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi will be closed. Chaos is the overriding necessity in our cricket, the trigger for action, the vital ingredient, and 12 hours before one and see the difference to know what I mean. Chairs are cleaned, grass is cut, and on one famous occasion, flower pots even arrived! We were at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi in 1996 for India’s World Cup match against Sri Lanka. Something seemed amiss.
The Feroz Shah Kotla is normally very diligently shabby and very conscientious about its need to look rundown. Now there was a red carpet on the steps, and there were attractive flower pots along the wall in the new media center. I was getting ready to eat my words when instinct caused me to lift the carpet and look underneath.
The staircase hadn’t been completed, the plastering wasn’t done, and the carpet hid the poverty beneath. It reminded me of a phrase we used in Hyderabad: Upar Sherwani, Andar Parshani !
Emboldened, I now moved towards the flower pots. They were genuine, and the flowers were fresh and fragrant, but as I walked past the wall, somebody came scampering by, asking me to go no further.
It wasn’t a wall (Lord Relator might have said “It wasn’t Gavaskar at all”!), it was a sheet of wood painted and made to look like one! The last minute had provided an ingenious, if slightly unsafe, solution. Kanpur used the last minute effectively, too.
It was 1994 and my first visit there, and we were told very late in the evening that there would be no media passes for us the next day because the police had just stumbled on an official selling them and had promptly confiscated all of them. “I’m afraid you will have to find your way to the commentary box,” I was told.
Survival breeds strange instincts (I always carry an apple to a cricket match, for instance), and I worked out that the best way for a still-unrecognized commentator to enter the ground without a pass was to find out when Sunil Gavaskar was coming and stick to him like a leech. Gavaskar at an Indian cricket ground is the modern-day Moses.
The sea parts for him, and paths emerge. I was never more than six inches away from him, kept looking at threatening policemen with the words “Unke saath, unke saath”, and with the combination of a shuffle and an eventual sprint, got into our commentary box. The last minute takes various incarnations.
Television rights will be awarded a month before the first test, itineraries will sometimes be finalized a couple of weeks before, hotels will be booked a week before, and tickets will be printed as late as possible (there is an advantage in that, though: the guys printing fakes won’t know till very late what the originals look like!). But in the end, things will work, and people will try to help. You only have to go to Bangalore, Chennai, or Mumbai to find that out. And, truth be told, you get used to it.
Sadly, when we go to Australia or England, we find it frustrating. Nothing moves at our feverish pace. It is the system that is meant to do things there, not the person. The last minute loses its aura; it is stripped of its importance; alas, it becomes like any other minute that goes predictably by.