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Metres from Messi

Three hours before kick-off on game Sunday, Barcelona’s streets started turning red and blue—the team colours of the football club (FC). It wasn’t even a high-profile game—just home team Barcelona with its holy trinity of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi going up against Celta Vigo. But the home fans’ party starts in buses and metros and continues at the nearby bars, many of which are run by Pakistanis. My friend and I got falafel rolls and beers at half-price, thanks to a “shukriya" instead of “gracias" when the owner handed the rolls to us.

From these bars, waves of fans walked into the majestic Camp Nou. The stadium’s size, clean architectural lines and facilities make it one of the best in the world and the largest in Europe. Even on non-game days people pay upwards of €24 (around 2,030) for a tour of Barcelona’s most famous club.

To someone who grew up watching cricket from the concrete bleachers at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens through a 20ft-high wire fence and a wall of lathi-wielding policemen floating around the ground, the unhindered view from the red and blue fibreglass chairs was far from usual fare.

A party was already on in the stands behind the goalposts at either end of the ground. Drums, vuvuzelas, trumpets and singing had filled the stadium even before the players came out for their warm-up. It was an easy game, but the chanting fans were supercharged. Every time a decision went against Barcelona, fans passionately blamed everything on arch-rivals Real Madrid: “The ref is (Cristiano) Ronaldo’s pal"; “The ref is on (Real) Madrid’s pay roll".

Though Jordi Alba and Alexis Sánchez scored the goals, the moment of magic came when Messi received the ball after a link-up play between Xavi and Iniesta and dribbled it past six players to the edge of the box for what seemed like a minute—before being fouled.

If you thought chants of “Sa…chin, Sa…chin" at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium were loud on 16 November, you have to hear the chant of “Messi… Messi" at Camp Nou whenever the Argentinian has the ball at his feet.

Shrenik Avlani

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Inside Roland Garros

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A Roland Garros court. Photo: Kayezad E. Adajania

A friend and I had managed, after much difficulty, to buy tickets online, for €114 (around 9,650), to the men’s semi-finals in the French Open Tennis Championships, held every year from 20 May.

As we walked through the gates on 7 June, we spotted a space where fans could get their faces painted, to cheer for their teams. After many promises that the paint would come off eventually, I opted for the Serbian flag. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was up against Spain’s Rafael Nadal in one of the two semi-finals.

A quick tour of the facility, spotting Russia’s Maria Sharapova (who was practising for the next day’s ladies’ singles final), some hotdogs, ice creams and about an hour later, we were inside Court Philippe-Chatrier. Our seats looked a mile away from courtside. I could barely open my eyes in the bright sunlight for the first hour. But despite the unforgiving sun and the 27 degrees Celsius heat, Nadal and Djokovic produced some of the best tennis of their careers—for 4 hours, 37 minutes. Djokovic threw everything and the kitchen sink at Nadal, who kept pounding all the same. Eventually, Nadal won and collapsed on court in joy. He had finally figured out the Djokovic riddle that had been bugging him for over two years. Last month, that match was voted the best Grand Slam men’s tennis match of 2013 by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

But the best part of my day came later, when I got a volunteer to collect some Centre Court clay for me in an empty jam bottle I had been carrying with me all morning. Who says clay is dirt!

Kayezad E. Adajania

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Spectator sport

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The famous media centre at Lord’s. Photo: Manoj Madhavan

I am a die-hard fan of the game. Growing up, I spent many long hours at the nets every day, practising my straight drive. Even today, at 41, I play the odd club match in the Delhi and District Cricket Association league. Watching a match in the home of cricket was a lifelong dream. As it happened, the match I saw was the last Test that Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar played together at Lord’s.

It was July 2011; and Day 2 of the Pataudi Trophy tournament saw us seated to the right of the famous Lord’s balcony. Skipper M.S. Dhoni had won the toss and elected to bowl the previous day. As my friend and I prepared to see some Indian batting on the second day of the Test, we treated ourselves to beer and snacks—a luxury you don’t have at any of the Indian grounds. At the stadium that day, we met seven retired colleagues who have been watching every Test match at Lord’s for the past 25 years—they even quizzed us on our knowledge of Indian Test statistics for fun.

When you see champagne corks flying from different sections you know that the close of play is near. By the end of the day, we knew India would be chasing leather for the rest of the Test. By this time, however, the result of the match held less interest for me than the excitement of being in that space. Everything from the architecture and history of the place to the security arrangements wowed me. We also witnessed some cricketing milestones—it was the 2,000th International Test Match and the 100th between India and England; and Dravid’s 100 meant 100 Test hundreds between the three greatest Indian cricketers of our generation—Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman.

After this experience it’s small wonder that for our next trip we made a beeline to Australia’s Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)—the 110,000-seater battleground of the tournament called the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

The Boxing Day match

Waking up early in the morning to commentary by Australia’s Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry had been a religion for me. Being at the MCG, and watching a live match there, was beyond anything I could have imagined. To this day I wonder how 70,000 people got inside the stadium without chaos. It was 26 December 2011, and Day 1 of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy tournament ended with Australia six down. Just as we had hoped, India were batting by lunchtime on the second day. Sachin Tendulkar went in to bat at No.4—and got a standing ovation. Tendulkar didn’t put 100 runs on the board that day, getting out at 73. Australia went on to win the series, taking the lead by 122 runs. But I still get goosebumps when I think back to that day when 70,000 people stood up and a roar went up from the crowd to pay homage to Tendulkar.

Manoj Madhavan

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Bike 100km in a day

The night before, I’d only wanted to break my old record.

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The writer on the East Coast Road. Photo: Srini Swaminathan

So when I visited Chennai in August, I asked my friend Srini Swaminathan, who runs ultramarathons and cycles brevets, to help me beat my 48km best. Srini told me I could borrow his spare bicycle, and we could ride from Adyar towards Mahabalipuram and back on the East Coast Road, the scenic coastal road that runs south from Chennai.

We started at 5.30am, well before sunrise. By the time it was light enough to switch off our headlamps, we had already covered 10km, and were close to Injambakkam. Less than an hour later, Srini told me that we’d covered 25km, and were close to Muttukadu Boat House. If we rode back now, I’d have cruised past my personal best.

It was a gorgeous day, just right for cycling. Cloud cover and a brisk wind ensured that Chennai’s notorious humidity didn’t feel too bad. I told Srini that I felt up to doing at least 60km for the day, so we might as well ride another 5km before deciding to turn back.

Five kilometres later, I asked to go on, saying we could have breakfast at Mahabalipuram. When we did ride into Mahabalipuram, Srini grinned at me, and said that by not turning back until we’d ridden ahead another 8km, I could do my first ever 100km ride.

For the third time that day, I decided to keep riding in order to chase a better record. I told Srini I was up for it. The next 58km included one long breakfast break, many shorter breaks for me to catch my breath and swig Electral, and one agonizing puncture at the 88km mark which could only be fixed by carrying the cycle in a share-auto for repairs, and then starting the last 12km from a wholly new point.

But I finished.

On that day, I’d been blessed with good weather, a fantastic partner, a year and a half of accumulated practice, and a mixture of determination and stubbornness. I ended up more than doubling my personal distance record.

I am determined to do it again, or maybe even outdo it. I haven’t yet, though. Maybe that’s what 2014 is for.

Aadisht Khanna manufactures both standard and bespoke conveyor belts for the mining and construction industry.

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