Updated: July 13, 2015 2:04:11 pm
The Centurion, locally known as the Keg, is a sports bar in upmarket Harare. Like most sports bars worth their telly screens, the Keg too shows every big match from around the world. And for something of the magnitude of a Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic Wimbledon final, the pub’s management charges a stiff fee for entry.
There’s just one problem. The Keg is bang on the boundary rope of an international cricket ground, the Harare Sports Club.
On Sunday, the loudest and most unruly corner of the HSC was cordoned off for a special screening of the Swiss vs Serb show. But by the time Federer saved the sixth of Djokovic’s seven set points in the second set, the Keg had gotten louder and unrulier than the rest of the ground put together.
So much so that when Zimbabwe’s Graeme Cremer was dismissed in the concluding minutes of the game, about 600 locals bellowed with joy. Even Sandeep Sharma, the substitute running in with drinks for the Indians on the field, threw a surprise glance in the bar’s direction. Federer, after all, had won the second set.
How am I privy to all of this? Let me tell you in a rather round-about way. At the start of every year, I mark down eight dates on the calendar. The start and finish dates of each of the year’s four Grand Slams. Not anniversaries or dry days (it’s important to note this if you live in Delhi), but red-letter tennis days.
So half way through the Zim innings, I exit the press box, climb down a flight of stairs, walk along the boundary rope by Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the deep and enter the Keg. Fourteen televisions are showing the build-up to the final in London. I ask a bartender if one of them can show the cricket. He looks at me like I’m out of my mind and says: “Just take a step out of the door man, you can see it live!”
Anyway, the persistence pays and I get to have one eye on the match. Make that half an eye, for Federer breaks Djokovic to go up 4-2 in the first set. The screams are enough to get another hundred or so from the ground into the bar (they had to pay the fee, additional to their match ticket, which would’ve otherwise have given them access for free).
Djokovic breaks back, and so do India. The limping Sean Williams is cleaned up by Axar Patel. 3-4 on one TV, 132/6 on the other.
The momentum has swung and Federer hangs on for a tie-break. There’s a break in the cricket tie too, the umpire has gone upstairs for a referral of a possible Chamu Chibhabha run-out. Chibhabha, the lone warrior, is given out.
The grassbanks empty into the Keg. Djokovic annoys most of the new arrivals by taking the first set.
No further wickets have fallen in the cricket but Djokovic has received his first set point in the second set. By the time he has his seventh, India have dismissed Richmond Mutumbami, Neville Madziva, Graeme Cremer and Donald Tiripano. This match is nearly dead, but the tennis is just coming to life. Minutes later, Federer takes the set and levels the match. Zimbabwe have ended theirs with a 62-run loss.
As I see Murali Vijay walking with the media manager along the boundary rope, I realise that the press conference is about the start. Damn. No TV in here is going to show that. But just as I begin my long trudge back, it begins raining at SW19. I count my blessings. And so does Djokovic.
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