Friday, 25 April 2008

IPL Rocks Chennai

Guest Post: In this post, Gaurav from Cricket's Outside Edge writes his experience of watching the first Indian Premier League Match at Chennai Super Kings' Home ground.

The IPL Party finally arrived at Chennai yesterday – the last of its eight stops all around the country. I had returned to Chennai only the day before and presumed that I was too late to join in. Tickets, it seemed, had sold like hot cakes and I had resigned myself to watching the game on the TV in the hostel room.

With the match scheduled to start at 8 PM, I set out with some vague plan after 5. I had been told by sources that the best chance of picking up tickets at this late hour would be at one of the Landmark bookstores in the city. I tried and failed. Faced with the choice of returning home and taking a chance at the stadium, most likely on a black ticket, I opted for the latter without much hope.

Even before getting off from the train at the Chepauk station, the floodlights from the stadium stared right into my eyes. It was an awe-inspiring sight. I had seen the same light towers day in and day out when I was there for the test match, but at night, the towers are a completely different spectacle. By the time I detrained, and joined in the thronging crowds I was welcomed by the loud music that was doing the rounds inside. The ticket counter was surprisingly still open. Anxiously, I asked for the ticket and I could scarcely believe my luck as the old man calmly told me to hand over Rs. 1000 and tore out one. For the second time in a month, completely unexpectedly, and hence unprepared, I found myself walking through the gates of the Cognizant stand and into the Chidambaram stadium. I had done the right thing by taking the chance.

Though there was still more than a hour and a half to go for the game, the players were already on the field doing their warm-ups, the crowd was already sizeable and the entertainment show was on full blast. This was my first time at any live sport event played at night and the spectacle is awesome! The lush green outfield blends beautifully with the blue of the Mumbai Indians and of course, the yellow of the Chennai Super Kings. Once I was in my seat I tried to figure out who the performer was. Luckily the stage was right opposite to our stand; yet it was too far away to identify the people. Then I vaguely remembered reading somewhere that it was Hariharan who was supposed to be the artist today. Later of course they showed him on the big screen. I haven't been following that guy's music too closely but it seems he is projecting himself as more than a musician, more like some sort of a rock-star and he did some dance moves that appeared a bit scary, to be polite. His music was good though and he mixed Tamil numbers with Hindi ones – notable among those I remembered were "Kay Zala?" and "Krishna".

The crowd was understandably, quite different from the test match crowd a month ago. It was very young, very vibrant crowd, mainly of teenagers and people in their early twenties. And it was a completely festive atmosphere with everyone partying their hearts out, dancing and singing. There was ample amount of cheering and applause for players from both teams as well as for the entertainers. And in the middle of it all suddenly everyone went crazy and I couldn't understand why – and later realized it was Vijay, the super star of South India and the Star Ambassador of the Super Kings who did the rounds of the ground.

Once Hariharan was done with his show some time before the toss, Sivamani, the famous Tamil percussionist took over with his drums. He was great – throughout the Chennai innings he stirred up the crowds with his beats and moved all around the perimeter of the ground so that all sections got a chance to soak him in. Dance and music was the theme of the night and for once, a purist like me, did not crib about cricket being only a part of the whole. If you have been watching IPL on TV thinking it is big, you haven't seen anything yet. You have just got to go out there in the stadium to feel what passion, what heat this thing has generated all over young India.

As the game began and Chennai Super Kings batted each boundary was greeted with a new piece of music from Sivamani and others, and the crowds rose to his beats and tunes. There were cheerleaders, yes, of both camps; and the poor gals and guys of the Mumbai Indians got very few chances to cheer during the Chennai innings. But we loved their anthem and some of their numbers. In fact I could relate more to some of the Mumbai numbers because naturally I was unaware of some of the super-hit Tamil numbers that had the rest jumping from their seats and me a bit confused. The weird part though was that the cheerleaders were fully clad in trousers perhaps bearing in mind the relatively conservative culture of Chennai. I mean what next? Cheerleading with sweaters on in this heat?

Coming to the cricket, I can now appreciate how difficult it is to catch those high catches under lights. Several times looking straight up into the lights I completely lost the ball. Yet several wonderful catches were taken – notably by Bravo, Joginder, Raina and Badrinath. We cheered Hayden as one of our own yet he didn't really show much appreciation after reaching his 50. The stroke play on either side was spectacular – Raina for Chennai and Bravo, Jayasuriya, Uthappa, Nayar and Bhajji from Mumbai. The new fast bowler Gony from Chennai was most impressive. He was bowling away from us and I could feel the weight his ball generated troubling the top players like Jayasuriya. I also noticed Harbhajan completely lost as a captain and towards the end of the innings Jayasuriya was taking the lead helping him out adjusting the field and swapping fielders.

As the match reached a climax, the crowd tensed up just a little bit. It was an open game with three balls to go but somehow with Dhoni on our side I never believed we could lose. It was oh so similar to the T20 World Cup final with Joginder messing up at the start before holding his nerve to win. It was a massive roar and a collective sigh of relief that followed the win. It had been an amazing game and an astonishing spectacle of cricket and one grand party. To make it even more special the presentation lasted beyond midnight which meant it was Sachin Tendulkar's birthday. There were several attempts to attract attention to this fact and that we remembered it by the crowd, unfortunately Tony Cozier during his presentation didn't quite lap it up and I don't know if Sachin received our wishes. Of course, he was cheered all the time he made an appearance on the big screen.

The Indian Premier League like a Super hit Bollywood (or Kollywood) movie has enjoyed a grand opening. I hope it can sustain this success because it is just great. It has managed to harness the passion and energy of a whole generation of Indians. There is no reason to believe why it can't go on to match the Premier Leagues of football in Europe. I want to be there again when Chennai take on Kolkata on Saturday. I want to be part of the phenomenon of this cricket revolution. The party has only begun. There are going to be many more such wild and glorious nights to follow. Cheers!


About the author: Gaurav Kanade, on a 4-month visit to Chennai as a visiting student to the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, is a Computer Science graduate student from US. He candidly accepts that he loves the place and the city. [Treasured words since they are coming from a person who is not a Tamil]. If you are a cricket lover, do subscribe to his blog - Cricket's Outside Edge

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