April 29, 2013

Delhi v Pune, IPL 2013, Raipur

Raipur's family day out at the IPL

Rachna Shetty in Raipur
The IPL is in town? Time to pull out that multi-coloured wig then  © BCCI
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At the end of the 19th over, with Pune Warriors needing 28 to win, most of the crowd at the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh Stadium had begun filing out. Victory for Delhi Daredevils seemed a foregone conclusion and, right then, beating the traffic to get on the highway to home was far more important.

One spectator behind me was trying his best to ensure the crowd didn't leave and he came up with a unique reason: "Match ki izzat karo. Apne munde jeet rahe hain (Respect the match. Our boys are winning.)"

That winning feeling has eluded Daredevils' fans for most of this season. Save for the victory against Mumbai Indians, so comprehensive it seemed the team had turned a corner, Daredevils have never looked like the team that dominated the league stages last year.

It can't just be about the absence of one man; Kevin Pietersen played just eight of Daredevils' 16 games last season and they won without him too. Yes, they've suffered fitness issues at the start of the tournament, their top batsmen have either suffered from lack of form or have come into the tournament after injury lay-offs and their losses against the lesser known teams like Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab have perhaps rankled. But that still doesn't account for just one win in their first eight games.

In Raipur, they were playing a side that's probably suffering from cricket's version of PTSD. Before the start of the IPL, any fan looking at the Daredevils' draw would have marked a W against this match and yet, right until Umesh Yadav's over, where he dismissed Luke Wright and Yuvraj Singh, the two teams were evenly matched, the Warriors batsmen - especially the openers - doing almost enough to redeem the ordinary bowling effort.

There's a desperation in Daredevils' play, the sort of feeling that comes from the knowledge that they have let things slip to such an extent this season that any possibility of qualifying for the top four now depends on other teams more than them.

Not that any of this mattered to the crowd in Raipur, who showed up for their first IPL match decked in their finery. There were squalling babies, housewives in saris waving banners, middle-aged uncles in florescent-coloured wigs and one spectator who generally wondered aloud for most of the first half as to where Amit Mishra was.

They were high enough on the adrenaline of the IPL to spend a large part of the match simply standing and waving - at the cameras, at the cheer girls and the players and at the chief minister of Chhattisgarh who took a lap of honour before the game began.

Halfway through the first innings, the cops decided the stands were a better place to play 'good cop, bad cop' and spent most of their time thereafter settling seating disputes.

To their credit, the crowd came prepared in the knowledge that this wasn't serious cricket. Daredevils' wickets were cheered and Yuvraj Singh got as rousing a reception as Virender Sehwag. When Yuvraj came out to bat, a teenager seated behind me very matter-of-factly asked her father: "Iski shaadi ho gayi hain (Is he married)?"

And they went home a happy lot. Their adopted home team had won, but the more exciting bit was that the IPL had come to their town.

Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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