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Roving Reporter by Amit Varma at Chennai
October 17, 2004
It has got hotter and hotter in Chennai as this Test has progressed, but the crowd does not seem to be feeling it. Much of the time they sit, but it takes just a boundary or a wicket, or a dropped catch, and there have been many of those in this game, to get them going. Standing, swaying, shouting, and waving Indian flags, they show an energy that the players out in the middle can only envy. In betweens these pockets of energy, they sit, and watch intently.
Every once in while, without any kind of apparent provocation, they burst into a cry of what sounds to the unfocussed ear as "Hoo ha, hoo ha". Then you listen carefully, and realise that they are actually chanting, "We want sixer". That's a fair request when Virender Sehwag is batting, but rather improbable when Parthiv Patel or Jason Gillespie are. Perhaps they are not chanting this because they actually expect a batsman to get inspired and hit a six, but merely because they feel like shouting "Hoo ha, hoo ha". It can be liberating.
Indian fans can be fiercely partisan, but not in Chennai. The crowds that stream towards Chepauk to watch a Test match have been registered in cricketing folklore as one of the most knowledgable in world cricket. They have a keen sense of cricket history, they understand the dynamics of a match, and you'll even catch them applauding a good maiden over by the opposition side, something you will not find at Delhi or Kanpur.
There was no better place for Shane Warne to break the world record (again) than here, and when he duly went one ahead of Murali on the second day, the crowds gave him a standing ovation. It was not merely out of admiration, but also adoration. Later, when Warne went to field near the boundary, the loud cheers he got prompted him to turn around and do some showboating.
First, he imitated Sachin Tendulkar's stance, doing the double-squat perfectly but omitting the crotch rub. Then, he stepped out and went through the motions of hitting a six. He followed that with an imitation of Billy Bowden signalling a six, and the crowd went berserk. It wasn't because Bowden is popular here.
This crowd is colourful in a literal sense. In the morning, sitting in the press box, Arun Lal, the cricketer-turned-commentator, commented on how journalists are so drably dressed, "in whites and greys and blues. Where are the reds, the oranges?"
In the crowd, Arun. The full spectrum of colours is there in the stands, with red trousers, parrot-green shirts and orange caps popping up intermittently - and that's just the men. One fellow with an Indian flag wears a gigantic red Mexican cap, curved so that from above, it looks like a red potato chip with a wart.
I saunter into the stands to sit there for a while and soak it up, and find that they are nowhere near as bad as other Indian grounds. Water-bottles are allowed, food stands are a short walk away and, wonder of wonders, there are toilets. They are well looked after. "There is no better place than this to watch cricket," says a middle-aged gentleman in a brown t-shirt and black trousers sitting next to me. He is Mr Ganesan.
"I have been watching cricket here for more than 35 years now," he informs me. "I saw the only Test Australia have won here. Really, I am telling you, India should have won that match." And then he launches into a critique of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's captaincy in that match. ML Jaisimha would have been a better captain of India, he informs me.
I tell him about the incident on the first morning of the Test, when the teams lined up for two minutes of silence for the memory of Keith Miller. The Australians had requested the ground authorities to make an announcement to join the teams in remembering Miller, but the men in charge had refused, citing the absence of a public address system as a reason. The crowds, thus, cheered loudly as the teams lined up, unaware of the moment.
"That is terrible," says Mr Ganesan. "I wish I had known. Keith Miller was a great player. I wish I had seen him play." His eyes mist up as he remembers all that he has read and heard of Miller, replaying mental pictures of the Miller he has built up in his mind. Meanwhile, all around us, a cry of "Hoo ha, Hoo ha" begins again. The sun is shining, and there is a great cricket match on at the Chepauk. All is well with the world.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He writes the cricket blog, 23 Yards, for this site.
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