A steel city, a wicketkeeper and four litres of milk
The many chimneys of the steel plant in Jamshedpur, spewing forth fumes of various hues, provide a fine backdrop for the cricket. From some of those outlets come white, snowy emissions, which look like a fluff of clouds; others look altogether more venomous, dark and angry; all of them are the result of the steel-making process, the reason for the existence of the township of Jamshedpur.
Set-up in 1908 by the Tatas, a huge corporate entity, the steel plant gradually attracted people from all over the country, many of whom stayed back over generations to create a quite unique cosmopolitan community. The Tatas pride themselves on putting corporate ethics and people over everything else - the entire upkeep of the township is their responsibility, roads, hospitals, electricity, parks and gardens; plus, they invest plenty in the upliftment of the tribals around the region - but this spirit of generosity hasn't always rubbed off on the people of Jamshedpur, at least not when they come to see a cricket match. More than once, they have earned notoriety for their boorish behaviour against the visiting teams - England, West Indies and Pakistan have all borne the brunt of their ill humour earlier.
Today, though, they were in a much better mood. The boundaries hit by Pakistan's batsmen got reasonable applause, while there was generous hand-clapping in anticipation of Salman Butt's century. When he reached the landmark, the cheers were, again, fairly generous.
Obviously, the Indians got a much bigger round of applause for everything they did on the field, but among all the superstars in the Indian line-up, there was little doubt about who the fans wanted to see the most .Sample this conversation between two gents in the crowd: "First slip mein kaun hai?" (Who's at first slip?) "Dravid." "Aur second mein?" "Sehwag." "Aur keeper?" "Arre woh to andhaa bhi bataa dega." (Even a blind man can answer that one.) It matters not that Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag have together played 359 one-day internationals; Mahendra Singh Dhoni is only in his sixth. For the doting fans on his home ground, Dhoni the superstar towers above everyone else - when Dhoni gets into the act, the cheers, the whistles, the bugles, all seem infused with more energy.
Dhoni didn't get too much opportunity to show his skills with the gloves, though: he effected a regulation stumping, but not much else. Then the moment the entire Keenan Stadium has been waiting for - Virender Sehwag's dimissal is never a happy occurence for Indian fans, but here it is laced with more than a silver lining. And soon the crowd is chanting "Dhoni, Dhoni" as the local hero launched into some vicious drives and cuts. After one particularly rasping upper-cut off Mohammad Sami, a young boy of about ten revealed the secret of Dhoni's power: "Yeh sab chaar litre doodh ka kamaal hai." (It's all the effect of four litres of milk.) Dhoni's dietary habits are soon becoming stuff of lore - here is a celebrity waiting to be picked up by an Amul or a Nestle to endorse their dairy products.
It was all too good to last, sadly. Dhoni went for one adventurous stroke too many, the crowd was first hushed, then reacted with a more ugly piece of behaviour, which threatened to undo all the good work they'd done earlier. Indian hopes were going up in smoke, and suddenly the backdrop looked not only scenic, but also entirely appropriate.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.