India v West Indies, 1st Test, New Delhi, 3rd day November 8, 2011

An astute crowd at a gaudy stadium

Every empty space at the Feroz Shah Kotla is covered with advertising, but the crowd at the stadium did not need a hoarding to tell them of Sachin Tendulkar's upcoming landmark

The Feroz Shah Kotla must be the most insalubrious ground in the cricket world; as it rises to its full height, every possible empty space is wallpapered with advertising hoardings, for a range of products that is a study in itself.

It must be the only ground in the world where Sachin Tendulkar can look up from his crease and in his peripheral vision see himself blown up to a two-storey-high megascale, holding a sticker-free cricket bat. It is an advertisement for the cement company he endorses, one of three cement companies that find themselves represented at the stadium.

The unconventional products advertised around the ground included the following: Kamla Pasand and Rajshree (paan masala), Chaini Khaini (chewing tobacco), Haywards (beer), Pataka Chai (tea), Oxyglow Cosmetics, Makita Power Tools, Sanjay Ghodawat Group (a business group in Kolhapur with interests in agriculture, chemicals, real estate, engineering, textiles etc), Red Chief (footwear) and Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

In the middle of this melee of screaming logos, clashing colours and subliminal advertising, a gripping Test match unfolded. Like a racy gangster novel, it was enveloped in smoky atmosphere, replete with unpredictable incident and loaded with the constant possibility of corkscrew turns of events.

Virender Sehwag stripped it of all portent, until of course he decided to leave, with fury-inducing extravagance. India were still 181 short, and the ball was 18 overs old, getting softer and harder to score off.

Enter the "so we meet again" pair of Dravid and Tendulkar. The two oldest (they will both be, jeepers, 39 in less than five months), most skilled men in the Indian dressing room collected their runs as methodical weavers pluck out the warp and the weft. The smoke thickened, the light faded and the setting sun stood like an orange lozenge in the sky.

All the while, the stadium was building up to an event. The sense of expectancy was driven not by television, not by a flashing scoreboard (that responded to minor events on the field with ambiguous messages like "Brilliant/ Great hands/ What a shot"), not by PA announcements, but by the much-condemned Delhi crowd. Their numbers were paltry on the Tuesday but their voices could be heard scattered in the stands. They were counting down.

Not with the help of radio commentary or egged on by TV experts; they had nothing but their own calculations to go by. Twenty eight was the figure in their heads. The last leg of that journey, from 20 to 28, took 28 balls. When the number arrived from Tendulkar's blade, with a humble single off Devendra Bishoo, the crowd leapt to its feet, applauded and cheered. Only then did the scoreboard mention the landmark and flash: "Congrats Sachin, 15,000 Test runs."

To discover what the shouting was all about, Tendulkar checked the screen. When he saw the number, he raised his eyes to the sky, his bat to his team-mates and the crowd, accepted Dravid's congratulations and stood at the non-striker's end as the over played itself out. Four balls later, with only three overs of play left, Dravid almost ran himself out. He had not grounded his bat when crossing over and was perilously close to being in mid-air when the bails came off. The third umpire's decision took an age and, with no replays on the screen, the crowd was mumbling in anxiety, Dravid holding his breath. The result had him exhaling, the crowd cheering and chiding his carelessness.

The day ended with a back-foot drive through extra cover from Dravid, the ideal image the Indian fans would want to take home. The teams returned to their dressing rooms with 124 runs left for India to get, a game to be won or lost, Dravid and Tendulkar still around, and that Other Big Number luring the crowd back for one more morning.

Kotla's hideous advertising? It was like it had vanished.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 6:22 GMT

    Kotla was always a grubby little ground, and dont agree with the astute crowd bit. Doesnt compare with Eden and Chepauk any day. In the mid 1970s, the capacity of the ground was 28,000 and there were no decent toilets. Gaudy stadium yes, in keeping with Delhi's loud hedonistic image. Lajpat Nagar Punjabi shocking pink as they say. Despite ample work prior to the World Cup, still an ugly stadium but a fortress for India. A fortress in terms of results - 7 straight wins from a time when we went 23 yrs without a win from 1969 to 1993.

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 5:43 GMT

    What exactly is the point about the advertisements in the stadium? You want cheap tickets and also want to have a choice on who should be permitted to advertise or even whether there should be hoardings. While there is a lot of valid criticism that can e directed at the cricket adminsitrators in India, this is really stretching it a bit too far.

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 4:00 GMT

    @Nampally, Well said. Sad that people read between lines unnecessarily, sometimes. Perhaps, it is a reflection of their view of the world.

  • krishilk on November 9, 2011, 3:25 GMT

    Just want GOD to get his hundred to and get that monkey off his back........

    then he can concentrate on getting 2 more century in one dayers to make it 50 hundreds.......

    nobody will ever catch the master..........

  • Romenevans on November 9, 2011, 3:23 GMT

    What's impressive is that when Harbhajan don't take wicket he says that pitch is not turning or the opposition takes him seriously and blocks him to save wickets (LOL) but now ashwin proved that spinners can also do well when the pitch is not turning. Most of ashwin's wickets were deceived in ball trajectory, variations and sudden change in lengths as well. Pitch wasn't turning as it always does in India, but ashwin and Ojha both bowled brilliantly with their variations. Sorry bhajji, you haven't made it large.

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 2:09 GMT

    @redneck. As much I hate to say this, Dravid has never been a good runner between the wickets.. He has never been quick also.. I have seen him making very basic error like not grounding his bat.. He has got OUT once, in this fashion.. And he had a similar moment yesterday too.. Having said all this, I doesn't mean anything disrespect to this legend.. He has always been our WALL and will always be.. He and Sachin has always been my most fav cricketers..

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 1:40 GMT

    what BCCI is doing with money, atleast improve grounds, shame its Delhi and ground is absolutely dirty in all aspects.Where is infrastructure?Bangladesh has good grounds than India..shame!

  • Nampally on November 9, 2011, 1:19 GMT

    @Haleos: Sir, I am not from Tamilnadu & I have no personal interests in any individual. I played lot of top class cricket in India but now moved to West, being involved in lot of High tech. Eng'g. Being a fervent cricket lover & Indian fan, I can spot talent better than most.I watch cricket on PC. I have backed Ojha, Rahul Sharma & Ashwin as 3 top class Indian spinners for more than a year,as evident from my several write ups in cricinfo columns. Harbhajan was a great spinner once but for the past 18 months he was very poor (2 wkts @ 141 runs/wkt in England tests).Indian selectors were too scared to drop him out of respect. Finally Ojha & Ashwin got their chance after being benched so long for Bhaiji. They took 16 wkts. betwn. them.These are 25 year olds & can't be benched for ever.If Rahul had played I bet WI would have been skittled for much lower total in both the innings. I back a player if I see talent in him irrespective of his origin - N.S,E orW.They are all cricketers First.

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 1:02 GMT

    This is not the right time to argue &counter argue about Spinners of India! let us wait for the net. Outcome of the Match which was brought to this stage by the able Bowling of Aswin.No one can dispute that. now it is time for all to wish India every success in this Test which looked impossible one to win. but against all odds Aswin& Sehwag made it a test match ever to remember! now a win & perhaps a 100 th Century by Sachin is what We all should pray for.If Sachin achieves it,it is an insurance for the Great impossible victory in this Test. All the Best to Sachin&INDIA Sreedharan Mundanat,TCR

  • dummy4fb on November 9, 2011, 0:51 GMT

    Lovely article by Sharda. Finally, someone could write about the worst looking cricket ground in the world in a subtle way. I wish there is a blogger who can criticize it more vocally. The rework done by DDCA has ruined the cricket ground further. The wicket has always been miserable and lives up to its misery.

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