Echoes of history
The Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi may have been the focus of most of the country but in Chennai the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) organised a function that lacked nothing in commemorative fervour or attendant glamour.
The occasion was its 75th anniversary, - Silver Jubilee, as the bright banners and plaques in the MA Chidambaram Stadium declared - and was attended by an array of dignitaries and the crème of Tamil Nadu's cricket aficionados. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were the chief guests, with almost the entire Indian cricket team seated in the front row.
The spiritual home of cricket in the state since the start of the Presidency matches in 1916, the MA Chidambaram Stadium is a grand structure steeped in history. It has been the scene of some of the greatest feats in Indian cricket, and has hosted some classic matches.
The first ball in Ranji Trophy cricket was bowled here in 1934 by MJ Gopalan, to N Curtis of Mysore, as the hosts wrapped up victory within a day. Memorably, India recorded their first Test win at the ground in 1951-52 when they defeated England by an innings and eight runs, and it was also the scene of only the second tied Test in history, between India and Australia in 1987.
Dravid, in his address to the packed house, called it a "privilege" to play at this venue. "This venue has the best crowd in India, and it's always a pleasure to come and play in front of a fantastic, well-knowledgeable crowd," he said. "Tamil Nadu cricket has, over the past 75 years, produced some great cricketers and some great teams, and one of the greatest venues in world cricket. If you ask any of the current or past players who've played around the country and around the world, they'll say it's always a pleasure to come to Chennai and play here."
Sachin Tendulkar, with 736 runs at an average of 92.00, including four hundreds, at this venue, beamed when he spoke of his relationship with the ground: "Needless to say it's my favourite venue and crowd. I admire the knowledgeable crowd. It's very important for us, given that we haven't' been doing too well, to come here and be supported."
Marigolds, draped from bamboo poles and parapet, added to the ambience of a bright saffron and purple shamiana and even the ubiquitous security couldn't spoil the air of celebration.
A book, titled 'The Romance of Tamil Nadu Cricket', was unveiled and presented to Dayanidhi Maran, the Union Minister of Communication and Information Technology - who later spoke on his memories of the Chepauk. The crowning moment was the unveiling of the state-of-the-art Anna Pavilion, which Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the emcee for the morning, termed the best in the world. You couldn't have had a grander cricketing occasion, bar an actual Test match, to honour one of the nation's foremost cricketing associations and stadiums.
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo