First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
I went to see this ODI predictably for the location of the stadium. All this while I had only seen this picturesque ground on TV and in images. Now it was time to catch an international match here. Also, since it was Dharamsala's first international match, I wanted to be part of the historic occasion.
I almost knew India would lose the match, because since December 2011, every time I have seen India play at a stadium (and that would be quite a few), they have lost. Thankfully this was a dead rubber, so I didn't care too much about the outcome.
I was almost neutral. I just wanted a thrilling, nail-biting, memorable match which would rank among the top few matches I have seen at a stadium.
In a match where most batsmen struggled to score, two easily stood out. Suresh Raina weathered the storm along with Ravindra Jadeja after England had reduced India to 79 for 5. Raina was in form and had some luck as well, dropped as he was twice in his innings of 83. But despite saving India from a collapse, Raina probably got out when the team needed him the most. For England, Ian Bell started tentatively, with a few pokes and edges, but then stood like a rock at one end. His 113 was exactly half of India's total.
One thing I'd have changed
I was hoping to see England collapse after Kevin Pietersen fell to Shami Ahmed. I thought if India could manage to get Joe Root's wicket quickly then the wickets would tumble quickly, because Eoin Morgan and Samit Patel were not in great form going into the game. I desperately hoped to see a tight finish in the chilly afternoon under the floodlights. But India could never create enough pressure.
Face-off I relished
At the end of seven overs, England were 30 for 0. In came Ishant Sharma and bowled his first delivery to Alastair Cook, and the entire stadium stood up on seeing a deviation that was gobbled up by MS Dhoni. While all the Indian players celebrated, the umpire refused to budge. Since replays of controversial decisions are never shown on the big screen at Indian stadiums, the confused crowd did not know what had happened. They figured it was the right decision once a few people found out - through their phones - that the ball had actually flicked the pad. But Ishant look disgruntled and steamed in ferociously for the next few overs, beating Cook a few times and making him look edgy and wobbly. In the 12th over he shattered Cook's stumps and the full house burst into a cheer. Ishant's inspired spell brought back some hope for the Indian fans.
When England were 64 for 1, Pietersen pulled a short ball from Shami Ahmed and at first glance it appeared to sail over the ropes. But Jadeja came running in from a distance, anticipated and timed the catch to perfection.
Shot of the day
Against the flow of play, Raina struck three fours in the 12th over, off Chris Woakes, giving the audience something to cheer about for the first time in the match. Morgan's sixes off Shami Ahmed in the dying moments of the match made a boring chase look a bit lively. But the most memorable shot for me was the one Jadeja lofted off Root in the 34th over. The ball ballooned up, came all the way up to our stand and landed two rows in front of me. The spectators fumbled but one of them managed to catch it.
The stadium, with a capacity of about 21,000, was filled to the brim. It was noisy, with people blowing horns and even conches. The crowd was lively and had a few cheerleaders who took the banter to the English fans. A whistling contest was going on between the Indian and English cheerleaders. The Indian cheerleader won it and also mimicked the English cheerleaders well. But the English fans had the last laugh as their team cruised to victory.
The gentleman sitting beside me was probably not a regular cricket watcher. He kept asking questions like, "Why are there three pitches on the ground?", "Why are the batsmen not hitting every ball?", "Who are these kids standing beside the boundary line and why are they picking up the ball?", "Is that a no-ball signal or a wide?", "Why is Harbhajan Singh not playing? He should play every match", and so on. He was particularly impressed by Dharamveer, the disabled ball boy who also captains India's disabled cricket team, and travels and stays with the Indian team.
Banner of the day
These days posters have been replaced by messages that fans can send to have displayed on the big screen at the ground. Among the ones I saw were: "Dhoni, please play your helicopter shot", "Raina, you need to score a century today", "Bhuvnesh, aim more middle stump, nothing else", "Dhoni, I guess Yuvi should bowl today", "Dhoni, I think you should try bowling", "Sidhu is the god of cricket commentary", "Indian team, please take a few wickets or I'll feel asleep". There were also random comments like "Jonty Rhodes is the god of fielding" and "Billy Bowden, we miss you".
In the style of Sudhir Gautam, Sachin Tendulkar's No.1 fan, we had in our stand a Dhoni fan who had the Indian tricolour painted all over his body and face. Dhoni's name and jersey No. 7 were painted on his back. He was bare-bodied and stood throughout the match holding a huge India flag.
Marks out of 10
7. Five of those go to the venue. Watching cricket at Dharamsala, with the spectacular snow-clad Dhauladhar ranges in the background, is a great experience. The festive, noisy crowd added spice to the overall atmosphere, but the match was mostly boring.
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Saurav Dey is a creative consultant but prefers to spend most of his time watching cricket. He believes that cricket is best watched from the grounds and hopes to cover all the Test and ODI venues in the world someday and write a book about them. He also aspires to create his own "Bharat Army" and travel around the world.
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