First-person reports from the stands
Series/Tournaments: Indian Premier League
Choice of game
In January 2013, Ranchi hosted its first international cricket match and praises were heaped from all over on the amazing new stadium and its state-of-the-art facilities. I watched on TV and felt extremely happy that finally Jharkhand, my state, could boast of a facility that could put it on the world map, and could complement MS Dhoni's status as the sporting ambassador of the region.
I had made a mental note to try to make a trip home whenever Ranchi hosted its next match. I was fortunate to get a few tickets for this game, courtesy my generous friends. The excitement level in the city for this game was huge.
Taking into account the form of the two teams coming into this match, I backed Royal Challengers Bangalore to win easily. I was as wrong to predict the result as Virat Kohli was to judge the pitch!
A tough question. The IPL is still a long way away from forging dedicated, passionate fan bases a la its global cousins, say the NBA or EPL. It becomes increasingly difficult for people like me, who have confused regional identities (schooling in Jamshedpur, college in Mumbai, working in Delhi, in my case). To complicate matters further, cricket icons of a particular region play for franchises in other cities.
My head starts to spin when I have to pick a team to support in the IPL. Over the years I have developed a couple of thumb rules. First, support teams of your favourite players - so Chennai Super Kings for Dhoni and Rajasthan Royals for Rahul Dravid become my choices (which seems like a good line-up to back this season). Considering Dhoni has won a lot of trophies over the years, I would love Dravid to lift one this season.
Second, support the one team that matters, your fantasy team. After all, they are ones getting you points.
On a slow pitch, Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir read the conditions perfectly, getting in an extra spinner, Sachithra Senanayake, at the cost of in-form Eoin Morgan.
You can trust one man to make the most of such conditions - Sunil Narine came to the party, taking four wickets for just 22 runs in his spell. Some credit must go to the other bowlers who choked the stellar Royal Challengers batting line-up for runs.
One thing you'd have changed about the day
The occasional light drizzle had made the weather perfect to watch the match. Unfortunately the action in the middle didn't live up to the expectations. We had hoped for a high-scoring encounter, a Chris Gayle blitz or an AB de Villiers special, followed by a tight chase by Gambhir & Co. All we got was three sixes in the entire match - two from a team that had earlier hit a record number of sixes. I would most definitely have wanted a high-scoring encounter, or a Super Over, to make up for the low-scoring game.
Face-off I relished
I was eagerly waiting to see how Gayle would approach his Windies team-mate Narine. It was an anti-climax, to say the least, as Narine dismissed Gayle in his second over. Gayle's innings was a letdown since he took 36 balls to score 33, which was 1/3rd of what he usually notches up in a stay that long.
Shot of the day
On a day when the boundaries were hard to come by, there was hardly a shot that stuck in memory. One that did matter though, was the last boundary of the match - a dead straight four that Ryan ten Doeschate hit over bowler Vinay Kumar to finish a tricky chase.
The town was infected by an anticipatory buzz for a week. There was a mad scramble for tickets - local papers had pictures of people camping overnight to get tickets, which reminded me of Wimbledon queues. It was refreshing to see since cricket matches hardly registers a blip on a metro's event radar. So considering all this, I expected a jam-packed stadium, but even at its peak, the stands were no more than 80% full. The guilty parties were mainly the VIP stands, where, I assume, the ease of getting tickets fails to motivate people to turn up and watch the game. It's a shame.
Although technically this was a Knight Riders' home game, you wouldn't know it if you had watched it on TV. People, especially the younger lot, were on the Gayle bandwagon, some even painting their faces with his name. Royal Challengers' flags could be seen aplenty in spite complimentary Knight Rider's flags being handed out by the organisers. Chants of "RCB… RCB" echoed through the stadium even when they were up against it. Only towards the end of the match, and that too on the prompting by the stadium emcee, did the crowd start shouting "KKR… KKR". I suspect that had something to do with people backing the team that was winning.
The (non)-hardship factor
The experience was near-perfect. We walked in without any hassles or long lines. The stadium infrastructure, including the seating arrangement, was really good and we chose seats with a good view. It was heartening to see such spectator-friendly arrangements in my backyard. The ghosts of my horrifying experience in Jamshedpur in 2002, when the crowd threw bottles to express unhappiness at West Indies' win, were finally exorcised.
The only letdown was the food. Expensive food stalls at stadiums is understandable, but below-par quality is unpardonable, that too from a reputed coffee chain that ran that stall. We were not the only ones who had to throw away the visibly stale sandwiches.
I know expecting the Allman Brothers Band to be played over the PA system is unlikely and wishful since it's the modern pop numbers that get the crowd on its feet. Still, I was horrified to hear Yo Yo Honey Singh numbers being blared here in Ranchi, an experience I thought would not haunt me outside Delhi. That's pop-culture for you.
The early entertainment was provided by a light Cessna aircraft - which I suspect was the same one used in the match in January - that performed low fly-bys across the stadium to cheers from the crowd.
Twenty20 v ODIs
The age for instant gratification make Twenty20s a perfect fit - exciting, entertaining and brief.
TV v stadium
I love watching Test matches from the stands, and was there to savour the 4-0 whitewash against the Aussies at Kotla.
T20s are a fifty-fifty case since I have had more indifferent experiences than good ones. That said, the experience of this excellent new facility in my own hometown really tilted the balance in favour of watching at the stadium.
The cricket was a departure from the usual T20 matches. The bowlers looked in control throughout, keeping the run rate in check. The Knight Riders' slow bowlers spun a web around the Royal Challengers' batsmen and the Royal Challengers' bowlers gave little away when they bowled, except in a couple of overs when Jacques Kallis and Irfan Pathan broke the shackles. Since we end up judging a T20 solely by its entertainment value, I would say this one wasn't fun to watch, though the close finish did manage to keep the crowd on its feet till the last over.
The atmosphere was great since this match was the highlight of the season for Ranchi. People were really excited to see and root for their heroes - most of them for their first time. That enthusiasm showed in the vocal support they extended throughout.
Marks on 10
7. 5 for the facilities and 2 for the match.
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