April 30, 2014
Series/Tournaments: Pepsi Indian Premier League
Choice of game
This was the last IPL match in Abu Dhabi, so I didn't want to miss it. It seems another 20,000 people in Abu Dhabi had similar sentiments so yet another sell-out crowd turned up to bid adieu to the IPL from Abu Dhabi. Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals had identical 2-2 win loss ratios, and this match was crucial for both to keep their noses in front in the race for the IPL play-offs.
And what a fitting farewell it turned out to be for Abu Dhabi - easily the closest match this season, and one where fortunes swung from start to finish.
I guess loyalties are not as deeply entrenched in the IPL (as compared to international matches), so most of the spectators applauded good performances from both sides even if they were more inclined towards Kolkata.
I was supporting Rajasthan due to its connection with my favourite cricketer, Rahul Dravid. However, I also wanted to see Jacques Kallis, Sunil Narine and Gautam Gambhir do well for KKR, albeit in a losing cause.
Getting to the ground
Parking at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium is quite an experience. The stadium is surrounded by acres of plain sand, which serves as a parking lot for the thousands of cars. I saw at least three cars that got stuck in the sand and their owners desperately trying to extricate their cars (mostly in vain). Long queues of arriving cars sometimes also caused miniature sand storms, but that would not deter the cricket enthusiasts. The security checks were extremely efficient and in no time, we were inside the stadium.
One thing I'd have changed
Shah Rukh Khan made an appearance in the 18th over of the Rajasthan innings, and as has been the norm in all IPL matches, a large section of the crowd decided that catching a glimpse of SRK eclipsed any entertainment that cricket could possibly provide. For a diehard cricket fanatic like myself, ignoring a battle of Rahane-Steve Smith vs Narine-Morne Morkel in the final two overs of a T20 game for a long shot sighting of SRK was nothing short of sacrilege.
The wow moment of the day for me was the crucial 19th over bowled by the birthday boy, James Faulkner. The three wickets he took in this over of Suryakumar Yadav, Robin Uthappa and Vinay Kumar resurrected Rajasthan's hopes from a position of utter despair. What makes this performance all the more fascinating was that till that point, Faulkner's only notable contribution to the match was being caught sleeping at the boundary line when Kallis offered a chance in the deep off Rajat Bhatia's bowling in the seventh over.
Shots of the day
The most stunning shot of the day was Suryakumar Yadav's six off Shane Watson, which he picked up from way outside off stump (almost near the wide line), and casually slog-swept over square leg in a manner reminiscent of some of Moin Khan's audacious sweeps.
The other amazing shot of the day was Ajinka Rahane's pulled six off Vinay Kumar. The first impression was that the ball was unlikely to carry very far, but the ball somehow hung in the air and went over for a highly unlikely six.
The excitement levels and associated decibel levels for this match remained relatively subdued for a large part, perhaps due to the attritional nature of cricket being played and the relatively fewer number of sixes and fours. However, the excitement and noise gradually rose to a crescendo during the second half of Kolkata's innings as people realised this was going to be a close one. Towards the end, everyone was screaming, and as we trooped out of the stadium you could see the satisfaction on the fans' faces at having witnessed something special.
IPL v Pakistan's home games
Having watched a Pakistan Test, ODI and T20 each here, I must confess only the T20 international could match the IPL for crowd support. The Test match had barely a few dozen people in attendance and the ODI was also played in a half-empty stadium. The IPL, in comparison, has been a runaway hit in these parts. I guess the Indian population in the UAE has been starved of watching Indian cricketers in action for over a decade now, and the IPL has been an avenue for the huge Indian population here to make a statement that we want to see more of Indian cricketers playing here. I have no doubt that if an India-Pakistan T20 match played here, a stadium three times the size of the existing stadia, would be insufficient to meet the demand.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day of cricket for me and my friends. A big thank you to the organisers for choosing the UAE as hosts and to Sheikh Nahyan for his unwavering support. The IPL has been the talk of the town for the last two weeks, and many of us Indians in Abu Dhabi are already feeling sad that the UAE leg is drawing to a close - a bit like a favorite cousin having visited us on a holiday and now heading back. I really couldn't have asked for more.
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