Choice of game
Having witnessed the first ever Test in Jharkhand, my home state, I made a pledge to watch every Test match hosted in Ranchi. As soon as the dates for the tour were announced, my friend and I got our travel plans in place. The tickets for the game though, proved to be a scavenger hunt.
I would have preferred the third Test to be a decider. But the way India have steamrolled South Africa in this series, I was hoping this Test would be closer than the others.
The ticket travails
I have watched quite a few matches across India and have become used to the difficulties in procuring a ticket. But this experience in my own backyard beat all of them.
It all started the moment we landed at Ranchi airport, where a huge poster for the match invited us to book the tickets online. The partner site mentioned did not have any tickets listed on the website. On searching for the tickets, we came across a distressing news item which claimed only 1500 tickets were sold.
Not to be deterred easily, we headed to the stadium. At the counter, the partner agency told us that the tickets of our preferred stand (North Pavilion) were not available and that we needed to come at 7am on Saturday (day one of the Test) to collect them. We woke up early and made it to the stadium, only to find out that the ticket counters were closed and would open at 8am. Once they did, the personnel behind the counter told us that we could only purchase tickets for that day, and not a five-day pass which is the standard across Test venues. Not to mention that the day pass, priced at Rs 600, is more expensive than at any other Test we have watched in India.
It's not 'disinterest' or 'apathy' that keeps fans away.
We were rooting for India to win the match and increase their lead in the Test Championship. However, we also wanted South Africa to put up a fight to make this a close encounter. The first session almost granted our wish, as three India batsmen were dismissed in an inspired Rabada spell.
In overcast conditions, South Africa's pacers had a promising start and it seemed like Rabada would own the day. But, as the day progressed, Rohit Sharma weathered the storm and picked up the pace after lunch. He was undoubtedly the standout performer of the day, reaching his century with a six that almost reached our stand. Rahane also played an aggressive knock and would have got to his century had the weather not intervened.
On day two, Rohit went about his business and got to his double just after lunch. Rahane had already scored his first hundred at home since 2016. The latter part of the day, however, belonged to Umesh Yadav, who entertained the Sunday crowd with his blitz of 31 off ten with five sixes. He followed that up with a short testing spell, which got a wicket.
The Rabada vs Indian batsmen interplay
Rabada's early spell on day one showed what South Africa were capable of. Once three early wickets were down, the way Rohit and Rahane cautiously saw out the inspired pace attack was great to watch.
Filling the gaps
The session breaks were mostly spent lining up for food or water, and deliberating rage-tweeting about the ticket fiasco. Some time was also spent browsing through ESPNcricinfo's live text commentary.
On both the days, we were up on our feet anticipating a Rohit milestone. He did not disappoint, almost Sehwag-esque in his approach. His century came off a six over long-off. He brought up his double-century, on what was Sehwag's 41st birthday, with a six off a pull shot, sending the limited crowd into raptures.
I always enjoy mimicking Ravindra Jadeja's sword celebration whenever he reaches a milestone. He didn't disappoint later in the day, and out came the imaginary sword.
Day one was a field day for trespassers. During one of the drinks breaks, a fan ran towards the pitch, eliciting an amused glance from Rohit. The more interesting incident happened later, when one fan breached the rather porous security and headed towards the pitch at top speed. He suddenly stopped near a surprised Quinton de Kock, and bowed down to touch his feet. The security personnel caught up, and rugby-tackled the fan to the ground before escorting him off the field.
The crowd was sparse on day one but picked up on day two - probably owing to it being a Sunday and to the fans having cracked the code of getting tickets. Rohit's double got the most cheers, Umesh's blitzkrieg had everyone on their toes, egging him to hit the ball in their direction.
Fancy dress index
Most of the fans turned up in replica jerseys, which were also being sold outside the stadium. The distribution of Virat and Rohit's names at the back was almost even, with a few Dhoni jerseys to remind us of the venue.
The usual superfans, with body-painted Sachin and Dhoni messages, were also in attendance and helped raise the tempo in the stands.
Once we made it to the stadium, the pleasant weather and competitive first session on day one was an amazing experience as a cricket fan. As the day progressed, the gulf between the two sides started to emerge, further extending on day two. It made for less pleasurable viewing as a cricket fan. The only upside was a better atmosphere with more spectators on day two, cheering the dominant Indian display.
Marks out of 10
All things considered; I would rate this a 7 out of 10 in terms of experience.
Want to do a Fan Following report? Read our FAQ here.
Nikhil Jha is a failed sportsman, dubitable engineer and a closet sports writer; striving for redemption with his nine year stint as a sports entrepreneur & educator. He is currently building FirstCap, a pathway for passionate sports fans in India to make a career in the industry.