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Fan Following

Knock-off t-shirts and DRS charades at Pujara's 100th

A fan watches the Delhi Test and comes away entertained and with insights into human behaviour

Abhijato Sensarma
If you're happy and you know it, stand up and wave your arms about  •  Getty Images

If you're happy and you know it, stand up and wave your arms about  •  Getty Images

When watching cricket on television, you hear two or three commentators deliver their opinions about the game. When watching cricket in a stadium, it often seems like you hear a few thousand.
The first thing you notice while walking into the Arun Jaitley Stadium is the long line of hawkers selling India jerseys. These knock-offs are as democratic as the sport can get - most sellers have just one size, which doesn't fit all but is made to. If you arrive early enough, you'll find plenty of people struggling to get their newly purchased apparel on before rejoining the crowd at the gates to have the edges of their single-entry tickets torn off.
In the East Stand, the lower tiers of seats are exposed to the sun, and the back half are in shade. If you've decided to not pay an exorbitant amount of money for the drinking water sold inside the stadium, you'll probably sit in the shade, foregoing some of the visibility in the poor Delhi air for a less dehydrated body.
Ice-cream sellers walk about, each holding up two cones, usually a pair of butterscotches or chocolates. Most people ask the price - Rs 100 - and return to watching the match without further comment. A few bring out their weary wallets.
As the end of play approaches, the fans try harder to haggle the sellers down to the actual marked price of the items being hawked, as the sellers wipe the sweat from their brows and do their best to get rid of their stock.
From the seats in the shade, a flood of India jerseys are on display: trios of Kohli shirts sitting together, a few Rohits, and a healthy number of Dhonis in the mix too. These names are rendered in fonts as diverse as the body types they clothe. There's a stray Surya in the distance: does the wearer know Shreyas Iyer has replaced Suryakumar Yadav in the XI for this Test?
But when Suryakumar jogs around the edge of the boundary before the day's play starts, everyone in the crowd forgets the fact too. You cannot help but applaud someone you've seen and adored on television for so long. Being as close as you're likely to ever get to the players in the world's most famous cricket team makes the infectious nature of hero-worship real for everyone.
When the players finally stroll out to the middle to begin play, the cheering adds to the delight of being in a collective. If you look close enough, you spot uncensored joy on the faces of people you know would probably hold themselves back otherwise. A man with a salt-and-pepper beard sits in one corner of the stand, wearing a white floppy hat from the days when he probably played the sport himself. He points towards the middle, his other hand paternally across the shoulders of his little kid.
Among the most diligent members of staff at the ground are two who are probably invisible on the televised broadcast. As soon as an over finishes and the players and umpires change ends, one of these two hard-working souls climbs up to the top of the digital advertising board at the end the next over is going to be bowled from, throwing a white sheet over it to make it blend into the sightscreen behind it. Meanwhile, the other board is unclothed for it to project its ads to everyone in the other half of the stadium.
With each ball, the anticipation grows - and each time, Pujara presents the full face of his bat in defence. At one point he has a smile on his face, and most people in the crowd are convinced he is trolling them
At one point these two begin their routine after the fifth ball of an over in India's first innings, believing the over to have concluded, and face the animated wrath of R Ashwin, who gestures for them to put the sheet back on again. Everyone makes mistakes. Including Rohit Sharma, who could be forgiven for thinking his dismissals are being cheered for by the home side's supporters - but the fans are buzzing with anticipation for the entry of the home favourite, Virat Kohli, instead.
Everyone in the stands comes together to chant for Kohli. They egg on his edges and singles with as much enthusiasm as they do his boundaries and quick-run twos (a bit like with tennis, the speed of his running can only be appreciated when witnessed live). A small number of fans, many in Kohli T-shirts, walks out when he is dismissed in the first innings.
Then, there are the trolls. Australia burn through all of their reviews quite quickly in the first innings. Each time they make an unsuccessful appeal after it, the crowd chants, "DRS, DRS, DRS", while making the T-shape in the Australians' direction.
The crowd's opinions are varied in quality and relevance too. Some begin to chant Kohli's name after Ashwin stops in his run-up at one point to warn the non-striker for straying out of their crease. When someone asks why they're shouting Kohli's name, the response comes: "Because he's the one who'll entertain us with fights!"
Kohli doesn't pick any fights. Most of the match passes by without controversy. The biggest point of contention in the stands is when someone gets in other spectators' line of sight. Each time there is a close call for an Australia batter's wicket, or a boundary is hit by an Indian, most people rise from their seats - to spot the ball and to celebrate the occasion on their feet.
There is a window of a few seconds within which one can get up, hug their friends, record shaky celebrations on their phones, and sit back down again without complaints from neighbouring fans - who usually indulge in the same routine themselves at various points. Inevitably, by the time most people have taken their seats again, a few haven't. They are duly shouted at to sit down, with furious gestures, and sometimes a choice word or two that are as local in their flavour as they are effective in getting the point across.
The only exception is during the final over of the game, on day three. With just one run required for victory and Cheteshwar Pujara on strike, almost everyone in the stadium is standing - the shorter ones on their seats. With each ball, the anticipation grows - and each time, Pujara presents the full face of his bat in defence. This happens repeatedly. At one point he has a smile on his face, and most people in the crowd are convinced he is trolling them rather than sticking to his method of solidity over flair.
The crowd trolls him back, chanting, "We want six, we want six."
Pujara pushes the fourth ball over midwicket to collect a boundary instead. As he shakes hands with Srikar Bharat at the other end, then with the Australians, and finally, waves at his family in the stands with the same smile on his face, the fans hug and dance with the people they have spent the match bantering with and saving seats for.
In that moment of festivity, with a dozen different chants breaking off and blending into each other, as the phone cameras record the moment in all their amateur glory, you ask yourself: where would you rather be?