The Gandhi Science College ground in the heart of Jammu is nestled inside the 120-year-old campus of the institution formerly known as Prince of Wales College. Here, students casually stroll across the huge lawn, play cricket or football in vast open areas, eat anda bhurji (scrambled eggs) and drink chai in one of many small shacks that have set shop inside the campus. Some sit and study.
In general, there's a casual vibe. It's a throwback to olden times. Since mobile internet is non-existent, after all, despite restrictions having been lifted, people are actually seen talking to each other.
Suddenly, though, things go quiet. Somewhere close by, there are police vehicles, one can hear the sirens. Nothing to worry about - a security drill is being conducted in the campus and police vehicles, armed security officers and around 100 policemen are present, entrusted with looking after the two teams - Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka, the Ranji Trophy quarter-final contestants. But if you wanted to see the players - Manish Pandey is the big star - you weren't going to be denied.
Irfan Pathan, the former India allrounder, continues to draw his fair share of attention and adulation. To many of the locals, he's one of their own. Irfan is a "man of the masses", as a J&K Cricket Association official puts it. Soon after the team finishes training, he calls the group for a mid-pitch meeting and gives them a pep talk. After they disperse, he begins his own fitness session by first doing a few stretches and then having a bat in the nets. The fans who had earlier made a beeline for Pandey are now cheering for Irfan. The security presence notwithstanding, everyone gets a slice of the players. Some even get to click selfies with their stars.
Outside the ground, different corners of the campus are being spruced up. The huge open area is dotted with pots of plants along the driveway. The fence surrounding the ground receives a fresh coat of paint. Shamianas (tents) are erected in one corner to seat VIPs and former J&K players, all special invitees. The JKCA is going out of its way to ensure it's all systems go for what their captain Parvez Rasool calls the "biggest match we are hosting".
This is still a small venue but the excitement is palpable. The main pavilion block smells of fresh paint and the players' and match officials' area "has never been so clean", a local officer says. The dressing rooms, which were earlier under a tent, have been redone. Fresh massage tables have been put in place and orders have gone out for several kilogrammes of blocked ice to facilitate ice baths.
Until today, the main players' block had just two operational toilets that were in such a state that people had to hold their noses when they went in, according to a player. That's changed. Or, as someone jokingly put it, they have been "inaugurated".
The biggest issue, however, was in installing a big enough sightscreen. Rasool says that as players, they have never been finicky of the white patch of cloth behind the bowlers' arms. Sometimes, play has carried on even after the screens have blown away. Here, efforts are on to weld two solid frames, much bigger than usual, to accommodate for any extra covering players may need.
There's a special medical tent set up, not just for players, but for the spectators too, because they expect students and fans, in general, to turn up in large numbers. "As many as 1000 spectators can sit under tents with chairs, if we get more, we will increase it," a venue official said.
The JKCA has made every effort to spread the message it's not often such a big game comes to Jammu and that entry is free. News that the local team is in the quarter-final only for the second time in Ranji Trophy history has found its way into living rooms as special shows have been lined up on local television.
In short, you get the feeling of a big North Indian wedding, where you're never truly set and ready until the bride and groom walk in. Many J&K players have never seen this much attention to detail previously for a home game. The grandeur, the effort to make this a spectacle, has blown them away. Now, they will want to play their part in making the spectacle an experience of a lifetime for the locals.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo