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Tour Diary

Learning the sounds of Indian cricket in Mohali

ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent gets caught up in the chanting of a rather sparsely populated PCA Stadium on her first time covering Test cricket in India

The fans make their presence felt in Mohali, India v South Africa, 1st Test, Mohali, 2nd day, November 6, 2015

The fans who turned up for the Mohali Test might not have been numerous, but they were enthusiastic all the same  •  Hindustan Times

In a country obsessed with cricket, Mohali is surprisingly mellow when the game comes to their city.
If you didn't know there was a Test match happening at the Punjab Cricket Association, you may not even notice the flag sellers and face painters milling around the ground in the mornings. They're not like other hawkers, they're more hummingbird: quick but delicate, not loud and forceful. They don't have all that many people to sell to anyway.
Test match crowds are generally smaller than limited-overs' masses in many parts of the world, India included, but Mohali's is particularly small. There were rumours that the barely 2,000 people who passed through the PCA Stadium gates on day one was a record for the opening day for a Test at this venue, but what they lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality.
This crowd had purpose. Their day began with a "Happy Birthday" chorus for Virat Kohli, which started softly from ball one and grew as Kohli's arrival at the crease became imminent. The song had barely finished when Kohli was dismissed but the fans forgave him for his brief stay. He was applauded off the field to more crooning.
Not everyone was here for India's new captain, though. Among the fans was Ram Babu, MS Dhoni's Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary equivalent, in other words, his biggest fan. Ram Babu paints his body in the Indian tricolour and displays a message to his main man on his chest: "Miss u Dhoni." His loyal support has earned him trips to all India's matches, including Tests, paid for by Dhoni, but his voice is not the only audible one on the ground.
Each morning session began with intermittent "Indiaaaa, Indiaaaa" chants, which could only be heard between the sounds of the players clapping hands or encouraging each other. The "come on fellas" and "let's go boys" from the field were at their most intense early on, and those who made it to the ground at 9.30 wanted to hear to them. As the day progressed, the vocal baton was passed along and the it was up to the crowd to buoy the players and they did so for both sides.
In between cheering their own team, there were occasional bursts of "AB, AB", as there are all over India these days, but they also showed some love to the other South Africans. "Amlaaaaa, Amlaaaaaaa" could soon become a craze too, although "Rabaaadaaa, Rabaaaaadaaaaa" may soon follow, especially as the young tearaway interacted with his praise-singers with a humble wave on occasion. But none of those could match up to the new sound of Indian cricket.
"Ashwiiiiiiiiiiiin, Ashwiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin" was the on repeat and could well become the most heard song this series. Thank goodness R Ashwin has a vowel in the right place of his name to become the favourite subject of the tune Indian fans have made their own. No matter where in the world their team plays, the double-syllable chant, with a long "iiiiiiiiii" in the second part is heard, and Mohali was no different.
Saturday's crowd was, as expected, the best, and they also got to see the best of of their team. Sunday's may well have been even better, but Indian fans won't be unhappy with the early end.
Neither will the residents of Mohali. Those who live in the streets of Sector 63, which surrounds the stadium, were irritated that the were not able to drive directly to their homes because of the police barricades, and they made sure to tell the local newspaper about it. This is a planned city and it seems people are not so mellow when their plans are pulled out of shape.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent