Travel Blog 3# – My First IPL (CSK vs SRH at Pune, Maharashtra)

You Americans have your NFL, your NBA and your baseball. And then there are all those football clubs with fans all over the world who worship either Ronaldo or Messi. But here in India, we’re all about the cricket. One of my very first posts on this blog all those years ago when I started writing, was about cricket. I’m not much of a sports person. I enjoy the outdoors and the fun in games. But the passion for cricket has nothing to do with that. Cricket is something that brings every Indian family together and that’s why it’s become so important to so many of us. Cricket is something I share with my Dad who I have a very close relationship with. Going to this game with him was a wonderful experience altogether. I’m always up for some father-daughter bonding. 😀

The World cup games are serious. There’s a lot riding on them. The Indian Premier League or IPL is the fun version of this battle. We have several teams that consist of local Indian as well as foreign players from countries like Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa. There are 8 teams currently and each team is named after a particular city. These teams are owned by companies and individuals. These matches are often friends battling each other for the esteemed IPL cup. And this is what makes it extra fun. Who wouldn’t love to watch the Indian Cricket team fight against each other when we’re so used to watching them play together in the World cup and T20 series games?

I’m from Tamil Nadu so naturally the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are the ones who represent my state. But the fans of CSK are spread throughout the country because the captain of CSK happens to be the most beloved ex-captain of the Indian Team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He’s not just a great cricketer, he’s known for his humbleness and overall character. Having witnessed all that in person I can vouch for him myself. “Captain Cool” as we call Dhoni, is the nation’s favourite. And so CSK has the biggest fan base in the country.

Going to a home game of their favourite team is something any sports lover would enjoy. And this wasn’t just any home game. This was a home game against our biggest competitor – The Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) . It was undoubtedly the most epic evening of my life.

All the flights from Coimbatore (where I live) to Pune had terrible timings. So I departed at around 2:45 AM early in the morning. It was a long night. And after that, the next day, we put all the woes of uncomfortable travelling aside and set for our journey to the stadium where the match was going to take place. Just before we got into the taxi we were joined by some unwelcome guests who decided to “share” our ride without really being invited.

The crampy ride in the tiny car only got worse with the increasing traffic. I did not expect the roads to be so shitty and I definitely did not expect for the driver to be shittier. The IPL is played for 20 overs with each over having 6 balls. Each team bats for 20 overs with the other team bowling and they try to beat each others score. CSK won the toss and decided to bat second so it was SRH that batted first. We literally missed the first 8 overs of SRH’s batting. I was vexed and heart broken. The game was also going very bad for our team during these overs. So it was not looking very good. We spent a lot of money on this trip for just two days for one game. It wasn’t even all about the money. It’s not fun when it seems like you might be losing your first game.

Did I mention the shitty roads? We got to the stadium after ages and even after that we had to walk through piles of stones and garbage to get to the actual stadium entrance. The whole path was laid out so poorly and managed inefficiently. It’s a miracle we even got to the entrance without getting trampled. You’d wonder why the Chennai Super Kings had their home ground at Pune instead of Chennai, the city it is named after. Well that is because of some annoying politics and gullible people who follow the words of those politicians and caused misguided riots at the stadium in Chennai. So due to security concerns the matches at Chennai were moved to Pune.

I was mad at everyone. Starting from the unwelcome guests who shared our ride, our shitty driver who had no skill to even switch between lanes, and the idiots who caused the riots and moved the match so far away to Pune which had the worst stadium at the worst possible location.

As mad as I was, it was all replaced by awe and excitement as soon as we entered and got to our seats. We had AMAZING seats. I was right behind the bench where our players sat. We were so close to the ground. I’ve never seen so many celebrities at once in my life. And they were so good at the game.

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SRH batting at the Maharastra Cricket Association Stadium

The first thing I noticed was how tiny the ground actually was. It might look big in this picture and it always looked huge to me on TV too. But in person, I’ve got to say. Not at all what I expected. And the players were HUGE. Compared to the normal sized umpires they were like giants. Dhoni especially.

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The Chennai Super Kings retreating from the ground after they’ve finished bowling.

The first half of the game was over soon. It was not at all looking good for us. All we could do was stay optimistic. SRH has been playing really well this season. They’ve defended scores as low as 118 to victory. But this time they had set a high target of 180. It seemed like a very easy game for them to win.

We were seated behind the bench and in front of the players lounge. So if they needed refreshments or even a place to sit they had to come behind us and our row could see them up close. Most of the time people were just sat turned around staring at the lounge instead of the actual game and some newbie players like Lungisani Ngidi really seemed to love the attention. Then there were some like Jadeja and Bravo who ignored their devoted fans like they were somehow beneath them. I guess all that cheering gets annoying after you’ve been famous for so long. They could have also not wanted to distract the audience from the actual game. And then there was Dhoni. The poor guy was ducking for cover from his fans who managed to spot him through the glass walls of the lounge. They kept chanting his name as if that would make him come out. After he realised they weren’t going to stop he gave them a quick wave and ducked back into cover to make sure he wasn’t stealing any attention.

The thing is no matter how hard he tried to avoid it, he got all the attention. It was hilarious sometimes. An entirely different player would have scored a six and the entire crowd still chanted Dhoni’s name like him sitting in the chair was a bigger accomplishment than Shane Watson’s 6. I felt bad for the other guys sometimes. But towards the end of the game I kind of realised why Dhoni has such a religious following. His number 7 jersey was the most popular outfit that every single CSK fan had on.

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Dhoni’s number 7 jersey everywhere.

The crowd went wild every single time one of the players hit a six or a four. They went even wilder when someone scored a wicket. The went WILDEST when the cameras were directed their way. Everyone wanted a bit of the limelight. 😀 The best way to get yourself caught on camera is to make a lot of noise and bust out some moves.

The second half of the game with CSK’s batting was very intense. There was a thin line between winning and losing and everyone was on the edge of their seats. At that nerve wrecking moment, Dhoni’s powerful strike which landed an amazing six sent the crowd wild. It was the highlight of the match and it honestly made all the troubles of getting there worth it. Because I got to see it in person.

The match went on in a much more positive way than it started out for us. And somehow our guys managed to pull a victory out of their hats. I felt like I was a part of something huge. Something bigger than myself. There were tens of thousands of people supporting their respective teams in unison by executing crowd waves and perfectly coordinated chants. To belong. Isn’t that what we all want? Sports is the best way to do just that.

We were in the last and final moments that decided whether we were going to win or lose. Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu were the two batsman in the field and Ambati was very close to a 100. It was Dhoni’s turn to bat and he could have easily hit a six and finished the game early. But that’s not what he did. He wasn’t just famous for his amazing shots. He was an even better person than he was an amazing cricketer. He hit a single run and gave Ambati the chance to hit his maiden century and only when he was done hitting his century, Dhoni finsihed the game with the final shot.

This is what the people love. Ambati was the one who hit a hundred runs but the crowd loved Dhoni more for being the kind of person who would give his opportunity to someone else, a budding player like Ambati to help him reach greater heights in his cricket career.

The match had the perfect ending where we won. It was a great moment. After that the crowd started fanning out and the stadium got quite empty.

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The Maharastra Cricket Association Stadium after the match

The media was getting it’s statement from the important players of the match and everyone was congratulating Dhoni. He treated them all alike. Right from the rich businessmen who sponsored him , to the reporters and even the low level maintenance guy who cleaned the ground after the game.

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The Reception Banner for CSK outside the stadium

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Sweaty, dirty but happy me ft. a CSK cap.

This was a game to remember. I’m officially a Dhoni fan. Not that I wasn’t one before but I’m even more sold on the guy now. I never in a million years thought I’d have the time to go to a game. I’m glad I did. It was a “Legend—–wait-for-it——-dary” kind of night.

– The Obsessive Writer

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