The majority of the 37,500-strong turnout will have to sit in open stands, that, too, in the October heat, at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium as India takes on Bangladesh on Thursday. But hardly any of them will be complaining.
Shubham Walunj, an IT professional, spent his formative years in Rajgurunagar - a town almost 50 km from Pune before pursuing higher education here - represents the city’s changing demography.
Once regarded as the pensioner’s paradise, Pune emerged as a student city before transforming into an IT hub over the last two decades. Walunj, along with a few of his friends and colleagues have taken a day off from work on Thursday.
“Ever since the cricket bug bit, all the elders I have interacted with keep discussing the 1996 World Cup match in Pune, when Kenya beat the mighty West Indies,” Walunj, 25, says. “I wasn’t even born then, but I have heard so many tales of the game. I had to be there to witness when the city that’s my home now is hosting its first World Cup match in my lifetime.”
Walunj is referring to the famous game that inserted Pune into a Cricket World Cup quiz. Playing its maiden World Cup, Kenya stunned the West Indies by 73 runs at the Nehru Stadium - which was the home of cricket in Pune till the plush stadium was ready at the beginning of the last decade.
That game was the only game Pune hosted in 1996. The only previous occasion when the World Cup came calling to Pune was in 1987 when England comfortably defeated Sri Lanka.
Just like non-India World Cup games in 2011 and 2023, even in 1996, there were hardly any spectators for the spectacular upset. Among the 3,500-odd spectators was a group of promising Maharashtra cricketers. Kashinath Khadkikar, the former Maharashtra allrounder, was among the group.
“We were thrilled to watch Curtly Ambrose steaming in. Only the previous day, we were watching the nets and Ambrose during his warm-up bowled a gentle half-volley to Sherwin Campbell who drove it through covers. All through the remaining session, all that Campbell faced from Ambrose was chin-music,” Khadkikar recalls.
“I wish I had stayed on during the chase. But during the formative stage, our group preferred to head home after the first innings since we wanted to watch Pakistan’s big match against South Africa on TV. And then the miracle happened, so it’s weird to say I was there at the match but wasn’t there when Kenya won.”
For the cricket-crazy fans in Pune - and western Maharashtra - the World Cup’s return to Pune offers a rare opportunity to witness the Men in Blue in action, most of whom were not even born when the last time Pune hosted a World Cup match.
The access road to the stadium is terrible despite the Maharashtra Cricket Association having arranged limited bus trips for ticket-holders from the city.
There is no public transport - a hazard that’s not limited to the stadium when it comes to Pune, and most fans will be stuck in traffic snarls to and fro the stadium.
Still, with the World Cup calling, the fans will throng the stadium. The problem of sitting in the heat is subdued with an uninterrupted view of the playing field and the most spectator-friendly seats in the stands.
The infamous ‘Nagin Dance’, now synonymous with Bangladesh cricket, might come face-to-face with its Pune variant - the Ganpati dance, a wild street dance associated with the Ganesh immersion.
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