The sights and sounds of watching live cricket in Chennai

The stadium doesn’t rise and fall with each major event, but every boundary is met with warm applause. That they are here, enjoying a game of cricket in person, is just as important as the match in front of them.

Fans at the Chepauk Stadium

"No doubt, the caveats and hesitations will be part of the joy in watching live sport amid the coronavirus outbreak."   -  SPORTZPICS/BCCI

At 9.30 am, as Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill walk out to bat at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, the fans rev up the Indian openers with loud cheers.

There are old folk in the crowd who might have seen many memorable contests at Chepauk. Middle-aged people and 18- to 20-year-olds, too, are here to enjoy the weekend.

The stadium doesn’t rise and fall with each major event, but every boundary is met with warm applause. That they are here, enjoying a game of cricket in person, is just as important as the match in front of them.

The last time fans were allowed inside Chepauk was in March 2020 for a Chennai Super Kings training camp. On a humid evening, three stands were thrown open to spectators, and Chennai welcomed back its Thala with deafening chants of “Dhoni! Dhoni! Dhoni!”

But a lot has happened since. Ravaged by a global pandemic, the country went into a complete lockdown. Airports were closed and train services suspended. As the coronavirus crisis dragged on, threatening lives and livelihoods, cricket, understandably, was put on the backburner.

FOLLOW | IND vs ENG Live Score, 2nd Test, Day 1 Live Updates: Rohit smashes 7th Test ton as India crosses 150

So when today Stuart Broad and Jack Leach wave at the fans, and low ripples of applause greet a Ben Stokes catch during a training drill, it doesn’t matter that they may have no cultural or geographical connection whatsoever with these people. They’re happy. The players are happy. Everyone’s happy.

Tamil Nadu is currently seeing a decline in active COVID-19 cases, and life in Chennai has crawled back to normalcy in recent months. While hope today may be shorthand for our looming dread, it is still the only currency with value.

Outside the stadium’s V. Pattabhiraman Gate, there’s a line of vendors selling everything from tea and snacks to flags and caps. After a garrulous bargain, one vendor sports a smile as he manages to sell an assortment of white and blue floppy hats to a bunch of youngsters. Several such vendors rely on match days like these for their livelihood. Today, they are happy to be back at their jobs.

100

Outside the stadium’s V. Pattabhiraman Gate, there’s a line of vendors selling everything from tea and snacks to flags and caps.   -  Ayan Acharya

 

In front of the Chepauk Railway Station on Victoria Hostel Road, there are police officers managing the traffic and pedestrians. “It’s good to see people at the stadium again, but these are challenging times, so we need to handle everything with care,” says a cop as he directs the crowd.

Close by, a family of three is waiting to get inside the stadium. The father seems anxious about the crowd building outside one of the gates. “We will go in once the queue is smaller. Happy for our child, but these are still trying times,” he says.

READ | IND vs ENG: Rohit Sharma smashes 7th Test century, breaks multiple records

On the face of it, there is excitement. The city may no longer be on the front lines of the pandemic, but the prospect of jubilation now comes scented with dread. Still, it works. No doubt, the caveats and hesitations will be part of the joy in watching live sport amid the coronavirus outbreak.

100

The Wallajah Road corner, adjacent to the stadium, is a busy thoroughfare, with tea shops, bus routes and cricket chatter.   -  Ayan Acharya

 

But on Saturday morning, the air of excitement was palpable, and faces were bright, smiling and animated all around. In Chennai, as yet another hot and humid day began, many were purposefully walking towards the stadium. The Wallajah Road corner, adjacent to the stadium, is a busy thoroughfare, with tea shops, bus routes and cricket chatter. But for a while, those car horns, idle chats and cricket had been replaced by the low hum of wind and birds. On February 13, the sights and sounds of cricket were back.