It’s raining sixes in the desert

The first few matches of the competition were sold out well in advance, with tickets disappearing from malls pretty fast. There is additional demand for the weekend games, meaning those on Thursday evenings and Fridays — Friday being the weekly holiday. A. Joseph Antony reports.

The United Arab Emirates has all it takes to make a fine cricketing destination. The Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai International Stadium in Dubai and the Sharjah International Stadium in Sharjah may not have seating capacities exceeding 25,000 each. Their grounds look small and compact but they pack a fair share of facilities for the sports loving public.

The first leg of the 2014 Indian Premier League has been welcomed with open arms. Waiting eagerly outside the Sheikh Zayed cricket stadium was a young Filipino girl. With most of the spectators being expat Indians, she seemed out of place. When asked how come she was there, her answer was limited to just a name. “M. S. Dhoni,” she said.

The first few matches of the competition were sold out well in advance, with tickets disappearing from malls pretty fast. There is additional demand for the weekend games, meaning those on Thursday evenings and Fridays — Friday being the weekly holiday.

The overriding reason for the game’s prospects was the enthusiasm of its followers in the United Arab Emirates. With fans attired in jerseys of each of the franchises, backing for the teams was never in doubt. One Chennai Super Kings fan(atic) was restless on the 160-km trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. When the wait to go to the stadium became unbearable for the youngster, he simply hailed a taxi only with one goal in mind. “I want to be there in time for the toss,” he panted, quite unmindful of the cost involved in engaging a cab.

The double headers proved to be a real test for fans and followers alike. Even with temperatures hovering in the fiery 40s around noon, serpentine queues were commonplace. With parking place at a premium, many leave their vehicles at some distance from the venues and then begin the patient trek, with spouses and kids in tow. Compared to the following back home in India, families came in droves here, one father urging his young son not to whine about the walk to the stadium.

None of the venues had direct public transport reaching it. So the cabs and cars began choking the roads a good two hours before the action could unfold in the arena. The presence of policemen almost seemed redundant with fans quite disciplined, eager with anticipation and turning a blind eye to the travails.

The noise, the chaos, the traffic jams all proved to be non-deterrents for these die-hard loyalists. If one went by the sheer colour of the jerseys, Royal Challengers Bangalore seemed to be the most popular team. The zeal to attend was incredible even among Indians of Kerala origin, their state being a traditional bastion of football, volleyball and athletics. One could easily get by with Malayalam all across the Emirates, where Indians from other States abound too.

The Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi seems to be in the midst of nowhere surrounded by vast stretches of desert sand, after one crosses the various institutions and private sports facilities in the neighbourhood such as a sprawling golf course. Not surprisingly a host of British tourists, both men and women, were seen trooping into the well-landscaped property.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have dedicated sports cities, where there are even ice rinks. Petroleum power has ensured a galaxy of amenities, enthusiasts in lesser countries could only crave for. Dubai even has a ‘Stadium’ station on its metro route, where, at a shouting distance, lies a swanky stadium with galleries and flood-lights.

The atmosphere in the grounds is electric with fans as noisy as ever. They are quite vociferous with their support and quite understandably the big hits are the biggest draw. Tongues of flames leap skywards every time the ball sails over the boundaries. The number of boundary clearing blows crossed the half-century mark with just seven games into the league completed.

The grounds being small, the batsmen clear the ropes quite easily, sending the crowd into raptures. A smattering of expat Englishmen and women are also seen partaking of the delights.

Royal Challengers Bangalore’s triumph over the Delhi Daredevils drew the most applause. Holding court were Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh, the latter perhaps keen to redeem himself after the T20 World Cup setback. The duo sent the sphere shooting through the Sharjah night-sky no less than eight times and the crowd just loved it.

Fans of the game from Pakistan are heard making queries indicating they are following the action too. They do not, however, go the extra mile to watch the IPL since their heroes are not in the fray. Not so is the case with Bangaldeshis, who turn out in fairly large numbers. One passenger was from Nepal, who assured us that in a decade’s time his country would give both India and Pakistan a run for their money, given the game’s growth in the mountain kingdom.

THE SCORES

April 20: Rajasthan Royals 191 for five in 20 overs (S. Samson 52, S. Watson 50) lost to Kings XI Punjab 193 for three in 18.4 overs (C. Pujara 40 not out, G. Maxwell 89, D. Miller 51 not out).

April 19: Kolkata Knight Riders 166 for five in 20 overs (M. Pandey 48, R. Uthappa 55, Shakib Al Hasan 30 not out) lost to Delhi Daredevils 167 for six in 19.3 overs (D. Karthik 56, J. P. Duminy 52 not out); Mumbai Indians 115 for nine in 20 overs (A. Rayudu 35) lost to Bangalore Royal Challengers 116 for three in 17.3 overs (P. Patel 57 not out, A. B. de Villiers 45 not out).

April 18: Sunrisers Hyderabad 133 for six in 20 overs (S. Dhawan 38, D. A. Warner 32) lost to Rajasthan Royals 135 for six in 19.3 overs (A. Rahane 59, S. Binny 48 not out); Chennai Super Kings 205 for four in 20 overs (D. Smith 66, B. McCullum 67) lost to Kings XI Punjab 206 for four in 18.5 overs (G. Maxwell 95, D. Miller 54 not out).

April 17: Delhi Daredevils 145 for four in 20 overs (J. P. Duminy 67 not out, R. Taylor 43 not out) lost to Bangalore Royal Challengers 146 for two in 16.4 overs (P. Patel 37, V. Kohli 49 not out, Yuvraj Singh 52 not out).

April 16: Kolkata Knight Riders 163 for five in 20 overs (J. Kallis 72, M. Pandey 64, L. Malinga four for 23) beat Mumbai Indians 122 for seven in 20 overs (A. Rayudu 48, S. Narine four for 20).