Madras and Chennai — different cultures

M. S. Dhoni... Man of the Match in the Chennai Test.-V. GANESAN

The city’s cricket faithful have, over the years, not only increased exponentially in numbers but also acquired different identities. Arun Venugopal reports.

On a Saturday morning in Chennai, the air still not having shed its nippiness, Calebe Murray appeared a touch worried. It was 9.05 on his watch and there remained barely 25 minutes for the start of the second day’s play. Worse, he hadn’t a ticket. An architect from Canberra, Murray’s plan involved coming to Chennai before heading to Puducherry and Kanyakumari.

“The queue is quite disorderly,” he grins, forking out money to an Indian fan standing in the line, requesting him to buy a ticket. “I couldn’t watch the first day’s play as I arrived here only last night. Depending on how today’s play goes, I will decide on coming to the stadium tomorrow,” says Murray.

Although this writer didn’t see Murray at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium after day two, there wasn’t much to suggest he would have skipped the remaining days given the quality of cricket on offer. This was the city’s first Test match since the famous India-England encounter in December 2008, when Sachin Tendulkar, in the company of Yuvraj Singh, scored an unbeaten fourth-innings hundred to seal victory for the home team.

The opening day of the India-Australia series was appropriately illuminated by a couple of sparkling performances — Michael Clarke’s century and R. Ashwin’s six-for. The second day unearthed more such gems with dramatic overtones. After Australia’s first innings ended, a pace-propelled James Pattinson sent crashing the stumps of Virender Sehwag (in his bespectacled avatar) and Murali Vijay.

It was, then, time for Tendulkar’s entrance. The euphoric chaos that accompanies his march to the crease was heavily crusted with nostalgia as also a terrifying feeling of emptiness. In the hearts of many lingered the piercing pain of watching the maestro grace one of his favourite venues for possibly the last time in international cricket.

Such melancholic strains were, however, to be substituted immediately with uninhibited screams. Tendulkar countered the scalding pace of Pattinson with stately cover drives off the first two deliveries he faced. He was beaten the next delivery. The momentary silence was broken as a sinuous glance dismissed the last ball to the fence. Pattinson said later in the evening that the original plan, to disorient Tendulkar with bumpers, was aborted at the last moment.

There was a minor controversy off the field too as people wearing black shirts were barred from entering the stadium for a while. Members of an outfit espousing the cause of Tamils had gathered in front of the stadium wearing black shirts, demonstrating against the presence of Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena. Fearing trouble, fans sporting black were asked to go back. Thankfully, good sense prevailed soon after and the ‘ban’ was lifted.

India ended the day on 182 for three, with Tendulkar batting overnight on 71 and Virat Kohli on 50. With the following day being a Sunday and the possibility of a Tendulkar century appearing ever so bright, the crowd naturally swelled. That dream didn’t materialise as the great man was bowled by a peach from Nathan Lyon, who otherwise looked quite vulnerable. While Kohli went on to score his fourth hundred, the real showstopper was the Indian captain. Criticised heavily for a number of things, including his Test-match batting and captaincy, M. S. Dhoni seemed quite detached from the chatter.

His pent-up angst, if any, was instead directed at Lyon and the rest of the Australian attack. Clarke & Co. were left benumbed by the sustained assault and the match swiftly drifted out of their control. Dhoni, on 97 at tea, stormed to his maiden double hundred by the time stumps were drawn, racing past a slew of records. When he was dismissed for 224 the following morning, he finished with the highest score for an Indian captain. Ashwin, playing his first Test on his home ground, captured five wickets in Australia’s second innings, finishing with a match tally of 12 for 198. India’s pursuit of a humble target on the final day was packed with another Tendulkar special, albeit a miniature one. He smashed his first two deliveries, off Lyon, for sixes, making the visit to the stadium for the few thousands a memorable experience. For Australia, Moises Henriques emerged unscathed out of his debut match, scoring a brace of feisty half-centuries.

Fan messages that were displayed on the giant screen were a huge hit with the players and crowd alike. Clarke, David Warner, and Peter Siddle obliged requests to dance, winning hearts. Soon, the giant screen was flooded with texts praising the visitors. ‘Clarke, you are the darling of Chennai’ and ‘Thanks a lot for being so sporting, Warner.’

Chennai’s cricket faithful have, over the years, not only increased exponentially in numbers but also acquired different identities. For every wizened old-timer priding himself in recounting the exploits of M. J. Gopalan and A. G. Ram Singh, there’s the wide-eyed boy looking to ape Dhoni’s helicopter hoicks and Suresh Raina’s hairdo. Nuance and new-age co-exist here as do laidback charm and instant gratification, however tenuous the bond may seem to be.

Harsha Bhogle came up with a near-perfect take on the situation. “There is both a Chennai and Madras at this ground,” he was quoted as saying by livemint.com. “You will see here the old cricket lovers from this city and they are the last of the romantics. I remember doing a talk show with (former England captain) Nasser Hussain here and these people came to talk to him, not because he was Nasser but because he was Joe’s (former Tamil Nadu cricketer Jawad Hussain’s) son. They enjoy meeting a cricketer. This is the Madras culture. It is different from Chennai, because they now belong to the Super Kings.”

And then, there are people like Shanthanu Ramani, who swear by the Australian team. Dressed in the green and gold of Australia, the 23-year-old software professional based in Chennai is one of the very few, if any, celebrating Dhoni’s dismissal on day four. “I have been a fan of the Aussies for as long as I can remember. In 1998, during the tri-series featuring India, Australia and Zimbabwe, I flew over to Delhi to meet some of my favourite cricketers, including Michael Slater, Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh and Greg Blewett. People at the ground give me weird looks when they see me cheering for Australia but then that isn’t much of a problem,” he says.

Shanthanu, along with his friend and fellow Australian supporter Sadhanand, had also gone to the hotel where the Australians were staying in Chennai. Photos were clicked with the cricketers and autographs obtained. A few days later, copies of those pictures were pinned to personalised letters and handed over to the Australian cricketers.

Murray had remarked just before entering the stadium on day two: “This is my first time at a stadium in India. I am sure it’s going to be good fun.” He might as well have been speaking for the many thousands who turned up.

THE SCORES

First Test, Chennai, Feb. 22-26, 2013. India won by eight wickets.

Australia — 1st innings: E. Cowan st. Dhoni b Ashwin 29, D. Warner lbw b Ashwin 59, P. Hughes b Ashwin 6, S. Watson lbw b Ashwin 28, M. Clarke c Bhuvneshwar b Jadeja 130, M. Wade lbw b Ashwin 12, M. Henriques lbw b Ashwin 68, M. Starc b Jadeja 3, P. Siddle c Sehwag b Harbhajan 19, J. Pattinson (not out) 15, N. Lyon c Kohli b Ashwin 3; Extras (b-1, lb-7): 8; Total: 380.

Fall of wickets: 1-64, 2-72, 3-126, 4-131, 5-153, 6-304, 7-307, 8-361, 9-364.

India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 13-1-52-0, Ishant 17-3-59-0, Harbhajan 25-2-87-1, Ashwin 42-12-103-7, Jadeja 36-10-71-2.

India — 1st innings: M.Vijay b Pattinson 10, V. Sehwag b Pattinson 2, C. Pujara b Pattinson 44, S. Tendulkar b Lyon 81, V. Kohli c Starc b Lyon 107, M. S. Dhoni c Wade b Pattinson 224, R. Jadeja b Pattinson 16, R. Ashwin b Lyon 3, Harbhajan b Henriques 11, Bhuvneshwar c Clarke b Siddle 38, Ishant (not out) 4; Extras (b-14, lb-14,w-4): 32; Total: 572.

Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-12, 3-105, 4-196, 5-324, 6-365, 7-372, 8-406, 9-546.

Australia bowling: Starc 25-3-75-0, Pattinson 30-6-96-5, Siddle 24.3-5-66-1, Lyon 47-1-215-3, Henriques 17-4-48-1, Clarke 8-2-25-0, Warner 3-0-19-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: E. Cowan lbw b Ashwin 32, S. Watson c Sehwag b Ashwin 17, D. Warner lbw b Harbhajan 23, P. Hughes c Sehwag b Jadeja 0, M. Clarke lbw b Ashwin 31, M. Wade b Harbhajan 8, M. Henriques (not out) 81, P. Siddle b Jadeja 2, J. Pattinson c Sehwag b Ashwin 11, M. Starc c Tendulkar b Ashwin 8, N. Lyon c Vijay b Jadeja 11; Extras (b-15, lb-2): 17; Total: 241.

Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-64, 3-65, 4-101, 5-121, 6-131, 7-137, 8-161, 9-175.

India bowling: Ashwin 32-6-95-5, Harbhajan 27-6-55-2, Jadeja 31-8-72-3, Ishant 3-1-2-0.

India — 2nd innings: M. Vijay c Henriques b Pattinson 6, V. Sehwag c Clarke b Lyon 19, C. Pujara (not out) 8, S. Tendulkar (not out) 13; Extras (b-4): Total (for two wkts.): 50.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-36.

Australia bowling: Pattinson 3-1-13-1, Lyon 5.3-0-29-1, Siddle 3-2-4-0.