There is something about watching a game live at the stadium. Comparing it with watching a game back home on TV is like comparing an individual on a rocking chair with a hoard of folks together in a ride at an amusement park. The ups and downs, exhilaration, fear, joy, anxiety and the whole adrenaline rush shared with others is what sets the two apart.
My perception of stadium atmosphere has been that of a colorful crowd screaming their lungs out, ‘bleeding’ in their team colors, cheering (often) both sides for making good plays and some friendly banter.
But some of the things I witnessed at Chepauk recently (first test match between India and Australia) have modified that perception significantly. Of course, there is the usual loud cheering and people flocking towards the ground levels of their stands to see Sachin like ants towards a grain of sugar. But some other things I witnessed, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard or seen anything like that elsewhere.
Day 2, post tea session. Sachin and Kohli were coasting. Around 3:30-3:45 p.m., it was quite clear that Tendulkar won’t be reaching 100 on that day. But there was a chance of Virat scoring a fifty. Unless he too fell prey to lapse of concentration like Pujara did, who looked brilliant before getting bowled.
Suddenly, a couple of SMSes appeared on the big screen about Michael Clarke. He was standing around forward square leg. He turned towards the crowd (G and H stands) and doffed his cap. There crowd applauded the gesture. There were a few “Michael…Michael” chants. Suddenly, there was a loud roar. Clarke had lifted his leg and hands in what appeared to be a Bhangra dance step. It lasted for a second but the cheers that ensued lasted much longer.
Moments later, another SMS flashed on the big screen asking for…hold your breath…Clarke to perform Gangnam style.
This whole SMS business during a game was new to me. I didn’t really see them being displayed so prominently and so frequently at Chinnaswamy or Wankhede. At first, I found it amusing. Even funny. But after a point, it got annoying. I thought some really over the top, unreasonable statements were being made…such as the one I just mentioned. However, an over later, what happened astonished me.
Between a couple of deliveries, as the bowler (probably Pattinson) was heading towards his run up, Clarke walked towards Warner, exchanged a few words and went back to his position. After the delivery, Warner turned towards the crowd and did the ‘roll of the wrists’ Gangnam style move [0.26 mark in the video].
Needless to say, the entire stadium cheered vociferously. I was standing with my mouth agape. I had never seen anything like that before. Not a dance by an athlete, but a team heeding to a few SMSes on the screen during a game! I couldn’t believe that a couple of seemingly inane SMSes could influence a couple of cricketers to shake a leg in the middle of a game, which was perhaps at a crucial juncture.
More messages poured in, thanking both Warner and Clarke for their sportsmanship. One read:
“Michael Jackson…king of stage, Michael Clarke…king of stadium”.
“Michael Clarke, you should make Chennai your second home”.
Vintage hyperbole, vintage idolization, vintage Chennai.
Fast forward to day 3, around 3:30-3:45 p.m. Dhoni had launched a brutal assault on Australia after reaching 150. The session progressed at a frenetic pace as opposed to day 2. But somehow, many people, including myself, couldn’t help but remember that Clarke and Warner had entertained the crowd the previous day with a dance. It’s like that time of the day was now Gangnam time. SMSes started flowing in for an encore. And boom! There it was! Chants of Warner, Warner from G and H stands….and Warner obliged again….WITH Clarke. This time, they did the horse trot + holding the reins step [1:11 mark in the video]. It was really amazing in one sense but a bit odd in another. Shouldn’t Clarke be focusing on getting Dhoni out? After all, with every blow from Dhoni, Australia’s lead, and hence, grip on the match was slipping away. But here they were, listening to SMSes and entertaining the crowd. Never seen or heard anything like that before.
Fast forward to Day 4. India had taken control of the test. After taking a lead of 192, the spinners did a brilliant job of picking wickets at regular intervals. After the 9th wicket fell at 175, the stadium was ready to explode anticipating a win.
So there. Innings defeat seemed looming. Just one more wicket to go. More than 45 mins. of play left. Nathan Lyon was not really a batsman. Henriques couldn’t pull off a Dhoni-Bhuvaneshwar with Lyon, could he?
Well, half an hour later, the score was a shade over 200, but the pair was still batting. That’s the lowest I saw the crowd in terms of enthusiasm. It was like a wild party ready to be reveled in but there was some trouble uncorking the champagne open. The party would start only after the ‘pop’.
Around 4:00 p.m., the crowd had gone nearly silent. Suddenly, there was a loud roar from G and H stands. Virat Kohli, standing at forward square leg, had turned towards the crowd and raised his hands to urge the crowd to make some noise. After all, at this juncture, victory was merely a question of when and not if. The entire stadium responded with another roar. A minute later, Kohli put his right hand behind his head and did a little fisherman dance step. Rousing cheers. He continued to raise his hands, goading the crowd to raise their energy levels. Even Bhajji, standing at deep-ish mid-wicket, did a little step.
And wouldn’t you know, there was an SMS on the screen:
“Kholi, we wud like to see ur Gangnam style.”
Funny how people manage to misspell nearly everything else but Gangnam!
There was another message
“Kohli and Sehwag, we want to see ur Gangnam style.”
Sehwag was included probably because he was standing close to Kohli at mid-wicket. At this point, I was laughing my guts out at the inanity of things.
And then it happened. Probably the most amusing thing I saw during the test! Kohli went to Sehwag and said something. After a few seconds, Sehwag raised his arms and froze. It was an unwieldy attempt at something. I assumed the purpose was to dance. Viru’s grace was similar to Homer Simpson in a tutu, trying to do an arabesque. But it was the thought and the beaming smile that captured the hearts of the crowd. A delivery later, Kohli did the horse trot step. The crowd just erupted into a huge cheer. SMSes poured in thanking Viru and Kohli for their sportsmanship.
Did the 10th Australian wicket fall on day 4? No. The crowd left the stadium with a mild sense of exasperation. But what was really interesting that while Clarke had chosen to do a Gangnam style for entertaining an already energetic crowd, Virat chose to do it to wake up a somewhat silent crowd. Clever.
But I have never imagined, let alone experienced, such an interactive exchange between players and the crowd.
And oh, amidst the whole Clarke-Warner-Gangnam style bonanza on day 2, there was one SMS:
“Enga thala sachin ku oru whistle adinga”
“Blow a whistle for our leader Sachin.”
I have never heard anything louder, shriller noise in my life than what followed that message. And I have listened to a fair share of things like Slayer, metallic parts grinding against each other, Arnab, Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Rakhi Sawant, and Judas Priest and so on.
But this beat them all. Hand down. The whistling noise was extremely grating and lasted for a good minute. Kind of like a badly rendered soprano. Except there were nearly 30, 000 people going at it simultaneously. I bet if there were glass, it would have exploded into smithereens.
But the thing is, cricket transformed that cacophony into raw expression of joy. People were covering their ears and wincing but when it all got over, they chuckled. No regrets.
I guess it was made loud and clear. Regardless of who won, who lost, who shook a leg, who jawed with whom, who took 10 wickets in a test match, who showed good sportsman spirit, who didn’t walk after being caught, who made a good debut, whether the captain of the India was also the captain of the local IPL team, none of that mattered. There were “whistle podu” messages for other players but when it came to that man, he made the crowd whistle and scream the loudest. He could have done so easily without any SMSes but well, when it comes to Chennai, the people know who their idol is and never, under any circumstances, let him down.
And THAT, is Oppa Chepauk style.