cricket in chennai
After some gentle arm twisting, I managed to reroute our world tour to Chennai just in time for the final test between India and England to experience what the world’s most cricket mad nation do during “a day at the cricket”. It is possible to buy a 5 day ticket for 500 rupees (£6), which is sensational value when compared to the £350 that would cost you in England.
Cricket starts early in India at 09:30, and having not seen a single beer on offer anywhere in the city, we skipped that English tradition and opted for a heaving café outside the ground for some breakfast. Service is fast and aggressive in this place, where you practically have to assault the waiter to get his attention as he’s running past you with four cups of tea in his hand. This is the kind of place where you don’t get cutlery unless you ask, and most people just tear apart their chapatis with their hands and smear daal everywhere within a 1m radius of their mouth.
We wiped down the mess and finished our surprisingly frothy coffee before heading to wrestle our way in the ground. Hard luck if you like black coffee in India, no matter how certain you are he understood no milk or sugar, you have undoubtedly fallen into a false sense of security induced by the indefinable head roll. Your coffee will be milky and sweet; best just to deal with it.
The queues to get in indicated that this was to be as organised as everything else in India, so we took a deep breath, sharpened our elbows, and made our way towards the gate. Little boys and girls chase after us trying to flog Virat Kohli shirts, and guys try (and succeed) in painting Indian flags on our faces. They must have sold out of the white and red paint. This is the usual assault on your senses for India, with rickshaws weaving in and out of the crowds, but also with cyclone damaged trees to clamber over trying to find your gate.
Once through the unpredictable security (that’s the last time they’ll try and take suncream off a Scotsman!), we try and predict the trajectory of the sun to gauge which seats have shade for most of the day, and settle down with another coffee as we are introduced to our new friends for the next 5 days. As most people have a 5 day ticket, you see the same fans every day, so you can actually build up a rapport with them. We (I) talked a lot about football after our new friends quickly realised the limits of my cricket knowledge, and we even got advice on which cinemas show Bollywood films with English subtitles. The cricket then just slowly unravels and ticks along as it usually does, which is broken up by an occasional stroll to the Cornetto stand.
One thing the Indian fans have in common with the English is that they can create their own entertainment in the stands, irrespective of what is happening on the field. Jos Buttler was the point of their obsession for the five days, as he plays for Indian Premier League side and happened to be standing out on the boundary right in front of us. A local boy Harish explained that they love the cavalier way he plays the game, which was only one of the many signs of respect the Indian fans showed towards the English. They screamed his name as he ran to take up his position on the boundary, they shouted at the England captain if he ever dared to move Buttler any further away from his obsessed fans, and they also mimicked his every move. Every “ooh” and “ahh”, every clap of the hands, every stretch from Buttler, was echoed by the entire stand. A standing ovation for debutant Liam Dawson by Buttler’s outstanding catch, were both followed with similar signs of respect from an extremely appreciative crowd.
The crowd were also very friendly towards us considering the absolute pasting India gave England in the end. After the usual introductions of “Hello, are you married yet?”, the young boys next to us, Harish, Rishi and friends then wanted to know our favourite cricketers, and even insisted I watch the Youtube video of Yuvraj Singh smashing Stuart Broad for 6 x sixes in 2007. They laughed through the entire video, and then added us on Facebook, as you do these days.
Apart from the marriage question, another reoccurring theme was “Why are those English guys sitting in the sun with their shirts off?”. In truth, it is not a pretty sight watching the Barmy Army peel off their sweaty shirts to reveal their even sweatier white flabby bodies.
Test cricket is a long 5 day game, luckily, as it was all needed to explain the nuances of the game to my partner. With Test Match Special radio commentary in one ear, and my girlfriend in the other, it was a heady mix of in depth cricket chat and explaining the basics. For example, every team plays in white, but England are in Persil white, as opposed to India’s creamy white, obviously. By the end of the test, even my girlfriend was bemoaning Moeen Ali’s irrepressible urge to hook all the bouncers straight into India’s fielding trap.
Overall, the atmosphere throughout the day was just relaxing, with the odd chat, a bit of sunshine, and maybe even a samosa if I felt like splashing out. It turns out all of those things suit me very well indeed. Aside from Jos Buttler scratching his nose or India scoring their highest ever total in the history of cricket (759/7), both of which sent the fans into raptures, it is a fantastically relaxing Indian experience, and those do not come around often!
Unfortunately we had to miss the last hour to catch a train, but I’m sure there was hysteria inside the ground when England capitulated one final time. Despite missing the excitement, we left with very fond memories of Chennai’s locals and a few extra Facebook friends to boot. We also inevitably finished our day at the cricket with a curry, which is about as English as it gets really isn’t it?