The Chepauk battle: How Chennai’s date with cricket went

Cricket-crazy fans in the city made a beeline to the MA Chidambaram stadium to catch India taking on England

Chepauk woke up. Chepauk played. And Chepauk rejoiced.

With live cricket returning for the first time in India since the pandemic, #KnowlegeableChennaiCrowd, as the cricket-crazy fans are popularly called, had a ball — as their favourite MA Chidambaram stadium in Chepauk sprang to life with the ongoing India vs England Test.

Chennai’s love for the sport, though a familiar story, was on full display during the Valentine’s Day weekend. “I am so happy to be back here,” said R Vetrivel, who caught an early morning train from Thiruvallur to catch the cricketing action, “We can watch as many matches as we want on TV, but the excitement of watching live cricket is unbeatable.”

With India doing well with the ball, fans like Vetrivel had a lot to cheer. As was the case with Prithi Ashwin, wife of cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin and a big fan of the sport. “Chepauk has come alive and is buzzing….”, she tweeted, even as she followed her husband’s heroics on the field.

One stitch at a time

Not too far away from the din of whistles and claps sat cobbler R Baskaran. A familiar face in cricketing circles, Baskaran has, since 1993, watched most matches from close quarters: he is the official shoemaker of the Indian cricket team in Chennai. He was not in the thick of things when we caught up with him during the match, due to the COVID-19 protocol. “I am happy that cricket is back at Chepauk, but I wish I was inside,” he said wistfully, mending a glove, “I could have been useful.”

Baskaran sits in a pavement near the Pattabhiraman Gate and goes about his everyday business, as fans queue up at the stadium. He has seen cricketing giants from close quarters and has worked closely with Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni on their gear whenever they played at Chepauk. “During a match, if I am inside the stadium, I make about ₹1000. However, if I am on my pavement shop, I earn about ₹500 on a good day.”

‘Slow and steady’

If older cricket fans savoured the romance of the Test format over the past few days, younger fans — like 20-year-old Akhilesh M from Adyar — saw it as a far cry from the fast-paced nature of T-20 cricket. “I have come here for many CSK matches,” said Akhilesh, sporting an MS Dhoni jersey, “I feel Test cricket is slow and steady, but has its own charm. One good session can make or break a game.”

He did miss Dhoni, but Virat Kohli lit up his day, when he signalled them to ‘whistle’ and cheer the team. And Chepauk whistled.

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