I am fortunate enough to have only ever watched live cricket during the Ashes, which is considered to be the pinnacle of the sport in our country. Despite this so-called pinnacle, my experience of “a day at the cricket” to date involves meeting at the pub at 10am for a breakfast beer, then roughly 30 minutes of intently watching the cricket, followed by 6 and a half hours of getting really drunk and really sunburnt. In fact, I would wager that half of the Edgbaston crowd don’t know which side is batting by 3pm each day, with their eyes and minds fixed firmly on the beer snake (hundreds of empty cups stacked together), or watching the group of fancy dress butchers chase a pig up and down the aisles of the stands.
With absolutely none of that in mind, 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 at “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.
Unfortunately, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) forced the English fans to buy the expensive seats in the air-conditioned box, which is effectively a sound proofed glass cage with the atmosphere of a library, by claiming the regular seats were sold out. I considered devoting an entire blog piece to my rant about the TNCA and how difficult they made this match for all fans, but given the fact they got the game on with a cyclone tearing the city apart days before the match, I will resist the urge… ish.
We adhered to their request not to bring cameras or rucksacks into the ground, but the security then proceeded to try and take our sun cream off us, which would have literally been the end of me. One in ten security guards told me I couldn’t bring my mobile battery charger in, but then let me walk on by anyway. They initially refused to let us move out of the box and into any of the 25,000 empty regular seats, locking us in our glass library, until we claimed our family were in the other section and we needed to sit together. This half-arsed security battle happened every morning, where they pretend there are some rules for a while, and then give up and let you in. They were neither strict nor lenient, which effectively rendered them useless all the time.
After an hour, we were inching towards our desired seats near “our family”, where we effortlessly blended in with 10,000 screaming Indian fans. In fact we blended in so well, Clauds had the Indian flag painted on her check, which was of course reason enough for the security guard to turn us around one final time. He claimed the BCCI (Indian Cricket Board) has a law banning face paint, and we must wash it off immediately. Anyway, we made it in amongst the regular fans, and finally sat down to watch England humiliate themselves one final time this year.
A Day at the Cricket
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 mouths. After an amazingly frothy coffee, we walked round the ground passing the thousands of locals queuing up to buy day tickets. No doubt the TNCA have a four year old boy running the box office, which only means everybody misses half a days cricket in the queue.
Little boys and girls chase after us trying to flog Virat Kohli shirts, and guys try and paint flags on our face (and succeed in Claud’s case). 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 ridiculous security, we pick up a surprisingly good coffee for 30p, and try and predict the trajectory of the sun to gauge which seats have shade for most of the day. 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, standing out on the boundary. A local boy Harish explained that they love the 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 Cook 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, followed by Buttler’s outstanding catch, were followed with similar signs of respect from an extremely appreciative crowd.
The crowd were also very friendly towards Clauds and I 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 co. 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.
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 the boys quickly realised the limits of my cricket knowledge, and we even got advice on which cinemas show Bollywood films with English subtitles.
Test cricket is a long 5 day game, luckily, as it was all needed to explain the nuances of the game to Clauds. With Test Match Special in one ear, and Clauds in the other, it was a heady mix of in depth cricket chat and explaining the basics, eg. 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 Clauds 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!
We actually missed the last hour and England’s latest capitulation, so didn’t witness what I’m sure was hysteria inside the ground, but we did leave 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?
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