Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A flat anthem and Operation Food Odyssey in Chennai

A convincing win in Chennai that left all questions unanswered. The middle and lower order still collapsed and the Indian bowlers were still toothless for 75% of the time that they bowled. In spite of which we ended up winning fairly convincingly by 80 runs. The mood inside the stadium changed from delirium after Yuvraj’s 100 to disbelief at India’s collapse to abject disappointment for the first 30 overs and back to delirium at the Windies collapse. While packing for my trip to Patagonia last year the guide books warned about going prepared for 4 seasons on a single day, I wonder if it is time that such a disclaimer is put outside stadiums where the Indian team is playing for the fans to be prepared for all kinds of emotions on a single day. For all the talk of impending doom India continues to be one of 5 teams in the tournament that have lost just 1 match, another example of how this World Cup is as close as they come.


Chepauk under lights, a sight to behold
I was really looking forward to seeing the stadium in Chennai but was apprehensive of the hot and sticky weather that I would face. As it turns out I should not have worried on either account. The refurbished stadium in Chennai is undoubtedly the stadium with the maximum character from among all the stadiums that I have seen in India. It has been beautifully designed and is a sight to behold under floodlights. Unlike the other concrete bowl style stadiums that we have in India, Chepauk has large gaps between stands which allows the sea breeze to cross-ventilate the stadium and makes sitting in the shaded area of the stadium an extremely pleasant experience. The entire stadium was nicely white washed and painted from the inside and the toilets were tiled and kept clean by an army of cleaners throughout the day. Kudos to those in charge for a job well done.

The entry into the stadium took us just 10 minutes but Chepauk still ended up short of the perfect spectator experience due to the kind of seats and food available for the spectators. Our stand was among the two that did not have bucket seats, it was back to trying to find 2 seats in a stand full of unnumbered plastic chairs. Within the first 15 overs of the Indian innings, spectators unable to find a seat were standing at the back of the stand and were seated in the aisles. While the look of the stadium is a stand out with Adelaide type canopies, the old pavilion stand has been left as-is and stands out as an anachronism with its concrete-bowl look and wide pillars amidst the beautifully redesigned stadium. I hope that the TNCA can convert the old pavilion stand and seating in the 2 unfinished stands to make Chepauk an absolute world-class venue for cricket in India.

The food and drink scene also left a lot to be desired, whether it was in terms of availability or choice. For the lower A, B and C tiers (approx 12000 people) there were 3 outlets for drinks and 1 outlet for food. 2 of the 3 outlets vending drinks ran out of Pepsi by the 20th over of the Indian inning and all soft drinks by the evening mid inning break. The only outlet that had drinks available till the end was besieged by thirsty spectators pretty much throughout and at least 20 minutes of jostling and pushing was required before you could buy water or a soft-drink. To be fair to the organizers lots of taps with free water had been provided but the slightly yellowish color when viewed in a glass meant that we remained thirsty for the 2nd half of the match. To top it all just curd rice and upma was available for dinner which also pretty much ran out by the 20th over of the West Indies inning. I managed to somehow finish my bowl of Upma while my friend opted to wait till we got back to our hotel for some food. Lest this is misconstrued as the whining of a North Indian not understanding the South Indian palate, I was happy to note similar thoughts from the local who wrote for the Fan Following section at Cricinfo for this match :) (external link, open in new window)

I had heard all these stories about how Hindi speakers are ignored in Chennai but experienced it first hand when asking for drinks and snacks at the counters. In spite of standing in front of the vendor asking for my Pepsi for over 15 minutes I was completely ignored till I literally forced my Rs 50 note in his hands. My friend with whom I had travelled from Delhi had lived in Chennai for a year and taking tips from him I realised that Hindi spoken with an anna and Tamilian accent at least managed comprehension from the person who were addressing, whether it was the auto wallah, the food vendor or the waiter in the restaurant. I was also quite surprised by the fact that not one person actually sang the national anthem before the match. There was a fair bit of lip synching that would have done Britney Spears proud but the goose bumps that come from a stadium reverberating with passion during the “Jaya He Jaya he…” were completely missing during the national anthem.

To digress a little from this particular match, has anyone else noticed how the Umpiring howlers have gone down substantially during this tournament. While UDRS has played its part, it still does not explain the fact that umpires are getting the big decisions right by themselves. The UDRS in most cases (see last part of linked article) (external link open in new window) is being used for marginal LBW decisions that would probably have been ignored previously and even then has a success rate of just about 20%. Keeping aside Asoka de Silva, who has always been a horrendous umpire, I can just think of a few instances like the Ponting caught behind where the UDRS has been used to overturn a truly bad decision. Have the umpiring standards suddenly improved or do the umpires now realise that they have little chance of getting away with a bad decision. I believe the UDRS has led the umpires to concentrate harder to avoid mistakes but at some level it has probably eliminated ‘deliberate’ mistakes due to reasons of bias or more controversially match-fixing. It just strikes me as odd that there seem to have been no publicised cases of umpires being approached by match-fixers. Isn’t a comparatively lower earning umpire with the power to call a no ball or give a batsman out a more logical target for match-fixers?

While you spend some time to chew on that thought, I am preparing myself for the Thursday morning flight to Ahmedabad and the QF against the Aussies. The Aussies no longer hold any terrors and a low slow turner is all we need for a meeting with Pakistan in the semis. What a treat that will be and not to mention the perfect setting for Sachin to get his 100th ton. I also learned today that I got second time lucky with the finals ballot and would definitely be attending the final in Mumbai. The stars seem to be aligning for the perfect ending..

PS: Wanted to upload some pictures and videos but my phone memory is acting up, will try and do that once i get the memory card working.

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