It was a Saturday morning and India was celebrating its 70th Republic Day. The sports lovers were in for a treat as there was an ODI match happening between India and New Zealand. In addition to this, the Australian Open Ladies Singles final was scheduled later on the day.
I was at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru to watch the Ranji Trophy semi-final between Karnataka and Saurashtra.
Given the apathy towards long-form cricket and the international sporting action lined up for the day, one would have expected the semi-finals of India’s premier domestic tournament to be played in front of a handful of spectators.
In for a pleasant surprise
While most part of the stadium is empty, there was a good crowd in one of the stands. And this is the stand which had free entry for the spectators over the weekend. A Tweet by the Karnataka Ranji Team had made this announcement on Friday to the public.
It looks like the Bengaluru public did respond positively to it and they were quite an enthusiastic lot.
They were behind the home team and had the loudest cheer when their captain Manish Pandey walked out to bat in the middle. Though he didn’t contribute much, he did oblige the support with a six.
A six and two kids jumping in excitement
But the moment of the day for me came in the first ball during the post-lunch session. Shreyas Gopal, who was the highest scorer in Karnataka’s first innings hit a six over the long-on boundary. It landed at the place where two kids, barely 10 years old, were sitting.
This got them excited and for the next few balls, both of them stood with their hands together in anticipation for a catch.
The fact that they didn’t get a ball in their direction again didn’t disappoint them. It is probably the innocence and beauty of childhood.
They were jumping, dancing and asking questions to their guardian. When Mayank Agarwal, who had a sensational Test debut in Australia earlier this year, came to join few of his teammates near the boundary after getting dismissed for 46 valuable runs, these kids ran towards them.
In spite of the security asking them not to disturb the players, they managed to get autographs of the players on their cap and bag. Kudos to the players to have reciprocated the enthusiasm of the kids and gave them what they wanted.
Taking inspiration from these kids, I too tried my luck to get their autographs; however, I wasn’t as fortunate as them.
My friend told me that since Mayank had just gotten out now, he would be probably disappointed and hence I shouldn’t be bothering him. I realised that I probably got carried away in excitement and came back to my seat to enjoy the proceedings of the match.
The crowd knew their game
The other aspect was that it was a knowledgeable crowd who knew their team and cricket. A policeman who had come to sit just behind me said a few things in Kannada and the only thing I could make out was the number ‘300’. I understood that he was referring to the target that Karnataka needs to set to reach the finals.
I told him, “Kannada Gothilla’ (I don’t understand Kannada) and then we carried on our discussion in Hindi and English.
In between this, all of us were browsing our mobiles intermittently to check the scores of the India-New Zealand ODI which the Indians were dominating.
Although we did talk about how Indians were cruising in that match, our focus was still on the action on the 22 yards in the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Test match cricket is not nearing its sunset
This got me thinking that five-day cricket is still alive and kicking. If a domestic match can get this response with some support from the organizers, then Test match cricket is definitely not nearing its sunset. With Indian skipper Virat Kohli in favor of Test cricket, there is hope.
We need more kids like the two whom I saw at the stadium on Saturday and hats off to their parents to have gotten them to the stadium. I remember stories of many cricketers whose first memory of a cricket match is with their parents.
So, you may never know, these kids might one day tell the story of this Republic Day at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and how they got into cricket.