CHENNAI: It'S 2009. As the Brabourne Stadium prepared to host its first Test match in 36 years, the former BCCI president Rajsingh Dungarpur who also headed the Cricket Club of India – housed inside the stadium – summed up the moment in his own style.
“I still cannot believe that international cricket is poised to return to the CCI in such a big way. It’s almost like a widow getting remarried and starting a new life. But make no mistake, the widow is still exceptionally beautiful.”
He didn’t live to see the moment, passing away shortly afterwards, but in 2022 as the venue hosted its last match og the ongoing IPL season between Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, it looked much more than a remarriage.
The Wankhede stadium, which is only a stone’s throw away from the Brabourne, will always remain the heart and soul of Mumbai and Indian cricket, but it is CCI which has the romance.
With the Trident hotel overlooking it on one side and the Marine drive on the other, the locals, this season at least, have preferred it over Wankhede and DY Patil for an entirely different reason.
The open stands at one end, allows the sea breeze to pass through it at all points, making the heat tolerable.
Sometime on Friday evening, with the humidity rising up to go with the gloom, some who had arrived early for the game were even wondering if a downpour would ruin the game. In terms of the contest, there was hardly much to look forward to, except if you were a Rajasthan fan.
They are the team which has the best T20 batter in the world in Jos Buttler, who has the Orange Cap.
They have two world-class spinners in their ranks, a lethal new ball bowler and they are all led by the most gifted of stroke-maker, Sanju Samson. Yet, it was near impossible to spot a pink shirt.
The fans were here to see only one team. And you could identify them by the colour of the t-shirts they were wearing: yellow.
If you happened to walk around the stadium with an IPL tag around your neck, you were bound to see someone walk up and ask, “do you have an extra ticket.”
Those queries even gave way to pleas with one teenager even folding his hands and say, “Please get me a ticket. Even bookmyshow has been saying its sold out for days. It surely can’t be. They must have it somewhere here. They say it is (MS) Dhoni’s last game, I just want to see him play once. ”
That was the feeling among many. In a season where crowds have turned out in numbers across all four venues, Friday was no different.
With schools set to reopen on June 1, this match was an opportunity to bring their kids to experience all the glitz and glamour.
For a city that was badly hit during the second Covid wave around the same time last year, they had put it behind them. If it was difficult to spot a Royals fan, it was even harder to find ones sitting with their masks on in a jam-packed stadium.
Even mid-way through the match, people were waiting outside the ground checking for the availability of ticketso.
So why bother for a game like this? The answer was short. Dhoni. Most had turned up to bid adieu to the man who 11 summers ago sent the whole of Mumbai and India into a frenzy by lifting the World Cup. Inconsequential or not, it didn't matter here. Nobody is bigger than the game they say, but surely exceptions remain.
And Dhoni too had contributed to an extent a couple of weeks ago, by remaining non-committal about returning as a player next season.
But asked by Ian Bishop at the toss, Dhoni said, “Definitely (I will play in 2023). It's a simple reason: it will be unfair to not play in Chennai and say thank you. Mumbai is one place where, as a team and as an individual, I have got a lot of love and affection. But it wouldn't be nice to the CSK fans.”
Will be back next year: MSD
Even though none of those in the stands could hear Dhoni confirm his participation next season, as soon as the news trickled on social media, the roar of approval said it all.
“Hopefully next year there will be an opportunity where the teams will be travelling so it will be like a thank you to all the different places where we will be playing games at different venues. Definitely I'll be working hard to come back strong next year,” Dhoni said.
"Definitely, I will play next year. It would be unfair not to say thank you to Chennai, to not play in Chennai. It won't be nice to the CSK fans," Dhoni said at the toss for CSK's final match of the ongoing season, against Rajasthan Royals.
"Whether 2023 will be my last year or not, that is something we will have to see."
The former India skipper's fandom knows no bounds and some time back, a social media post of one admirer painting his house in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu in Chennai Super Kings' yellow colour, along with portraits of Dhoni, had gone viral.
Two days ago, Dhoni's heartfelt reply to a distraught CSK fan's letter won hearts.
Four-time champions CSK endured one of their worst IPL campaigns, as they went out of reckoning for a play-offs spot quite early in the season.
Most of CSK's senior players like Dhoni (206 runs), Ambati Rayudu (271) and Robin Uthappa (230) haven't had a great IPL and that has been the biggest failure of the 'Yellow Brigade'.
The bowling suffered a lot because of the absence of an injured Deepak Chahar and the inability to retain Josh Hazlewood.
It was wafer-thin in terms of experience and they paid the price.
Matheesha Pathirana, with a slinging action that is pretty similar to Lasith Malinga, has caught Dhoni's imagination but he is a work in progress.
Similarly, the likes of Mukesh (16 wickets), Simar (3 wickets) and spinner Mahesh Theekshana (12) are good but not assured match-winners yet.
There were also speculations of rift in the CSK camp after Ravindra Jadeja and the franchise decided to unfollow each other on social media platforms after the former stepped down from captaincy and left the bubble citing an injury.
(With PTI Inputs)(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)