Ahmedabad: It was 11.30 pm at Gate No 1 of the Narendra Modi Stadium on the eve of the big final. The cops were having a hard time, keeping the crowds out of the stadium with a stampede-like situation to get in for what, one doesn’t know. Some fans wanted to just troop in and hide under the chairs in the stand to somehow get into the final; others, a little saner but not entirely, wanted to go in for photo shoots next to the massive atrium and statues adorning the insides of the stadium; still others were looking for tickets and many more, it is Gujarat, were doing brisk business selling everything from vuvuzelas, Team India tees, roasted moongfalis which again is a very Amdavadi thing to do.
On a non-match day, there were local families visiting the gates and Insta clicking with their loved ones, in front of Gate No. 1 of the massive Narendra Modi Stadium at Motera. It was jampacked as if the match would open at midnight and tickets would be showered from the heavens. Fathers with toddlers on their shoulders, women in seedha palla saris, grandfathers, grandmothers and the young ones – they were all there to celebrate the Indian team’s great run into the Finals.
It did not matter that there was no chance in hell that they would witness the Final from inside. Yet, there was no chance in hell that they would leave the venue at night. “We are all here to party tonight. Kal ka kal dekhengey,” said a young guy who said “for this night you can call me Rohit, he is Kohli and here is our Shami”, he added pointing to his friends.
Fans! What can you say about them really. They startle you with their passion. Much like the five men from Goa who had taken a train to Amdavad, buying tickets in black for Rs 35000 each, to watch India defeat Australia.
Dhiresh, their leader of sorts, said he had customised the official saffron T-shirts of the Indian team, to plash the stands with orange. “India will win, you just wait and see,” he said with infectious enthusiasm.
He shares this chirp, this confidence and this trust in Team India with a sea of others walking for km along the metro construction to reach their gates. The unofficial advisory for the media here was to reach in the early hours, by 9 am if one needed to beat some of the rush. At 9 am, however, it was choc-a-block with hyper Gujarat Police personnel not listening to reason and just herding the public into one direction.
Fans! I tell you. They bring flavour and sizzle cricket. Like the media, they are the fourth pillar of the game and many teams, including the stars of Team India acknowledge their contribution wholeheartedly.
Now there are fans and fans and fans. If passion bordering on lunacy is a parameter, the Bangladesh fans will sweep the points hands down. When the 2011 Cup was held in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, all roads leading to the Bang Bandhu Stadium in Dhaka had no place to stand on a leg. And it was so since the previous day of the match.
Thirty-three thousand Bangladeshi spectators inside, over 1.5 lakh outside bringing the roof down in hot and humid conditions, with their stuffed tigers dangling in the air! No tickets and no entry rights to watch the match but not a soul moved from there, not when the match started and definitely not when the match ended. The decibel levels had broken all barriers and a police vehicle had to be employed with ushers moving the crowd from the road for the media to somehow get in.
On the other side of the border, the passion of Pakistani fans gets wrapped in searing criticism of their players, memes, jokes and spoofs on television which get millions of rupees in ad revenue. Babar was a monument of disdain for the many interviewed on TV. But they love their team and the team feeds on their support. This time around, they were not allowed to cross the border and the Pakistan team kept ruing about isolation.
In 2011, there were a lot of Green shirts that had splashed Mohali with their enthusiasm and Aman ki asha talk, visiting Sector 18 and savouring the sights and sounds of a nation they love to love, an aspirational land for many.
The Aussie fans are arrogant, like their team, extremely cantankerous and aggressive; the West Indians love the game and can’t get over the past glory of their team. They talk about players as a part of comparative history, but enjoy the way the way they enjoy life – rum, cola, jerk burgers, the locks, the colour, the music and the grind dance parties in the stands, it’s a life altogether from a different planet.
Englishmen, mostly stiff upper-lipped, with their felt fats, blazers and beer dress for the occasion and are more into rugby, tennis and football. The sub-continental diaspora filled up the stands more than the Brits, till the day England reached the Finals in 2019 and won it. Kiwis are cool to the game and hot for Rugby, and their skipper Kane Williamson said it is not possible to fill the stadiums for cricket in his country, unlike India where the atmosphere is amazing.
So, the fan flavour accords the syrup, the excitement, the colour and the atmospherics to the game of cricket, more so in India this season with knowledge of the game and passion that is as unbeatable as Team India.