Recently, Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium, Pune played host to Pune Warriors final home game against Delhi Daredevils with the last two spots of the table up for grabs. The winner of this match would avoid the dubious distinction of finishing last in the points table. Both the teams had a tournament to forget, picking up just three wins in 15 matches.
As it (Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium), lies on the Mumbai-Pune highway, I had always found myself running away from the stadium as I hopped cities. For once, the GPS of my phone was centered for Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium. As soon as I crossed the Hinjewadi bridge, there was an unusual rise of traffic on the usually busy highway. While the cars usually start on their breakneck speeds as they race each other towards Mumbai, today was different. There were traffic policemen in pockets dispersed after every km or so.
You could sense the festivity around. The cars even while sniffing each others bumpers were not honking. Road signs told us where and how to reach our venue. Policemen were prompt and for once, sincere about their duty on a sunny afternoon. After a small stint on the highway and a km before we zeroed in on the stadium, we were separated from the bikers. We were directed towards an off-beat dirt road that would take us to our parking. A free parking is a novelty nowadays. While the game was inconsequential, I decided to play a small game in my head. Me vs the stadium. So, courtesy the free-parking, the score in my head read stadium 1 – 0 me.
Walking from the parking to the stadium takes a little bit of walking. While I didn’t see anyone faint among the swarm of people ahead me, I wasn’t too sure of myself. I could see the outline of the stadium in front of me. It wasn’t as ginormous in proportion as I had imagined it to be. Few hundred steps of pulling my right leg in-front of the left and then again, I neared the gate of the stadium. The arrangements were pleasingly nice. I was frisked and my pockets groped twice before they were convinced that I was just the harmless kinds. So, this is the home-ground of my team. It did seem like a happy place for the Pune cricketers to be. Larger than life cut-outs of Uthappa, Yuvi, Taylor and other stars of the team filled up on the outside. We were frisked at the last checkpoint before our respective stands and it was heartening to see that they were doing a great job. Someone two spots ahead of me was mincing chewing tobacco. They didn’t let him in, not till he had it all spewed out.
Reaching my section (South-East Grand Stand) of the stadium, I was happy to see flags being nicely rolled and placed over on the row’s first chair. Yeah, my team knew I would be rooting for them. Stadium 2-0 Me. I picked my seat in the beating sun, pulled my cap down right to my nose tip and unrolled my flag. The major chunk of the stadium has open-seating and with Pune scorching during this summer, it would have been better if they’d have put a temporary shade. The scoreboard in my mind now read, Stadium 2-1 Me.
The Punekars from all realm of life, young, old, family folks, bachelors, couples, all started to fill in the seats around me. There was an unmistakable aura of happiness around them. For them, it didn’t matter that the team was ousted from the knock-out stages. That, if the team won this encounter, they would only be the second worst team in the tournament. They weren’t hurt by the match-fixing allegations being the major headline across every news channels. They were here to have fun. Every beat and the hit songs the DJ would churn out would result in a huge uproar of consent from the crowd.
The stadium has a relatively smaller ground compared to other places like Nagpur or Chennai. Sitting at the mid-wicket part of the boundary, I was certain that the ball would soar above the fence at least a few times during the match. I had a diagonal view of both the team’s cheerleaders from my seat, but so did the guys in the near 10 rows have. Pune had won the toss and elected to bat. That meant that Delhi cheerleaders would not be doing much of the cheering. Indian dames on the Sahara’s podium were having a blast on the other hand. Pune got off to a rollicking start. Scoring over 7 r.p.o they amassed 38 in the first 5 overs. Uthappa departed on the first ball of the sixth over, but not before the third umpire had a look at the catch. The heart-beat boomed out of the speakers in the stadium as the decision was being made.
Each four, six and a well-struck shot had Punekars in frenzy. There were pelvic thrusts all around. The whole stadium was a covered in a swarm of turquoise blue, the color of our flag. Every time Viru would look at the audiences, there would a huge uproar. When Yuvi came to the crease with his low strides and mulling on how to play the game, there was a huge uproar from all over the stadium. As the sun started to set Pune had piled up a daunting total of 172. Delhi crumbed under the pressure of the asking rate and huffed and puffed to 134/9 in their allotted 20 overs.
There were two celebrations on the same field. The players were celebrating a hard-fought win, while we Punekars in the audience were equally jubilant. The team did a full lap of honour and the reception they received was nothing short of amazing. If at all, they ever needed a reason to break-in the top 4 of the next year’s edition, this was it. Here was a city and its inhabitants that had embraced the team despite its failures and not so stellar results repeatedly. We were the perfect fans a sportsman would need. No jeers, but only cheers.
Alas, two days after the last game on the ground. Sahara pulled out form the IPL leaving an entire city in tatters. Two second-last and one bottom placed finish later it seemed as if I, the ordinary Punekar had been robbed. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to have an IPL team with my city’s name on it and I was not considered in the equation when they decided to take the team away. I am a Punekar and we breathe cricket better than any place in the world.