Cricket is open again, crowds line up at Chepauk: ‘Chennai always a Test city, long gap was painful’

A daily turnout of around 14,000 is expected at the stadium after the Tamil Nadu government gave the go-ahead for 50 per cent occupancy at sports events – a full house would have meant a little over 33,000 fans.

# Rama Subramanian, 64, has been watching Tests at Chepauk since 1975. By contrast, Gopinath, who is in his forties, and his son Ajith, will be at the venue for the first time to watch a Test.

# Mythily has been a regular at the Indian Premier League (IPL) fixtures at Chepauk. She wanted to be in the stands for the second India-England Test that begins on Saturday – when cricket welcomes back spectators to the ground after a year of Covid-enforced hiatus.

# Kamraj, a middle-aged software engineer and Test cricket nerd, hasn’t missed a five-day fixture at Chepauk since the India-Australia tied Test in 1986.

The fans all stood in queue for hours on Friday, baking in the sun, waiting to collect the tickets that they had booked online.

A daily turnout of around 14,000 is expected at the stadium after the Tamil Nadu government gave the go-ahead for 50 per cent occupancy at sports events – a full house would have meant a little over 33,000 fans. The Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) has capped the number at the stadium at 15,000.

Chennai is India’s oldest Test centre. The IPL went to the United Arab Emirates last year, and fans now have the first opportunity to return to the stadium.

“I haven’t missed a Test at Chepauk since 1975, when I fell in love with cricket, thanks to Gundappa Viswanath’s 97 not out against the West Indies. India won the match. Fortunately, we have two Tests here, which saved my sequence,” Subramanian who takes pride in his ‘record’, said.

The TNCA sold tickets for the match online, but buyers had to come in person to collect them. “It’s a bad system. When I have bought my ticket online, why shall I stand in the queue to redeem it? I have no problems standing in the queue to enter the ground,” the veteran of many Tests said.

The association has sold tickets for nine blocks, for between Rs 100 and Rs 450 per day. “There are 17 entrances to the stadium, all of which will be manned to check people’s temperature, and to make sure everybody is wearing a mask. Hand sanitisers will be available. There will be at least one seat between two spectators. There will be medical kiosks around the ground, and a medical room with a doctor. There will be an isolation room, in case somebody is detected with a temperature or any other symptoms. The bio-bubble area will be completely cordoned off,” TNCA secretary RS Ramasaamy told The Indian Express.

The first Test, which India lost by 227 runs, was played behind closed doors. Two Tests of the ongoing four-match series are being played in Chennai; Ahmedabad will host the next two.

Gopinath or his son Ajith didn’t mind taking the trouble of queuing up. The excitement of their debut Test, viewing-wise, overrode the negatives. “My son is a Dhoni fan. Last year, we missed the IPL. So he insisted that we should be present for this Test. We will come for a day,” Gopinath said.

Mythily is coming mainly for Washington Sundar, a son of the soil, who has taken to Test cricket like a duck to water – two half-centuries in his first two Tests.

“Covid cases in Chennai have decreased and hopefully the officials at the stadium will be vigilant enough to ensure all safety protocols are adhered to,” she said.

Lockdown aside, Test cricket has returned to Chennai after more than four years. The last Test here before this series was played in 2016; Karun Nair scoring an unbeaten triple century to set up India’s win against England.

“Chennai has always been a Test city and the long gap was painful. I come for Test cricket only. I have been coming since the tied Test. I have never been to the ground for an IPL match, and I hope India will bounce back to square the series,” Kamraj said.

The first day of ticket redemption was chaotic. Fans thronged counters, disobeying safety protocols. “There was some confusion. Fans thought that physical tickets could be redeemed on February 11. But we announced that tickets could be redeemed from February 11 onward. The issue has been sorted out now… We expected a big response after a long break, especially because the number of entries is limited,” Ramasaamy said.

At the Wallajah Road and Bells Road interjection, ‘Dhoni Sports’, a sports goods store, overlooks the stadium. Arif, the store manager, is an ardent Dhoni fan as is the proprietor, Syed. Arif usually avoids the ‘tedium’ of Test cricket. For this Test though, he won’t mind getting a ticket, if one is available, he says.

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