Match mania by the beach

Marina and Besant Nagar beaches were the hot spots on Sunday as several fans thronged to watch the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup finals 
Photos: D Sampath Kumar
Photos: D Sampath Kumar

CHENNAI: Chennai pulsates with cricket fervour every time a major tournament comes on. Sunday was no different. The heartbeats of fans raced with every hit of the ball as the country hosted the finals of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup finals between India and Australia. Sunday, often marked by outings and spending time with family at home, was a whole lot different on November 19. Families and couples did visit the beach, but only to watch the match on a giant screen organised by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, in collaboration with the Greater Chennai Corporation.

Marina Beach and Elliots Beach played hosts to the screening, and I, a beach lover and cricket fan, chose the latter to spend my Sunday and show the Indian team my support. It was a day brimming with emotions, applause, and cheers, all for the Men in Blue.

Fans come together
The bustling traffic of Chennai city was replaced by near-empty roads, with only some vehicles, and even those headed to the beach and other popular joints that were screening the match. What is typically a 45-minute ride to the Bessie beach only took me about 25 minutes; however, this happiness was short-lived. The roads leading to the beach were teeming with motorbikes and people, all huddled together, as the police tried to navigate the crowd, with their ears strongly etched onto the scoreboard. Yet, amid the confusion, there was a relentless spirit of joy and celebration, visibly splashed across the faces of those eagerly awaiting the screening, and rushing to find a comfortable spot on the sands.

As I managed to step in, with the sky dipping below the horizon and orange and purple hues scattered across the sky, my attention was drawn to an elderly couple seated in a corner, just beside the screen, with their little beach chairs and a thermos flask kept next to them. Though I was engrossed in the match, my eyes were constantly seeking them out every time the crowd erupted in applause.

Vijayaraman and his wife Sumalatha, both in their 70s, possessed the spirit of 20-year-olds, immersing themselves in the excitement of the crowd. “I was 71 during the last World Cup, and my wife was in the hospital battling an illness. I missed watching the match with my favourite companion that year. This year, I wanted to make up for it, and here we are, cheering for our all-time favourites alongside the people of our beloved city,” shared Vijayaraman, glancing at his wife.

The beach was brimming with stories. Mohammed Arif, a 32-year-old software engineer employed in an MNC in the city came dressed in a blue jersey and the Indian flag painted across his cheeks. Arif was thoroughly engrossed in the game, mirroring the movements of the bat with its every swing. “I was disappointed that I couldn’t attend the finals in Ahmedabad. However, when I stumbled upon an Instagram post about the screening here, my joy knew no bounds. All I did was call up my friends and convince them to join me,” shared Arif, his enthusiasm momentarily interrupted as Pat Cummins, the Australian cricket team captain, bowled out Virat Kohli.

Win or lose, we cheer
In the midst of all this excitement, a vendor and his young assistant were hard at work, roasting corn as orders multiplied with the passing time. They weren’t the only ones pleased about the screening; countless stalls and shopkeepers found their businesses bustling with orders as Chennaiites flocked to the beach for the event. Muthuraman, while quickly roasting corn for me, adding a dash of masala, expressed his gratitude, saying, “On a typical weekend, we usually make around `2,000 to `3,000 selling these corns. But today, my stock is about to run out, thanks to the screening. Many people have come here, buying our food and enjoying the match. I want to express my thanks to the government for organising it here on the beach today, allowing small vendors like us to earn some extra money to support our families.”

There were prayers all around, gasps when a wicket fell, and hoots when a boundary was hit. As the sun set, I noticed a man in a khaki uniform, resting his back against a pole. Hesitantly, I walked up to him, and to my surprise, in a low voice, he said, “I don’t think that we will hold the trophy tonight, nevertheless, our team did put forward a good game this season, and I am proud to call myself a true fan of the Indian team.”

The night was not as long as we had anticipated. As the final score appeared on the screen, there was silence...only the crashing of waves giving us a reality check. People, disappointed and teary-eyed, rose from their seats, yearning for a chance to rewind time, hoping that their favourite players, the dream team, could replay the game. But they got over the emotions quickly, showed their deep affection for the Indian cricket team and graciously supported Australia’s victory by bursting crackers and cheering for both teams. 

As I rode back, the faces and emotions of strangers I met and cheered with lingered in my thoughts, reminding me of the hard-fought battle on the field. With each encounter carrying the hope of reuniting and celebrating the next victory for Team India, I called it a night, dreaming away about the Men in Blue holding the golden possession in their hands!

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The New Indian Express