CHENNAI: Chennai had not celebrated for a while. It had been long. Apart from people gathering in numbers to protest against various issues, these had been just normal days. But Tuesday was different. A team that so easily managed to strike a connect with the city was getting back into the mix. Chennai had been waiting for this moment, ever since Chennai Super Kings assembled for training sessions a fortnight back. Fans had turned out in thousands even then. On the eve of their return after a two-year ban, batting coach Mike Hussey, who is an integral part of the franchise, said MA Chidambaram Stadium would be rocking on Tuesday. In fact, it was more than that. Chepauk, dismissive of what was going around it, was building a festive atmosphere even an hour before the start.
However, the scenes witnessed outside the stadium — a few of the fans had trouble getting in because of the protests and Yellow Man Saravanan was heckled — did threaten to spoil the party. Though sanity finally prevailed, incidents of match-officials arriving late to the venue after getting caught in the protests and a shoe being hurled onto the field, did take a way bit of the gloss. Tension was very much visible in plenty of faces, but somehow Chennai Super Kings managed to keep them all up and roaring.
They say Chennai is the most emotional city. It has made stars out of boys next door, even superstars. Filter coffee, classical songs, architecture, art, theatre, movies all add flavour to the Madras tag that still continues hang around Chennaiites. For all the traditionalist tag attached to Chennai, how it came to accept a format and a team like CSK is itself a story. Unlike other teams the franchise didn’t paint the town red. Nor did they engage in promotional activities. But somewhere with the inclusion of “Super” and “Kings”, the franchise struck a chord with fans.
Chennai didn’t even have a homegrown icon player like the rest. Then, MS Dhoni happened. For a city that has always celebrated the arrival of stars from elsewhere, Dhoni was no different. How else do we find a man, born in the east of India, choking twice in a matter of two weeks ahead of the team’s return. The adulation and the religious following that CSK has been able to generate despite the two-year ban for entirely wrong reasons beggars belief. But, then you are reminded that Chennai is emotional. It has a history of accepting those who make mistakes. It likes giving second chances. Stars, no matter what, are not written off in these parts.
And let’s also factor in this element. Chennai and Tamil Nadu didn’t really have something that united them. It was always MGR vs Sivaji, Rajini vs Kamal, Karunanidhi vs Jayalalithaa. You were either on this side or that. And then CSK arrived. Perhaps that unifying factor is what has made CSK special to the fans. It’s probably them, who made Dhoni struggle to hold back tears over the last two weeks. “It’s been well documented what the fans mean to us in the team. We have a family feel in the team and the fans are very much part of it. We feel the support we get here is just phenomenal. MS is very much invested in this team and loves this team. After a team dinner, he did get emotional about CSK’s return and it shows how much it means to him,” Hussey said. And it mattered a lot more to many in the stands and beyond.