IPL 2023: Super Kings take 'Super Giants' stride

Yellove, cheering for Dhoni and like being part of a rock concert: Story of CSK’s comeback game at home
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni during the IPL 2023 cricket match against Lucknow Super Giants, in Chennai,  April 3, 2023. (Photo | PTI)
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni during the IPL 2023 cricket match against Lucknow Super Giants, in Chennai,  April 3, 2023. (Photo | PTI)

CHENNAI: It’s 6.30 PM on a typically early summer evening at Chepauk. The gentle sea breeze from Marina beach, a stone’s throw away, is providing some needed respite for people walking on both sides of Wallajah Road and Bells Road (some of the main arterial roads). The walkers include some as young as one. It includes some as old as 80. Most of them give away the purpose of their visit and, by extension, their allegiance.

It’s an IPL matchday at the MA Chidambaram Stadium -- the city’s first with Chennai Super Kings (vs Lucknow Super Giants) in attendance in almost four years -- and the cops stationed outside are anticipating a lot of people. One of them, perhaps, exaggerates a touch when he says “we expect a lakh people here today (Monday) so we will close the roads for vehicular traffic soon”.

Inside the Stadium, ‘F Lower’, the stand diametrically opposite to the ‘Madras Cricket Club’, is already lit, as the kids would say, even before toss time. The noise factor is already off the charts and they are contributing the most. While some of the other stands are less than half full, ‘F Lower’ is a yellow wall of humanity. One look at the back of the jerseys and it’s safe to make the assumption that this is the more hardcore section of the fanbase.

Most of it has #SUPERFANS scribbled in blue on the franchise’s ubiquitous t-shirt. Some have #WhistlePodu. Almost all of them have some part of yellow as part of their attire. It’s either the hairband, headband, T-shirt or all of the above. They, unsurprisingly, make the most noise when they begin chanting ‘Dhoni, Dhoni’, an ode to the name on the back of their t-shirts.

This venerable old Stadium, filled for the first time for a Chennai game in more than a decade (three stands were locked under the previous state government), has always had its favourites but in front of the Chennai skipper, all of them are second best in terms of popularity. Dhoni, for many, is a cricketer in the November or December of his career. For Chennai’s Super Fans, he is an unexplainable emotion, a totem.

They reserve this sort of love and affection towards Dhoni even on normal days. So, on this of all days, it’s understandable. The last time Dhoni played a competitive match at Chennai, it was pre-pandemic. These fans have been starved of cheering for their first among equal for a very long time.

That noise level peaks in the last over of the Chennai innings. Dhoni, who prefers to almost exclusively bat at No. 7 or below these days, comes in with five balls remaining. When you take out the phone to check the decibel level, it registers 120-130 dbs. It’s like being in a mosh pit, the place immediately in front of a rock concert. If you expose your ear to that level of sound for a small period of time, it could have potential health consequences.

Tell that to the fans, though, who are all up on their feet as Dhoni hits his first ball -- short and wide from Mark Wood -- over backward point for six. The next ball, the fans are again standing as their God is giving them their money’s worth inside Chennai’s supreme cricketing sanctorum. Wood is a touch shorter and on a sixth stump line but Dhoni swivels and hits it over a deep square leg. He is out next ball but they don’t care. They came to get a glimpse of him and he didn’t disappoint his legion of followers.

In the dog days of 2020 and 2021, the government’s Omandurar Hospital, which shares the Wallajah Road with the Stadium, was a visible klaxon of the pandemic as the city struggled to breathe. Two years later, it found its soul under lights. And a capacity crowd was witness to it.

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