India vs South Africa: When Biggie crashed Beethoven's ballet at Chepauk

Openers Smriti and Shafali broke several records to turn what was 'supposed' to be a classical song into a rap concert on day one of the Test match.
Indian Women cricket player Shafali Verma during India- South Africa test series in Chepauk stadium
Indian Women cricket player Shafali Verma during India- South Africa test series in Chepauk stadiumPhoto | P Ravikumar, EPS

CHENNAI: Test cricket is supposed to be the classical music of cricket. It has its manners and etiquette. It has its own rhythm. Unlike many easy-to-consume music genres, one has to develop a taste for it gradually. You cannot rush classical music. It goes by, but you have to be an active listener to enjoy every intricate detail. And the joy one gets after a particular piece hits the peak, well, it is unparalleled.

Take any piece. From Johann Strauss' The Blue Danube to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and from Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons to Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the core remains the same.

Test cricket is "supposed" to be like that.

The batters are supposed to take their time. The bowlers are supposed to be active every single ball and let the spectators soak it all in. None of it happened in Chennai on the opening day of the Test when Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma piled on runs to break record after record against South Africa.

To be honest, there was an overture, a piece of music played by an orchestra at the beginning when both sides were trying to gauge each other. It lasted for some eight overs when India were scoring at two runs per over. Verma had only hit one boundary till then. As someone who was coming into this Test with a relatively lean patch, that boundary felt like a welcome change. A neat Test cricket cover drive. The swelling Chennai crowd applauded it with enthusiasm as well. However, no one would have thought the duo was just building the groundwork to break a good deal of records in women's Tests.

Nadine de Klerk came in as early as the ninth over and Mandhana, who was coming into the Test after scoring two consecutive ODI centuries and missing third in a row by whiskers, saw the opportunity to smash two more fours. The Chepauk crowd applauded with more enthusiasm.

By 10.30 AM, Chepauk had turned into a rap concert. There was hooting and cheering like The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie was only playing his top hits and the crowd could not get enough of it. The patience and gradually rising crescendo of classical music? Neither Verma nor Mandhana had any time for that. Just four deliveries after the first drinks break Verma welcomed the South African spinner Nonkululeko Mlaba with a massive six over mid-on. The crowd reacted like Biggie had cleared his throat to sing "Juicy". By the time the umpires announced lunch, 75% of India's runs had come from just boundaries.

After lunch, Verma survived a loud leg-before appeal against Masabata Klaas when India was batting at almost 4.50 runs per over. That just gave the 20-year-old a license to hit. If there was any contest, it was between the two openers about who gets to the century first. When both reached their 90s, it was the re-imagination of the famous song "Anything you can do I can do better" in the middle. Verma reached her ton and Mandhana followed the very next ball. The atmosphere at the Chepauk, even with close to 4000 fans, was like when Biggie won the Rap Artist of the Year award in 1995. It was a cultural moment and one just had to be there.

The partnership was so brutal in the second session of the day that the duo added runs at 5 runs per over and South Africa were a deer in the headlights. Mandhana went back just a run short of 150, but not before she had notched the third century on home soil in just 12 days. When the senior opener finally went back amongst the applause from the crowd, she and Verma had broken a record of the highest partnership in the women's Test for India for any wicket, going past the record set by Chennai-born MD Thirush Kamini and Punam Raut.

"Playing with the new ball in Indian conditions, there is going to be more swing than what white ball usually has. I think after playing two Tests recently, our openers are aware of that," Thirush Kamini had told this daily before the Test match. "We have seen a few great Test matches in the past in Chepauk. Chennai has this rich culture of supporting cricket. The spectators are very supportive and warm towards the players," she couldn't have said it better. Verma went on to score a double-century in the final session. 205 runs came off 197 balls with 23 fours and eight sixes. Day one was a box office hit as India finished with 525/4 in 98 overs. What was supposed to be the Beethoven-esque ballet recital, was turned into a hip-hop show for the ages.

The press conference hall at the Chepauk has newspaper clippings from all the great innings played at the venue in all formats. They are neatly placed documents of history that keep telling the history of the ground dating back decades. Maybe it is time to add one more frame in that hall. About the time when India's two openers converted the theatre of Chepauk to a rap bonanza.

Brief scores: India 1st innings 525/4 in 98 overs (Shafali 205, Smriti 149, Jemimah 55, Kaur 42 n.o, Richa 43 n.o; Tucker 2/141) vs England.

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