An international cricket match was back at the M A Chidambaram Stadium this week after a gap of two years, and as ever it was a memorable affair as the stands were packed and at crucial moments the enthusiastic fans expressed their appreciation of the good cricket dished out by India and South Africa by vociferously shouting —- not for nothing they are popularly called the knowledgeable Chennai crowd —- “CSK, CSK, CSK”, which technically doesn’t even exist at least for the next two years.
But make no mistake about it, watching cricket at the historical M A Chidambaram Stadium is a unique experience as it is probably the only international sporting arena which doesn’t have its own parking facility. The parking space in front of the main entrance is restricted (only the TNCA members’ vehicles and the official bus carrying the players are allowed entry) and the local joke is that the easier way to gain entry into the stadium is to become a player in the national team, which you can by getting into CSK.
Luckily for us local journos, the Chennai Press Club is close by and we usually leave our vehicles there and hop across to the stadium. And it is also a fact that the only working facility in the Chennai Press Club is its parking lot.
Another thing about going to watch cricket at the M A Chidambaram stadium is that the security is pretty tight and the local police have prepared a list of items that are a strict no-no from the safety point of view. The top on this chart, unsurprisingly, is: Black T-shirt.
No, don’t laugh. This is real. On Thursday, one of the spectators, who came clad in a black shirt, was declined permission to enter the stadium. This is the exchange that ensued between him and the security personnel.
Security: You can’t get in with that.
Man: (bit puzzled) I can’t get in with what?
Security: (Pointing to his dress) your black shirt.
Man: (Even more puzzled) what’s wrong with that?
Security: The list given to us is pretty clear. We can’t allow anyone wearing black-colour shirt or T-shirt.
Man: (Exasperated) Give me one valid reason for this restriction.
Security: (even more exasperated) Yov moron, who has come clad in a black shirt in this infernal heat, you want a reason, well, here take it: In a black dress, in the heat inside the stadium, you might possibly auto-combust to death.
Okay, I made the last line up. But the fact is ever since there was speculation that a black-dress protest was going to be organised against the participation of Lankan players in these parts, the stadium security authorities have clamped down on black attire and, even more logically, Sri Lankan players and officials.
One more question that keeps popping up whenever a match is played at the M A Chidambaram stadium is: Why are those three stands empty? To set the record straight once and for all, those three stands have been declared illegal and that is because the engineers were wearing black during construction work.
Ha.Ha.Ha. I was, of course, kidding. It is said that the three stands have been built in contravention to local construction rules and the TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association) has been told to keep them out of bounds for the public, a job, it should be said, that the TNCA has been traditionally very good at without anyone ordering it.
Talking of tradition and history, the stadium has seen plenty of it. One match that has high recall value is the Australia-India Test encounter of 1998. That Tendulkar-Warne rivalry is still talked among the cricketing cognoscenti as a ‘battle royale’, which is a pretty cleverly disguised French usage for ‘battle royal’.
The teams that squared off against each other in the ODI on Thursday, India and South Africa, had met in 2008 for a memorable Test match here. People who had watched Virender Sehwag blaze his way to a brilliant 319, still recall vividly almost every shot of his and those who sat through the 155 that Neil McKenzie scored in the same match have been stuck by terminal amnesia.
But, I am afraid, even terminal amnesia wouldn’t help explain why some of the fans were shouting ”CSK, CSK, CSK” on Thursday night.
(*Chennaiyin Fans of Cricket)