You know what, even though Sharukh Khan was seated just a couple of feet away from me in the stands at the M A Chidambaram stadium, many people were eyeing only me.
‘This being cerebral Chennai,’ I began to think within myself, ‘they probably value a writer more than they do an actor.’
Just as I was wondering whether I should wave nonchalantly at the crowd and also blow kisses at them to come across as cool and hip, my daughter poked me sharply in the ribs, ‘appa, sit down. People are staring at you. They are trying to get a glimpse of Sharukh, but you are obstructing their view’.
Only then I realised that I was exactly in their line of vision. Only then I also realised that IPL matches are where people come to watch film stars watching cricketers in the middle.
As a spectator at the stadium during the IPL contests, your foremost task is to secure a seat with the best view —- of the giant screen, that is. If there is no giant screen, all the unmistakable joy of watching live cricket in total flesh and blood is completely lost.
The giant screen is a truly marvellous construct. On it, the players view themselves playing, the spectators watch themselves spectating, the sponsors see themselves sponsoring. Only the umpires see themselves exposed. But never mind, the giant screen is centre to the IPL, especially since it brings to the stadium those without whom the IPL wouldn’t exist — the film stars, that is.
And that evening this week, during the IPL encounter between CSK and KKR, Sharukh wasn’t the only star around. Before him, there was the young Siddharth. There was also the newest hero Udhayanidhi Stalin. Looking at the handsome Siddharth and the smart Udhayanidhi, forgetting their exalted star status, sitting in the stands alongside common people, two important sporting truths instantly hit your mind:
1) Cricket is a great sport
2) Cricket is a great sport particularly for promoting films.
Seeing Udhayanidhi, whose film released just a week back, and Siddharth, who has a movie awaiting its release this month, toiling at the cricket stadium, you cannot but ask the important question: Why don’t the IPL administrators actually go the whole hog and offer slots in the playing XI of teams for heroes whose films have just released or about to hit the screens? It will make things easy for all concerned. I mean we can concentrate on the field of play while the stars need not strain themselves to catch the attention of the TV cameras. To me, it makes perfect marketing sense, not to speak of cricketing sense, as, at any rate, no young hero can possibly do any worse than Yousuf Pathan or Vinay Kumar have in this year’s IPL.
The only hitch on the horizon for this most sensible plan is when a Salman Khan movie releases. For, Salman being Salman, would want to throw away his team jersey and show up in his munda banian while batting or bowling. Not that it is against the IPL rules or anything, but it is just that with a munda banian the space for sponsor’s logo is limited. The general rule of cricket is: With the money-driven IPL, you don’t tamper with the sponsor’s space. In the history-filled Test cricket, you don’t cut into the lunch or tea breaks.
Talking of cricket at the M A Chidambaram stadium, it is also almost a rule that there will be at least a couple of wizened oldies, knowledgeable enough to recall every single detail of that epic G R Vishwanath innings against the vintage West Indies at the very same stadium in 1974-75, but equally stupid enough to superimpose that Vishwanath innings on anyone batting in the middle even today.
That night I ran into one such person. ‘Vishwanath would have late-cut that ball to four,’ the avuncular man sitting next to me said apropos of nothing when Suresh Raina let a ball past his off-stump. And that was just a beginning. When Albie Morkel hurled a snorter that Gautam Gambhir flailed at vainly, the old man piped up again: ‘Vishwanath hooked a similar bouncer for a fierce boundary in front of the square. Imagine that was against Andy Roberts’. He did not look like stopping the whole evening.
That night, upon my return to my house, wife asked who won and who was the top scorer. Even as I was hitting the bed, I replied: ‘Kolkata Knight Riders won, but Vishwanath was the top-scorer with 97 not out’.