MS Dhoni in action at the CCI on Tuesday © AFP
MS Dhoni in action at the CCI on Tuesday © AFP

Abey jaldi aa, entry free hai! Late hua to ghusne nahi denge!” (Come here quickly, the entry is free and if you delay they might not allow you inside!”) yelled a teenager to his friend on phone, standing in front of me in a very long queue. “Sun be, tere aage lega mujhe to aata hu main,” (if you allow me to stand ahead of you then I will come”) said another to his mate, who was understandably standing way ahead of us. It was yet another working afternoon in South Mumbai, but all that it mattered to a few thousands was to just to get inside. Everyone, from nearby hotels, paanwalas, taxi drivers to those passing by were surprised glinting at the queues which had swelled up from a few hundreds to thousands in just a few minutes.

Understandably, not everyone follows cricket. Or those who even follow the sport do not read everything. Else, there would not have been any space left to breathe — let alone stand — either in the long queues for Gate Nos. 8 and 9 at the Cricket Club of India (CCI), Brabourne Stadium or inside. These were the only two gates opened for general public to watch MS Dhoni’s captaincy swansong. Newspapers, websites and word of mouth had spread information about free entry the stadium for the first warm-up match between India A and England XI.

Hmmm. India A. How many Indian cricket fans do actually care about this particular team anyway?

I got an answer of sorts when hundreds of fans kept persisting for Kuldeep Yadav’s attention when India fielded, calling him ‘Rishabh’ till he did not bowl and snaffle a few wickets. Obviously, Kuldeep did not acknowledge at first. Why would he, anyway? But when he returned back to his fielding position near this part of the field after getting two quick wickets, he did.

Yes. Most fans do not read. Nor do they follow a lot. Just a few kilometers away, Rishabh Pant was hammering his way to a 34-ball 84 with 9 fours and 6 sixes at the DY Patil T20 tournament. Pant will play the second warm-up match Thursday. He was not even in the squad for the first warm-up game!

Dejection

“I will not allow you inside, do you not understand?”, said a policeman to me, looking straight and sternly in the eye. I knew he meant business. None of my pleas or requests would help me get in with my bag. Not even the media card came to the rescue. I had to find a way to get rid of my bag.

Imagine, a cricket journalist being denied entry inside a stadium because he has a bag, and a laptop in it. What a day to be alive.

Want to know more? Ask BCCI, not me.

I thought that was it. I was among the blessed ones to have witnessed Sachin Tendulkar’s final walk to the middle to bat, in his last Test at the Wankhede. Though, at one moment, I felt strongly that I will not get to see Dhoni’s final innings, thanks to a few friends around, I was able to get rid of the bag and get in.

Get rid of the bag. For many who had lined up, it was a task not as tough as it was for me and my colleague Aditya Sahay. We had laptops, but the crowd consisted innumerable college-going youngsters, who presumably had nothing valuable as such. Some were quick enough to stack up their bags on the top of the shades of nearby bus stops, leaving them for anyone to take it at will in their absence. Some climbed up trees, hung their bags on branches; some hid them between bushes near roadside. Creativity was at its best. Those who had no creativity left their belongings on the pavements.

The spot at the CCI ground from where the intruder went into the playing area. The picture on the right shows him being taken away.
The spot at the CCI ground from where the intruder went into the playing area. The picture on the right shows him being taken away.

Perplexity

Crowd kept swelling. There was enough security outside the stadium, but the same cannot be said for the inside. After all, how did an intruder barge into the playing area, making the players from both India and England vulnerable?

It was not tough to get in on the second attempt. We made a quick dash to the stands, only to find out that they had filled up to their capacities.

Maybe, free entries to crowd for high-profile clashes are not a thing for India. Despite having adequate security and riot control police manning the two entry gates, an intruder managed to jump over a soft spot in the field and made a dash to the middle. As he sprinted towards MS Dhoni, the security got in action only late.

Taking nothing away from the hard work that city police and security personnel did, it was surprising to see a bunch of a few policemen standing close to the spot from where the intruder climbed up and went into the playing area. They had not noticed him.

There was no food inside the stadium, but CCI was generous enough to supply the crowd with enough water to not get them complaining.

It is all about MS Dhoni, obviously

It is a no-brainer. The college-going crowd had turned up to see their favourite cricketer captaining in blues for one last time. But much to their disappointment, Dhoni came out towards the end of the Indian innings — not at No. 4 — as it was widely believed.

The crowd chanted ‘Dhoooni… Dhoniii’ incessantly even though Ambati Rayudu marched on. The anxious wait was finally over when Rayudu walked off after completing his century. A handful of overs were left, the crowd was running out of patience to see their captain come out to bat. Dhoni marched out amid deafening cheers, and fulfilled everyone’s wish to see him hit those sixes.

But as soon as the Indian innings was over, the crowd headed back to their lives. From exhilarating highs of thousands thronging in to watch an inconsequential India A warm-up match, to the stands losing the charm of having so many spectators late on a pleasant evening, the Brabourne went quiet.

Those who stayed on, like me, had more than one reason. The local security did not allow many to get out and grab something to eat saying they will not be allowed in back again. Many stayed back, sat on empty tummies overloaded with water, and witnessed a picturesque evening which unfortunately did not go down well for the local side and their outgoing captain.