Only a handful of fans had taken their seats on this chilly, smoggy Thursday morning when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) conducted a felicitation function for the recently retired Virender Sehwag, who would fill up stadiums around the world when he batted in his pomp. Which, by the way, wasn’t very long ago.
During this shabbily organized event half-an-hour before the start of the fourth Test match at Feroz Shah Kotla, a stadium Sehwag called home for an overwhelming majority of his career, you could count more people on the ground – players and support staff from India and South Africa, BCCI and DDCA officials, photojournalist and broadcasting crew, Sehwag’s family and the man himself — than in the stands. On the big screen, a video montage of his best innings entertained vacant spaces as Sehwag collected his memento from Anurag Thakur and made a brief speech before shaking hands with members of both teams. Except Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara – they were sent back to the dressing room by Virat Kohli to pad up when they had come to attend the felicitation.
Once the ceremony ended, Sehwag and his family settled down in an enclosure underneath the dressing rooms to watch the match. As you looked in that direction, you could also see a ‘Thank You Viru’ banner put up by the DDCA above – curiously – the visiting team’s dressing room. Maybe, you would think, South Africa, against whom he scored a century on debut and his highest score of 319, were grateful that he is not out there to face them. In a way, though, they were facing him.
When Morne Morkel stood at the top of his run-up to bowl the first ball, he could have seen in the distance – beyond the batsman, past the wicket-keeper – a banner saying ‘Viru 319 End’. The two bowling ends have been renamed after his triple hundreds for this Test.
As the match got underway, and the sun came out from underneath the layers of smog, the stadium too began to fill up. Justice Mukul Mudgal’s initiatives of keeping tickets affordable and entry free for school kids as well as doing away with the culture of passes, were showing results. Close to 18,000 spectators eventually had turned up by the end of the first session. And the noise that they made was worthy of twice that size.
By then, Sehwag had left. And you wondered wouldn’t it have been better had the BCCI held the event a little later in the day. That way more Delhities could have partaken in their favourite cricketer’s farewell.
But then, in one way it made some sense. Come to think of it: this wasn’t the first time that people had shown up a little late for a Test match, only to find that Sehwag was already gone.