It’s a surreal feeling to be inside a stadium on a non-match day. It’s perhaps like sneaking into the makeup van of a film star, and realising that s/he looks different—for most part of her/his real life —than s/he does on screen, which is what we mostly see.
Forty-eight hours before the third and final encounter of evenly poised T20 series between India and England, the M Chinnaswamy Stadium is being made up. Out in the middle, curator Kasturi Sriram & team are trying to prepare the perfect ramp for cricketing prima donnas to strut their stuff. In the outfield, sprinklers are spraying fine streams of water on the carefully cut grass.
On the edge of the circle, TV cables are being laid for the purpose of airing on Wednesday the images of the Chinnaswamy as we know it: Forty thousand screaming ‘Kohli, Kohli’ after he has nailed another six over extra cover. But today, while no doubt it’s a beehive of activity, the venue appears enveloped in (relative) quietude.
Another reason why the place feel somewhat strange on non-match days is because the ground gives the illusion of shrinking in the midst of gaping stands. The Chinnaswamy has imposing multi-tiered stands and a relatively small field of play, and the surroundings seem to ravenously close in on the green patch in the middle.
Small ground means small boundaries which in turn results in more sixes. No wonder, you think, you have seen so many more being hit on this ground than perhaps anywhere else. More big hits mean more runs. In the IPL, 200-an-innings is routinely crossed here. In 2016, five out of six 200-plus team scores came at the Chinnaswamy, including the highest, 248. The highest-ever T20 team total was also posted here—263 by Royal Challenges Bangalore in 2013. Heck, even individual knocks here could rival team aggregates: be it Brendon McCullum’s 158 in the first ever IPL match, or Chris Gayle’s 175 not out.
Curator Sriram insists the boundaries aren’t really small. “The boundaries are 72 yards. We can’t make them any bigger because it’s an old place. It’s not like newer venues on the outskirts where you have plenty of space. It’s small complex in the heart of the city and there is no room for expansion, but even so the boundaries rarely if ever are smaller than 71 yards. On Wednesday, it will again be 72 yards,” he says.
While 71 (or 72 yards) isn’t exactly big, it’s not as small as it’s made to seem by a set of batsmen. The Chinnaswamy too isn’t always a forgiving venue as it is made out to be from its IPL records. In the World T20 last year, the highest innings score was 157 by Australia against Bangladesh, who were also involved in a low-scoring thriller with India here. How do you explain this dichotomy?
“It’s the batsmen. Or three batsmen in particular,” says Sriram, who father G Kasturirangan was Mysore Ranji stalwart and the main curator here till the turn of the century. “Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. If you have players of those kind in one team, you will see those scores anywhere. And that is why there has been this difference in the IPL and T20Is. The world’s very best players play in the IPL. While international teams, however good, can’t have the same fire power,” he says.
Sriram breaks the conversation to join Anil Kumble who has swung by to take a look at the pitch. The India coach is happy with the bounce and the level of moisture, he later informs. “It’s a fair pitch and I guess you will see a score of 160 or 170,” says Sriram before retiring into his office at the NCA end. His has been a fresh way to look at this venue and the records broken here: that the Chinnaswamy Stadium alone hasn’t made Gayle or AB’s reputation; they too have made a name for this stadium.