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View Review: Of fan craze for Hardik t-shirts, watching Malik shatter stumps, flamingo sightings and avoiding burnout

Meeting newspaper deadlines day-in and day-out when covering games that finish at midnight at the three venues in Mumbai is just one of the challenges of watching the IPL from stadiums this season

IPL 2022, View ReviewAll the league matches of IPL 2022 are scheduled to be played at four venues – three in Mumbai and one in Pune.

Fifty-five matches in 58 days. This was before two more games were shifted from Pune, making it 57 IPL 2022 matches in Mumbai. It was going to be impossible, both physically and mentally, for anyone to cover all the games from the three venues, two in south Mumbai and one across the creek in Navi Mumbai. But when something so unprecedented is happening in your backyard, a part of you feels like being a part of it. And over the course of attending 34 games in eight weeks, I’d come to realise even more why cricketers talk about taking it hour by hour, session by session, day by day… the cliched ‘one game at a time.’

It began with what felt like a very reasonable aim of travelling to the grounds for the first week or two, and then assessing how much it was taking out of the mind and body. The first ten days or so were the hardest. A close finish at 11.30 pm meant an exit from the ground close to midnight, and at least a 1-1.15 am finish to the commute back home. Sleep wouldn’t arrive before 2-2.30 am after all this late activity. It was the kind of routine that can quickly drain all initial enthusiasm into groggy mornings and dazed afternoons. After about the first week, it already felt like the IPL had been going on since the beginning of the year. On some nights, I’d find myself staring at the floodlights at Wankhede Stadium – where they are almost in your face if you are sitting in the front two rows of the media box – and almost zone out.

The Wankhede Stadium was scheduled to host 20 IPL matches with the last game on May 22 between Punjab Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad. (File)

But after those initial few days, something else started to happen. The routine, and the cricket, began to create their own momentum, and by the last week, pleasantly surprised at having got through it all, you actually want to see this through to the finish.

The commutes to Wankhede and Brabourne have always been straightforward, although the changeover at Dadar station can test your sanity during evening rush hour (But then, you have anyway put your sanity on the line if you’ve chosen to spend nearly your entire life yet in Mumbai). But the travel route to Navi Mumbai was refined. If I took an autorickshaw from home, and waded through some Ghatkopar traffic to Tilak Nagar station on the Harbour line, I could bypass the heaving platforms at Ghatkopar and Kurla stations. From there it was a breezy 25-minute dash to Jui Nagar, where share autos waited right outside the station exit to rush you to the main signal outside DY Patil Stadium.

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Spectators at the Brabourne stadium during the IPL 2022.

Even in the May evening heat, the slight breeze blowing across the train on the Vashi creek bridge would replenish some of the spirit sapped by the humidity. The sight of the flamingos painting the Navi Mumbai side of the creek pink with the size of their flocks (aptly called flamboyance) was so soothing, beyond which gleamed the floodlights of DY Patil in the distance. Eventually, I’d end up covering the most number of games from DY Patil, thanks in no small measure to the many colleagues whose cars made the return journey much smoother on many occasions.

Small standouts filter into the memory as one game seems to blend into another. In contrast to Wankhede and Brabourne, the number of women hawkers selling t-shirts, caps, water bottles, etc easily outnumbered the men outside DY Patil. Trying to get fans interested in one of the new teams, Lucknow Super Giants, a seller shouted ‘Gautam Gambhir, Gautam Gambhir’ right outside the steps of Churchgate station. More and more Hardik t-shirts could be spotted in trains over the weeks as Gujarat Titans attracted fans to their success.

Captain Pandya got increasingly more respectful ovations as he sauntered out to bat, his slow walk seeming to purposefully soak in the appreciation. Dinesh Karthik and Ravichandran Ashwin became crowd favourites; after the Wankhede DJ exhorted the crowd to cheer for the bowler Kartik Tyagi, the stadium paused and shouted ‘DK, DK’ instead. ‘Ashwin, Ashwin’ rang out not after a wicket, but off a rousing six.

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Gujarat Titans fans at DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

The loudest cheers were still reserved for when MS Dhoni came out to bat; it is something to experience that from the open-air media facility at the Cricket Club of India; the deafening demonstration of affection is for a lifetime’s legendary body of work, not where Chennai Super Kings are in the points table or how many runs the man himself has scored this season.

And everything Virat Kohli does brings adulation. The most regulation of stops at cover is enough. Or a feigned throw to the non-striker’s end. It is almost as if they feel he might disappear into thin air anytime, after his captaincy crowns and form have, so they want to make the most of him while they can still see him.

Umran Malik of Sunrisers Hyderabad celebrates the wicket of Matthew Wade of Gujarat Titans, during at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai. (Sportzpics for IPL/PTI Photo)

Contrary to apprehensions, the pitches hold up right till the end of the tournament, in what has to be a massive achievement in peak-summer conditions. The 66th match produces 418 runs and a heart-stopping two-run margin of victory for LSG over Kolkata Knight Riders at DY Patil. In mid-May, KL Rahul lofts the ball so smoothly over extra cover at CCI that it seems to have gone all the way to Nariman Point. The night Umran Malik begins to shatter stumps at Wankhede, there is something in his run-up that convinces you he will keep shattering them throughout his spell. The real bravehearts are the wrist-spinners though … Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Rashid Khan, Wanindu Hasaranga. Night after night, they keep tossing the ball up, actively seeking punishment and inflicting it on greedy batsmen instead. And it is at the grounds, as against television, where it hits you just how much thought and effort fielding teams invest into a single delivery against the threat of Andre Russell.

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Mumbai keeps turning out match after match, unfailingly, even for sweltering Sunday afternoon games in town, enduring a severely restricted train network amid the weekly ‘megablocks.’ Maybe it is home bias, but it is all but impossible to imagine another city not losing its appetite across this summer binge of T20. Then again, it is hard to conceive of three grounds in any other Indian megapolis pulling off the world’s biggest cricket league with an efficiency so effective it is almost invisible. Bring it on again next year, you say? No, thank you.

First published on: 22-05-2022 at 12:00:06 pm
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