Friday, December 21, 2012

Plenty of Match-Experience Under the Belt Now

Disregard the fact that the stadium would take nearly as much time to reach from Navi Mumbai as from some of the pretty common areas of Pune and that it takes 20+ minutes to walk from the parking to the gates.
Ignore the fact that stands, with a capacity of over 3600 each, had only one toilet with 5 urinals.

Then your experience at the Subrata Roy Sahara stadium will be damn near perfect.

The stadiums first T20 international, was between India and England. I discovered Pune would be hosting this match quite by chance. I was checking out the ESPNCricinfo App and I scrolled down a bit too much on the fixtures screen than I'd intended to. The word 'Pune' caught my eye. More importantly the date, 20th December, exploded little balloons of confetti inside my heart. I'd be returning from my final semester in college to this. Brilliant.

So people were gathered, tickets were booked and anticipation was allowed to be built.

 New Stadium? What? Where?

The stadium, quite a new addition to the city of Pune, lies in the village of Gahunje. You don't need to know this bit of trivia but it makes for a handy opening sentence. The old Nehru Stadium, which was a common name for almost every public place before Rajiv Gandhi took that honour, was no longer good enough for matches. The last match there, in 2006, was one of the 3 1/2 million matches we played with Sri Lanka in the 2000s. The stadium was now, too much
inside the city, too close to crowded areas and with far too narrow roads around it. It became a logistical, spectatorial and almost everything-ical nightmare.

So the new one, built with the patronage of Subrata Roy Sahara, the eternal sponsor of the Indian cricket team, and the owner of the Pune franchise of the IPL, was supposed to be built for the 2011 World Cup. And living up to the expectations of all, the stadium was not completed on time. Surprisingly, or not, it was ready for the IPL this year.

With a capacity of over 50000, full bucket seating for all, wide staircases, wide aisles, ample spacing between rows and a completely unhindered view of the ground - the stadium checked out on all the good things.

But as with any event in India, security and traffic posed two huge questions.

1. When do we actually need to leave to get there?
2. Can we carry mobile phones?

The answer to the first question, as suggested by the Pune police, is a healthy 3 hours before the match. I'd say 3 hours is more than safe. If you can get into the parking lot about 1 hour before the match then you will be seated in your seat about 40 minutes later. And it doesn't take more than 30 minutes to get to your parking spot once you come near the expressway. So I'd say 2 hours is about the minimum time before the match you should leave from home (I live on the opposite end of the city, so you get the idea).

The long walk to the stadium takes you past the main gate. Our timing was damn perfect as we saw the Indian team bus pull in to the stadium. We could see the Yuvraj Singh in the front, a pair of huge headphones on. The crowd roared and waved their flags as the bus pulled past us.

The answer to the second question, as suggested by the Pune police in the newspapers, is NO. As you will see below, that is not quite true. We were quite perplexed by this question, actually. A few blogs helped me out. They all said they were allowed to carry one with them during the IPL matches. Camera's were a strict no but phone were OK. And what about phones with cameras?
So we decided to take a shot and carried our phones to the gates anyway. To our relief, the security didn't give a second look at our phones. So the answer to that question is a Yes.

 What You are Not Allowed to Carry

What we were not allowed to carry with us was water bottles, cameras (as per the rules, it makes no sense though, I know) and any bags. Small bags were allowed with women. They pulled the sticks out of our flags. There were two friskings separated by a long walk to our stand. The queues at the entrances to the stands moved quickly enough. In fact, no where was there any blockage or hold-ups of any sorts. There were okay-ishly long queues but they moved with rapidity. This was due to the fact that entry was granted by a bar code read of your tickets.

 What You Get Inside

Once inside, there was a decent amount of food being sold and the rates were not too bad. Water was free. Burgers, Two Samosas, Two Wada-Pavs each sold at Rs. 50. Dominos pizza was available. Coke, chips, Biryanis and plenty other things were also being sold. You have vendors doing the rounds with all these so you don't need to ever leave your seats.

 The Ground

Now what strikes you first, as you climb the short flight of stairs and the ground first comes into view, is that this ground is very very pretty. The bowl shaped stands, the towering grand-stand on one side, the lush green field drenched in the floodlights, the beautiful Western Ghats in the distance and a glorious red sun setting into it. From our seats in the North-East stand, it was a picture a worth a million.

It's a smallish ground. About 70 meters on all sides. Good for T20 cricket I suppose. Also good for viewing as even from the highest seats you get an excellent view of the action. The pillar-less construction means you don't have any obstructions. The floodlights are built for HD television, so the lighting is bright.

We saw the two squads warm up on the field. The English team certainly looked more athletic and sprightly. They did some sprints, a few sessions on the practice wickets and a bunch of running exercises. The Indians did some exercises lying down, a bit of jogging on the field and some catching practice.

The seats were a mixed-bag. They're comfortable, wide and sturdy. But a little too high from the concrete below them. Most people had their feet hanging and over three hours, that does get a bit difficult. There were some arguments over people being on each other's seats but the atmosphere was friendly and exciting.

 Pee-Pee time, Not a good time

The urinals, as I said before, were woefully inadequate. 5 stalls to service 3000+ people is quite an absurd thought. There was such a rush towards the end that people resorted to peeing on the walls inside the urinals. The women's washrooms were probably cleaner and neater because they were empty. My guess is there were not more than 300 women in that stand.

 The Match

The match was a good one. I guess that was because we won. But also because it was quite entertaining. Alex Hales ran away to a fifty before I could upload a picture on Facebook. Now my GPRS connectivity was weak. But at a strike-rate of 160, which is the highest for an English batsman against India for 50+ scores, it was a great knock. Along with Luke Wright, they were at 81/1 after 9 overs, looking set for a 175+ score. Then came Dhoni's 7th bowling change, the man with the golden arm, the pie-chucker (who also eats a fair share of those pies, judging by his size) Yuvraj Singh. Quite nonchalantly he bowled 4 overs for 19 runs and picked three wickets. Suddenly, the innings went from top gear to hand-brake. England added 68 runs in the last 10 overs. Final score - 157/6.

As I discussed with the turbaned Englishman behind me in the long queue at the urinals, 157 is the kind of score which makes it difficult to call a match. It only takes a spell of 8-10 good balls to change the course of the innings. It happened in the first one, a Yuvraj over was the spell that did it. It could very well happen in the second.

For a brief moment in the Indian innings, it looked as though that might happen. In the 5th over, Bresnan got both Rahane and Gambhir to hole out. The Indian run-rate went from 10+ to about 7.5 in two overs. But once again, Yuvraj was there to set things right. 18 runs of a Danny Briggs over restored the balance towards India. By the time he holed out in the 10th over, the asking rate was just over 6. With Raina, Dhoni and Jadeja still to bat, that wasn't going to be much of a challenge. India cantered home with 13 balls to spare.

The Experience

Brilliant. On a scale from 0-10, I would rate it 8.5. I have been to matches in the Wankhede and I have been to the MCG. The Wankhede barely offers you space to swing an arm. The MCG intimidates you with its sheer size. The Pune stadium does the role of a comfortable stadium for a small city with style.

The tickets for the this match were expensive. Our stands, which happened to lie in the deep mid-wicket/third-man/cover/fine-leg region, depending on the batsman's dominant hand and the end he was on, were priced at Rs. 2000 per ticket. All other expenses included, this trip cost us each about Rs. 2500. I guess there will be more cheaper tickets for the IPL matches which would certainly drive the expenses down significantly.

So when the IPL comes along in a few months time, do go for a match.
It makes for a very good weekend activity.

1 comment:

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