The November air is heavy with haze and pollution, although it is not severe. The Feroz Shah Kotla, which is the setting for the game between Delhi and Punjab, is seeing a battle between two former warriors. One is trying to make a last-ditch effort to represent his country one final time in the 2019 World Cup, while other one is trying to mentor a dysfunctional team. Gautam Gambhir failed on day one but the crowd comes in significant numbers on day two, because Yuvraj Singh is going to bat. Even today, the lure of Gambhir and Yuvraj draws fans to stadiums. About 90% of the Kotla is empty but there is vibrancy in the Mohinder Amarnath stand as Yuvraj takes strike.
However, the crowd is disappointed as Yuvraj holes out to mid-off to be dismissed for 24 off 88 balls. It is not a typical Yuvi knock. Fans are disappointed, the energy level wanes but some continue to cheer in the hope Delhi can restrict Punjab's lead.
There are only two or three journalists present. The normal coverage location, which is the press box located at the Bishan Singh Bedi stand, is locked. The arrangement is a big canopy with chairs just outside the boundary ropes at long on. This is the ideal scenario for journalists, both experienced and young, to hone their skills. There is no coverage, barring two cameras which will stream live on Hotstar. One learns by sheer observation. At the ground, experienced journalists reel off their experiences of past encounters while the young ones watch and smile in silence.
90’s flair at the ground
Mandeep Singh, the Punjab skipper has taken the team to a healthy lead but he misses out on a century with Nitish Rana taking his wicket. At the lunch break, the fans become analysts. Most of the discussion is on India’s Test series against Australia. The universal consensus among the fans is that Kuldeep Yadav must play in the Tests while they must go with four pacers. They are confident that Delhi’s own Ishant Sharma, will have an impact.
While walking on the edge of the boundary, a sound echoes in the empty stadium. It is a sad violin piece reminiscent of the 90s. One of the scoreboard operators is watching the 1990 film Swarg, starring Govinda and Rajesh Khanna. The scene is Govinda comforting Khanna in a tragic situation. The scene is symbolic of Delhi’s plight as they head towards a loss. Suddenly, the tragedy is broken by a sound from a nearby fan, who is playing the Hindi version of ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ from the late 80’s film Paap ki Duniya starring Sunny Deol and Neelam.
‘Don’t play like a Twenty20’
Punjab have taken a 175-run lead. Gambhir is determined to give Delhi some respect in the second innings. The left-hander starts well by pulling Siddarth Kaul, who took 6/32 in the first innings, to the fine leg boundary. Next ball, he top edges a pull to fine leg but the fielder spills the chance and it goes for six. The crowd shout, “T20 ki tarah math khelo (Don’t play like a T20 game).”
Gambhir moves to 60. The hope builds that he can do an epic like Napier 2009, when he batted for close to 12 hours to help India draw the Test against New Zealand. At the other end, Kaul bowls a hostile bouncer and Rana, the Delhi skipper, falls for the leg-side trap to be caught. However, there is tension as words are exchanged between Rana and Kaul. There is finger wagging, Rana swears at Kaul who in turn does not hold back. The umpires intervene to stop it. Two balls later, Kaul gets Gambhir. The end of Delhi’s hopes. Left-arm spinner Vinay Choudhary runs through the batting line-up with three quick wickets. After the end of the day, he says,” Jo dum lagaake daalega, woh wicket lega iss wicket mein (Whoever puts in 100% effort, he will get wickets).
As the sun sets and a cool breeze blows across the Kotla, the fans wait outside the Virender Sehwag gate for a glimpse of Yuvraj. This is the charm of the Ranji Trophy. It is a pity not many journalists cover it regularly.