When Ishant Sharma walked up to receive his bouquet and cheque from Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, the 30,000-plus crowd roared its loudest. Ishant was amused that he’d overshadowed the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, even given the venue for this felicitation. What he would not have known was that it was a cheer several hours in the making.
Although the function was scheduled to begin at 3.30pm, by noon fans began to throng the gates. A sizeable stage was in place on the outfield and first the stand behind it was filled out.
Soon the crowd grew all around, and well before the appointed hour the stands were packed.
Even with the sun bearing down the crowd was kept at high energy levels by the DJ, who began by blasting out every hit number from the last year, with Chak de! India and Om Shanti Om dominating.
When the energy threatened to fall, a bhangra troupe of a dozen or so were shepherded round the ropes with their dhols beating out a power-packed frenzy.
Just after 2 pm, the announcer, Jobatt — who cranks up the adrenaline and does the Hindi voiceovers and commentary for TNA, the wrestling show — let it be known that the team flight had touched down and this induced another wave of belligerent yelling. With professional event managers and entertainment specialists roped in, the crowd was getting its share of Bollywood style entertainment but some people trying to get into the ground rather than the stands were not so fortunate.
One former Delhi cricketer was left standing at the gate, trying in vain to convince officials that he was an invitee.
Another former cricketer, currently coach of a team playing in the zonal one-day tournament, was flatly refused entry. Why the DDCA could not have appropriate passes handed out to these players, is anyone’s guess, but lack of time sounds lame given all they achieved.
Apart form the music and the dancing, you got a sense that this was what the Indian Premier League would feel like given that a stadium that had just one sign for the Delhi Daredevils was now plastered with the team’s signage. But fortunately the finer points of the organisation of those games at the Kotla will be left with the GMR group rather than the DDCA.
Just after 4pm, when the players were due any time, Yogesh Shetty, CEO of GMR Sports, and two of his senior functionaries did their best to stay calm even as they could not make it to the dais, where at least a score of DDCA officials had already made themselves quite comfortable.
Frantic calls to Amrit Mathur and several others later, they were squeezed in, but only seconds before the team made its entry.
As spontaneous as the crowd’s reaction to their heroes was, the organisers’ moves were predictable and disappointing. Chak de! India, the one thing in this country that hockey had which cricket coveted, played in a monotonous loop; a sign near the podium, put up by the hosts, screamed: ‘Harbhajan di great, We R proud of you. We R with you.’ The only one who retained any semblance of balance was Doggie, the unimaginatively named tan Labrador of the Dog Squad which had combed the area for explosives earlier, and promptly dozed off once her work was done.
One official after another made his speech and it came as no surprise that Dhoni, the victorious captain, got his chance last.
If you had any doubts about who this felicitation was really in honour of, there was your answer.