If the Indian players had any doubt about the level of expectation from them, the Wankhede Stadium crowd served a reminder ahead of their opening World Twenty20 game in Nagpur on Tuesday, by packing the stands to the rafters for their warm-up tie against South Africa.
The crowd response was eye-popping because usually these matches are a test ahead of the main battles. And to guard against last-minute injuries, most players avoid going all out; the batsmen retire once they feel in rhythm and the bowlers bowl within themselves.
While it would have boosted the spirits of MS Dhoni and Co, the level of expectation could also be unnerving. No one would have been hit by it more than the skipper. The crowd went hysterical just seeing him padded up, and when he walked in with Yuvraj Singh in a double change, the roar was as loud as one has ever heard at the Wankhede.
Nagpur too gave an indication of what to expect. A sizeable crowd greeted the hosts at the airport on Sunday morning and more fans waited at the team hotel.
“The frenzy is like (what was) witnessed for the 2011 World Cup game here when India played South Africa. The demand for tickets is crazy,” informed a Vidarbha Cricket Association official. The match is sold out. For the 44,000 capacity stadium, there were over 140,000 registrations for tickets.
Shikhar Dhawan, who hit a power-packed 73 against South Africa, is one of those on whom fans have great hopes on.
The opener said the best approach over the next three weeks would be to stay close as a group. “(It will be important) we stay close as a family, we will try and share the burden of expectations as a group, and not individuals. We are playing at home and the expectations of home crowds are always there, and we are also used to it,” Dhawan said after entertaining the weekend Mumbai crowd.
Ravi Shastri would have relished his coaching career so far. India reached the 2015 World Cup semifinal, but it will be an enormous challenge to emulate Gary Kirsten, who successfully insulated the 2011 team from outside pressures.
“The challenge will be to not think too much, just take one game at a time,” has been his message to the team. “Play the kind of cricket you are playing, you don’t have to do anything different because you are playing the World Cup.”
South Africa will agree it can be a double-edged sword for the opposition too. “It is going to be even louder during the tournament games,” said SA pacer Chris Morris, who bowled the last over in the narrow warm-up win.
The team that is going to feel it the most is Pakistan on March 19. How the Eden Gardens crowd can turn into the 12th man with its support is part of cricketing folklore. New Zealand and Australia can be assured it won’t be any less in Nagpur on March 15 and Mohali on March 27 (against India).
India opted to rest on Sunday, but a few players, including Ashish Nehra and Hardik Pandya, visited the stadium to check the wicket. As bowlers, they would not have been excited by its bald look, but that is how challenging it is going to be at the World Twenty20 for their tribe.