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  • Writer's pictureSriram Chidambaram

India vs Afghanistan - Witnessing History at the Chinnaswamy

As a cricket enthusiast growing up in Bangalore between 2010 and 2021, I am disappointed to say I was not at the Chinnaswamy for any of the many notable games played there during this period. 


I watched the final-ball tie between India and England in the 2011 World Cup with my dad at the screening held in the clubhouse of our apartment complex. I watched Rohit Sharma’s first double century, in the 7th ODI of Australia's 2013 tour of India, from my grandparents’ house in Tirunelveli. And I lamentably did not watch Gayle’s 175* against Pune Warriors of India because our internet went out and we did not have cable television. 

(I was in the stands for the 2016 IPL Final that featured RCB, but no Bangalorean ever brags about attending that game) 


India vs Afghanistan
What the shirts say.

So, while visiting Bangalore during my college winter break I optimistically (and impulsively) looked to see if the Chinnaswamy was hosting any of the India vs Afghanistan T20Is. Regrettably, it was hosting the third one, scheduled a day after I departed back to college in the United States.  


Unfortunately (or fortunately), I needed physiotherapy for an injured ankle and hip – and given America’s impossible and expensive health care system – we decided to get it done here, with my professors’ permission for late arrival. I bought my tickets to the game within minutes of rescheduling the flight. Things always have a way of working out, don’t they? My ankle and hip still hurt, or else I would wholeheartedly agree. 


Matchday arrived and I took a bus into the city at about 2 pm. I caught a bit of BDFA A-division football at the Bangalore Football Stadium – my old goalkeeping coach happened to be playing and he even saved a penalty. Then, I wandered off to Church Street and met my friend for our pre-match meal. With about two hours until the opening delivery, the city streets were cluttered with match-goers, adorning the Bharat blue.  


After a leisurely meal, catching up and discussing the prospects of the team, we headed to the stadium. Unaware of our gate’s location, we ended up taking the longer route around the perimeter. Making our way through the crowd, all while declining face paint, dodging roots of banyan trees, and taking care not to step into onrushing traffic in the adjacent road made it a lengthy trip. As we approached Gate 6, with an hour to start-time, we became privy to the horrifically long line that stretched some 200 meters down Cubbon Road. Joining the end of the queue, we prayed we would get in before the first ball was bowled. 


Waiting in the queue outside Gate 6, I had mixed feelings about this game: 

I was undoubtedly excited. I was going to attend my first India game (across sports), my first international cricket match, and just my second game at the Chinnaswamy. To my good fortune, star players Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were not rested as they had some bad form to shake-off. 


However, it was dead rubber (with India having taken the series 2 – 0 already), it was against Afghanistan (not the most decorated opponents), and it mostly featured India’s reserve team. Having read Soumya Bhattacharya's “You must like cricket?” not long ago, I felt a sudden nostalgia for cricket before my time. “I wish this was the India vs England Test,” I kept telling my friend, referring to the five-match test-series that recently concluded. He replied, “Who will watch test cricket?” 


Meanwhile, I overheard a conversation in front of us about upcoming international and IPL fixtures in the city. It ended with a tragic, also ironic, line: “who will watch international cricket?”  


As we inched closer to the entrance, ever-useful Cricinfo informed us that India had won the toss and chose to bat. My friend was pleased. He wanted to see fireworks from India; batting first meant India’s batsmen would not be curbed by a small target.  


As the 7 PM start time neared, we had not progressed very far; late comers were joining the line in opportunistic gaps. Soon, we heard a loud cheer from inside the ground, and minutes later we saw Rohit Sharma hit a boundary on our phones. Knowing my once favorite player, and considering he was out for duck in his past two games, I was worried he would be dismissed before we even got in. 


Before long, we forgot our values and rushed forward with a group of impatient fans, slyly merging into the line just outside the gate. When we finally found our seats – some forty rows behind the deep cover fielder (if there is one) - the first two overs had concluded.  


We had barely gotten seated when a Yashasvi Jaiswal holed out to mid-wicket. The sudden dismissal was accompanied by a fleeting silence, followed by a massive roar as the realization of Virat Kohli’s entrance swept through the crowd. As the decibels soared and Kohli’s walkout music blared on the speakers, the former Indian captain came strutting out of the pavilion. I was in disbelief. Despite myself, goosebumps engulfed my skin. 


India vs Afghanistan
Cannot miss those first few overs, even if you're stuck in the line outside.

As Kohli took the crease and prepared to face his first ball, the place quieted down in anticipation. I inwardly hoped for a long, successful knock so I could feel the delirium in the stands with every run of his.  

As fate had it, he skied that very first ball straight into the hands of Afghanistan skipper Ibrahim Zadran at mid-off. It was a devastating anti-climax. Inaudible gasps sucked the air out across the ground. It was as if everyone had taken an unexpected blow to the stomach. 


As the initial shock faded, the crowd saw the humor in the situation. We looked at our neighbors and exchanged wry smiles; all that build-up for this? Someone in front of us remarked light heartedly, “Now what do I do? I came to watch Virat.”  


Within no time, two more batsmen came and went. At the end of five overs, India were ailing at 22/4. Now, anger and frustration began seeping into the stands. If one more wicket fell, the tail would be exposed within the powerplay.  


While Rohit Sharma and Rinku Singh patiently consolidated the innings in the next few overs, I was amused to see people still entering our stand. It was a logistical disasterclass; many policemen were already inside the ground watching the match instead of opening another gate and frisking people in. It was only by the 8th over that everyone seemed settled in their seats. 

 

The batsmen were playing cautiously, rarely venturing for the ropes. But when they did, everyone jumped from their seats and performed little jigs to the Bollywood music that followed. I never quite understood or agreed with foreign cricket fans’ description of Indian cricket atmospheres – as “tamasha” - but now I did.  


I enjoyed the exaggerated, fanatical reaction to each delivery. It made the small things seem so much more wonderful. However, on occasion, music would be blasted over the speakers for no apparent reason in between two perfectly eventless balls. This vexed me intolerably. 


An aspect of the game I was able to appreciate from the stands was the speed of the bowling. The keepers were stationed just inside the 30-yard circle, in anticipation of the remarkable carry fast bowlers generated. Even the spinners appeared to deliver the ball at quite a pace.  


On the flip side, I gained respect for how precise batsmen had to be with their shot selection, timing and placement, to beat the fielders to the fence. One shot that particularly amazed me was Rohit Sharma’s sweep off Qais Ahmad, that dissected short fine leg and deep square leg for four. Watching cricket on television does not give you a perspective for such things. You are at the mercy of the commentator's adjudication. 

Once the ship was steadied, Rinku Singh and Rohit Sharma began to look for the fence. The much-needed shifting of gears began in the 12th over, when Sharma hit Sharaffudin for back-to-back sixes. The second of which was Sharma’s first successful attempt at the reverse sweep; a shot he lined up multiple times, sometimes precariously, in the innings so far.  


The next over, he hit another reverse – this time for 4 – to cross fifty. The run-rate, which was hovering under 6, jumped above 7.  

The next two overs were eventless – apart from height no ball that was not given (Rohit was annoyed and the crowd was incandescent). My friend was growing impatient. With assistance from the display on the big screen, he said “we need at least 180, but even at 8 an over we'll only get 152. They need to start hitting now”  

I rather naively thought 150 was defendable. How much can the Afghans hit? 


Suddenly, the attack turned from judicious to merciless. Each of the next five overs went for at least 10. 

In the moment, I hardly realized it. I was enjoying the onslaught, amongst a frenzied crowd. Each boundary was celebrated as its own event.  


I watched as Rohit Sharma launched one against the roof. It reminded me of Chris Gayle, who was notorious for denting the roof here. Then, Sharma sent one sailing in my direction. I stared – like a deer caught in headlights - as the white sphere traveled through the night sky. It landed ten rows in front of us.  


A quick glance at the scoreboard told me Rohit was on 82 (India was at 146 and there were sixteen balls left). I shook my friend and enlightened him. “It's possible," he agreed, “but I don’t think we’ll get to 200.” A father, sitting in front of us, overheard us and exclaimed, “what?! Rohit on 82?” It was that kind of an acceleration, and we were too absorbed in the heavy-hitting to take notice.  


The Indian skipper wasted no time in getting to triple figures. He brought it up with 6, 6, 4 in the very next over (he was on 89 going into it, in case you were counting). The last ball of the same, 19th over, saw Rinku Singh bring up his fifty with a six.  


The remainder of the innings was spent on our feet. The boundaries, followed by music and dancing, came in such frequent succession that no one bothered to sit. Even the timid dancers began to give pull out some moves.  


Just when we thought we had celebrated all the milestones, India reached 200. Karim Janat’s final over, which went for a no-ball assisted 36 runs, was responsible. 

When the innings was over, we finally had the time – not peace, as the music was still blaring – to make sense of what we had just witnessed. 


Rohit Sharma had hit his first T20 century in five years, his 5th T20I century overall (becoming the first player to do so) and finished on a personal best of 121*. Meanwhile, India posted 212.  

I was just happy to be there. 


India vs Afghanistan
In India, we love sixes, and on January 17th, we got a lot of them.

Many around us rushed off downstairs to buy food as soon as the final ball was hit. Though hungry, we did not bother. I had had enough of negotiating long, chaotic queues for one day. Instead, we took advantage of the freed-up space to stretch our legs and take pictures. 


Before long, the game restarted. Many of those who had set out for food had not returned. Did they come to watch cricket or overpay for well-contested food?  


Afghanistan did not start tumultuously like India. Instead, they set off at a steady pace, slowly chipping away at the mammoth target. The audience, half eating and half recovering from the extravagant celebrations a few minutes ago, were silent. The lack of a breakthrough from the Indian bowlers did not help the cause. Only the occasional compliments to the Afghan batters broke the hush. Far away in the stand to my left I saw an Afghanistan flag fluttering feverishly, probably for the first time since the flurry of wickets in the previous innings.  


Once the powerplay concluded, an Indian fielder was stationed in front of us in the outfield. This was met with cheerful, somewhat humorous applause, as the fans tried to entice a wave. Rinku Singh – much loved for his entertaining knock – must have waved some fifteen times over the course of the innings.  


Meanwhile, the Afghan openers were still batting industriously in the middle. After ten overs, they were going at 8.50 an over, keeping the more ambitious 12.80 asking rate within reach. Even though this was well above India’s worm, I was not too worried. Rohit and Rinku had played an anomalous innings, which I did not for a second think Afghanistan could replicate. “How much depth can they have?” I thought to myself. “Soon a wicket will fall, and they will crumble, let alone keep up the run-rate.” 


In the next over, Rahmanullah Gurbaz fell, but only after hitting a 32-ball fifty. Two overs after that, Washington Sundar removed two more, including the well-set Ibrahim Zadran. Afghanistan were now 108/3 and the required rate jumped above 15. 


But before we could indulge in more lavish celebrations, Gulbadin Naib smashed a four and two sixes off Avesh Khan. Then, Mohammad Naib welcomed Kuldeep Yadav back into the attack with consecutive sixes. The run-chase was on track again. 


While the Afghans motored on, the fielders in front of us kept changing. From Rinku it became Shivam Dube – who was reprimanded for not diving for a ball we thought he could have at least attempted. Then it was Rinku again – chants of ‘Rinku Rinku’ got more waves out of him. Substitute Arshdeep Singh came over to give refreshments at irregular intervals, which provided more opportunities to collect waves.  


Upon seeing other stands enjoy the presence of Virat Kohli in front of them, someone got up and yelled ‘Kohli ko I’d idhar bhejo.’ This remark was met with laughter and rapturous applause. It was a brief escape from the growing anxiety stemming from the field of play. 


Seeing the lack of energy from the crowd, the PA announcer tried to incite us by initiating a chant - “wicket beku, wicket beku.” We repeated half-willingly. I felt sorry for the bowlers: they had to battle hard-hitting batsmen with no assistance from Bangalore’s eternally flat pitch, and no appreciation from India's reactive cricket fans.  


Nevertheless, Sundar got Nabi in the 17th over – his third wicket - and the tide shifted again. The newcomer Karim Janat launched one towards the long-on boundary, but Kohli, jumping and at full stretch, caught the ball with one hand and knocked it back into play. With the batsmen only taking a single, Kohli had saved five runs (that’s one way to contribute runs, especially when scoring none yourself). But seriously, it was a stunning moment. Time seemed to stand still as he lined up at the edge of the boundary and timed his jump, all while we were tensely following the ball to see if it would clear him. Now I understood why that uncle wanted Kohli to stand in front of us. 


More wickets fell, but Gulbadin kept the scoreboard ticking. 46 from 18 became 36 from 12. 36 from 12 became 19 from 6. I wondered whether I was about to watch Afghanistan's first ever victory over India. 


Mukesh Kumar charged in to bowl the final over. After five balls, which included two wides, a four and a six, Afghanistan needed 3 off the last ball. Given Gulbadin’s innings so far, a boundary seemed imminent. Despite the attempts of a few to get the crowd seated, everyone stayed on their feet. Children were standing on seats, to get a glimpse of the action over towering adult heads. The father in front of us was excitedly telling his two boys that a super over may be on the cards here. 


Mukesh Kumar bowled a wide yorker and Gulbadin countered with a slice away to deep cover. Rinku Singh’s throw was nowhere near the stumps, which allowed the batsmen to scamper back for two. A large portion of the crowd – who were rooting for a super over – went crazy. The rest were subdued by amazement. Once the thrill of the moment subsided, I excitedly turned to my friend. “What a game we are witnessing. It’s a good thing we came.” 


It was a fitting outcome, given the efforts of both teams’ batsmen. They deserved an extra round to prove who was better. I was slightly worried about the journey back home, which would get tricky further into the night, but watching a super over was going to be worth it.  


After what felt like a very long wait, characterized by excited chatter around us, the players came back out into the middle. Gulbadin lined up to face Mukesh Kumar; Gurbaz was at the other end. Helped by a four, a six, and three byes off the last ball – two of which were taken after the wicketkeeper’s throw deflected off the runner’s leg – the Afghans posted 16. Kohli and Sharma expressed their discontent at the unsportsmanlike bye running, but Nabi – who replaced Gulbadin, following his run-out off the first ball - defended his case.  


For India’s response, the openers Sharma and Jaiswal took the crease opposite Omarzai. Sharma missed the first ball and the batsmen scrambled across for a bye. Had Gurbaz not missed his diving run-out attempt from behind the stumps, Jaiswal would have been dismissed and the run would not have counted. Two singles and a pair of sixes off Rohit’s bat set up a 2 off 1 situation. The skipper, in a strategic move that I did not clock at the time, retired himself to the dugout for the last ball. The quicker Rinku Singh took his place at the non-striker's end.  


Jaiswal swung for the fences off that last ball, but an outside edge – well blocked by the wicketkeeper – only enabled a quick single. To the amusement of the crowd, and even the players, we were headed for a second super over, for the first time in T20I history. 


Beside me, the father and two sons celebrated even more wildly for the extra overs. Although sharing some of the excitement of those around me, I was really worried I would not be able to find anything short of an overpriced Uber (if that) back home. But to the credit of the Bangalore-crowd, no one, as far as I could see, left the game early. 


Rohit, who seemed to be ever-present at this point, walked out to bat again, this time with Rinku Singh. It was reaching that unexplored territory in the game, where the rules got funky. Somehow, Rohit had been allowed to bat again despite having retired his innings in the previous super over. 


Nevertheless, India utilized only five balls, with wickets in the fourth and fifth balls cutting the innings short (the players must have been eager to head home too). The target, set at 13, did not offer us much hope. 


However, the Afghans seemed even more inclined to conclude the everlasting game. The visitors lost their two wickets within three balls, after Nabi and Gurbaz found Rinku Singh at long-off. Rohit Shamra’s decision to entrust Ravi Bishnoi, a spinner, had paid off. 


India vs Afghanistan
That double-super-over-drama-feeling epitomized by this India supporter seated in front of me.

The final catch was met with jumping, yelling, dancing, and hugging in the stands, before everyone rushed out to find their respective paths home. My friend booked an Uber and departed immediately, while I almost resigned to taking an expensive auto home. However, the rikshaw driver charged Rs. 800, compared to my offer of Rs. 500, and I declined hoping I could get a better deal elsewhere. I walked up Cubbon Road, to the intersection with Queens Road, and saw buses going to various destinations turning the corner to pick up match-goers. I boarded one that would drop me off a few hundred meters from home, for just Rs. 40. Needless to say, I was proud of my intuition. 


Watching the slumbering city pass by, I tried to make sense of what I had just experienced. The Chinnaswamy simply does not fail to deliver. And this time, I was there when history was made.  


 

 



 

 

 

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2 Comments


Rama Dnce
Rama Dnce
Mar 26

Well articulated Sriram!!

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Priya Padmanabhan
Priya Padmanabhan
Mar 25

Nicely written... the key moments are well captured.

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