The IPL Season 13 is back after braving pandemic propelled cancellation fears. The fans tell SHALINI SAKSENA that while watching the match at home is not a patch on populating the stands in the stadiums, the love for cricket is keeping them glued to their TV screens
The Virat Gang star
Favourite IPL team: Royal Challengers Bangalore
His love for the game began when he was in Class III. From there on there was no turning back. While he played cricket at district level, he didn’t pursue it further because his parents wanted him to have a proper job that was steady. Meet Prathamesh Avachare, the co-founder of the ViratGang fan community that has seven lakh followers since its inception in 2012.
“I was a good player and maybe managed to play at the State level as well. But destiny had other things in mind. I was always good with numbers and computers hence, did my computer engineering and today I have my own digital marketing agency in Nashik. What keeps me going is the ViratGang — a fan club that a friend, Dileep MK, and I started back in 2012. It was a chance meeting that led me to Dileep. When I was 17, I had won a competition run by Cinthol to challenge Virat Kohli to an unusual game. I was among the top five winners. I had played with Kohli using a baseball bat; neither won. We were tied. It was fun. He is such a good player. I love the way he plays. I came to Delhi and came to know of Dileep. We instantly connected and kept in touch,” the 25-year-old tells you.
Both Avachare and MK are Kohli fans and wanted to do something. Hence, ViratGang was born. The community holds events where fans congregate. If possible, the present Team India captain makes and appearance. One is told that theirs is the only fan club that Kohli follows on Twitter.
“It is not possible for Virat Kohli to be there at each and every event that we organise but he does make an appearance when possible. We are always in touch with him over Twitter. There is very little that we don’t know about the man and the game that he plays. Even during the lockdown, we posted things that Virat Kohli said to keep the morale of the people high and ensure their mental wellbeing. While there was nothing much related to the game, it was important that we were in touch with the community,” Avachare tells you.
While it is not always possible for him to be present for each and every match that India plays, he is there for all the matches that are played in the country and the important ones.
“I was there in England last year for the World Cup. I travel as much as I can and follow the team. It is easier to do so when they are playing domestic cricket. It is a bit of an expensive hobby but the pleasure that I derive from watching Kohli play in the stadium has a charm that can’t be replaced,” Avachare tells you.
The lockdown pushed forward some of the plans that the club had planned but things are moving now, he tells you and soon they will be out with merchandise on Virat Kohli. He tells you that since the IPL started, they have a parallel fan club for the RCB team where they just don’t go ga-ga over Kohli but the entire team. “We have the RCB Bold Brigade called The Red Army. This means that when the team won their first match the other day, we were thrilled. It goes without saying that they are my favourites. Here we follow all the players in the team and even have merchandise to offer to the fans like T-shirts, key chain and wrist bands,” Avachare says.
All this requires a lot of work and planning, he tells you and therefore Dileep and he make a calendar of events that they need to follow everyday. “It is not as if we can afford to have a blank day on Twitter. We have to update everyday and let the fans know what is happening. If it is not about the game, it is about the events that we are set to organise,” Avachare says.
He tells you that while he has followed every game that Team India has played since 2005, when Sachin Tendulkar was in the team he hasn’t seen any reruns of games played before that.
“I started following cricket seriously in 2005. Don’t know much about the match played before. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know who the top players of that time were or what their records were. It is just easier to follow the game as one is growing up and keep tabs on your favourite player,” Avachare says.
Four generation of cricket love
Professor Ashish Thakkar
Favourite IPL team: Mumbai Indians
He is a Chartered Accountant by profession and takes tutorials. Numbers is his love but what keeps the family together is their love for cricket. His childhood dream was to play cricket or become an umpire. But unfortunately, the love for food meant that he couldn’t maintain the well of fitness that was required to play international level. Meet Ashish Thakkar.
“We are a Gujarati family and our inherent love for numbers is in me as well. However, my grandfather, father, me and now my daughter are such avid fans of the game that it was impossible to stay away from it. While I did not end up being an umpire or a cricket analyst, I am happy that I can still be part of the game even as a spectator,” Thakkar tells you.
Ashish’s love for the game comes from his family. He tells you that his great grandfather had some interest which was passed on to his grandfather who then introduced his son and later Ashish to the game.
“I still remember it was in November 1986 that I saw my first game at Wankhede Stadium. It was a match that my father took me to; it was just a practice match between England and Bombay. I fell in love with the atmosphere. It was in Class IX when I started regularly going for all the international games that were played in the city. I am not a fan of any player, it would be difficult to name one. I am a fan of the game. As long as the game is played in the spirit of the sport, it doesn’t matter who wins,” Ashish says.
While his great grandfather, grandfather and father grew up listening to the commentary for away games. For other games, they would end up watching at Brabourne Stadium. He started watching the game on the Black and White TV and then Wankhede Stadium.
His father, Surya Kanth Thakkar tells you that his memory of the game dates back to the radio days. Like his son, he is the fan of the game. “When I was introduced to the game, I was told to love the game and no side with a team. I taught the same thing to my son and now granddaughter,” the 71-year-old tells you and says that during his time, his favourite player was Andy Roberts. He used to regale Ashish with stories about the cricketer.
“I am will be honest here. I am a traditionalist and love Test Matches, then ODIs and then comes T20 format. There have been instances when I have sat alone to just watch a Test Match. My daughter on the other hand prefers the T20,” Ashish tells you.
His 12-year-daughter, Ishti is no less. While she may not be a fan of the Test Match, her love for the T20-format keeps her glued and interested in the game. When I first saw the T20 game, I fell in love with the players who would hit fours and sixes. My problem with the IPL is that since all of them have Indian players, it has become difficult for me to choose a team. But since I live in Mumbai, I support Mumbai Indians and its Captain Rohit Sharma. The way he captains his team is great,” Ishti says. For her, the best part of cricket is the sportsmanship that the game inculcates. And while there are boys in her class who are fans of the game, she did manage to convince some of her girlfriends who are now fans of the game.
He and his family have no problems that the game had to be held outside. While he would have preferred it to be held in India, what he loves is that the league is being held at least even though there is no crowd to cheer the players on the field.
While Ashish’s dream to umpire at the international level never materisled, he has umpired for the local community games. “I was perhaps the only 16-year-old who was umpiring games for 25 year olds back when I was in school. I have no regrets that I was not able to umpire. I am happy I can watch the game with all the changes that have been introduced over the years including the introduction of the third umpire. If technology can eliminate human error, why not? There have been matches in the past that a team has lost due to a wrong decision by the umpire. It is good to improve the game and introduce new rules,” Ashish says.
At 81, she won’t miss a ball in cricket
Favourite IPL team: Chennai Super Kings
One would have thought that a person who has seen the era when following live cricket match via radio commentary, the IPL matches with its 20 over game would not hold much interest. However, those who love the sport for the game and the sportsmanship that it brings on the field would tell you that whether it is T20, or ODIs or even IPL, it is not the format that keeps them glued to their seats but the game itself. One such person is Sharadambal Viswewaram from Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The 81-year-old who today spends her time reading magazines, watching movies and spending time with her grandchildren is an avid follower of the game.
“The format doesn't matter. I just love the game. It was not as if I always followed the game. Yes, there were fun-filled days during the winter season back in the 70s when we used to sit around and follow the game via radio commentary,” Viswewaram recalls.
Her interest in the game started when Kapil Dev started playing for Team India. “I really liked Kapil Dev and the way he used to play. That’s where my interest for cricket started. Back then there were only two formats — Test Matches and ODIs of 60 overs that each team played. Back then it was strange to watch a match that would be over in a day. But it was fun too. I am sure the 1983 World Cup is etched in every Indian’s memory, at least those who were old enough to remember. We would have never lifted the Cup had it not been for Kapil Dev’s 175-not out against Zimbabwe. It is sad that there is no record of that game. One can only imagine how explosive his game would have been. Once he got going, there was no stopping him. Such a great player,” Viswewaram tells you who has never seen a match in the stadium. And recounts the glorious days of commentary over the radio.
“There was a charm to that. The commentary was such that one felt one was right there, sitting in the front row watching the game. But it was not always possible to follow the game all the time. Household chores took a lot of my time. But for cricket fans, commentary was everything and still is given that, at least for me, there is no such thing as too much cricket,” she says who has an ongoing banter with her son-in-law over the phone during IPL season. He is a Mumbai Indian fan and she is CSK.
But it was not as if she understood the league from day one. “My son-in-law, who is a fan, explained the league to me. It got me interested in the CSK team. I like MS Dhoni; he is so calm on the field. He is second to Kapil Dev,” Viswewaram says.
She loves the energy that IPL brings to the ground. It is great to see how the game brings families together. People want to have family time and what better way than sports — cheering for your team. Even though IPL had to shift out, the good part is that it is back, no if or buts,” Viswewaram says.