With a new Rohit chant, North Stand Gang of Wankhede braces itself for the series opener
The North remembers Sachin’s 96 WC stumping and holds the Wankhede door to tell visiting Aussies, ‘Not Today’
Oh! that’s out. He’s got him. Yes, he’s got him stumped. In fact, wide signaled. That’s the end of what has been a magnificent effort.
As Tony Greig uttered these words in his usually excited voice in the commentary box on 27th February 1996, a silence descended on the Wankhede for a few seconds before the ground reverberated with the sound of applause. Walking towards the pavilion was Sachin Tendulkar after scoring a 90 whose beauty can’t be captured through even the loftiest of adjectives. Wankhede, however, could sense what was coming – yet another collapse and a defeat that seemed a world away when the little master was on crease.
The result of that match notwithstanding, Abhishek Chopra of the North Stand Gang remembers that as the best India-Australia encounter in ODIs. A Sachin special at the Wankhede, of course, weighs on the Mumbaikar’s opinion.While the jury is still out on whether it was the best encounter between the two teams or not, one thing is for sure that had NSG (as they like to call themselves) been there, they would have surely added to the noise and cheered on for team India till the final ball.
That’s what they do.
And that’s what the bunch of 50-60 lovers of the game, who call themselves ‘the gang’ promise to do when India meets Australia on Tuesday from their seats in the North Stand of thestadium.“Since there are going to be about 30 of us there at the match because of it being a weekday, doing something elaborate would be difficult. But since it’s an ODI and there are going to be middle overs where the action generally gets a little dull, we will try to make a lot of noise with our chants to keep the energy going,” says Abhishek.
A group of cricket lovers from Mumbai who in 2009 came together under the name of the place where they enjoyed watching their cricket the most is slowly gaining credence as India’s noisiest group of fans. Having gained popularity among cricket lovers through their informative tweets on the game on social media, they recently caught captain Virat Kohli’s eye in the T20I against West Indies.
Abhishek recalls, “One of Shivam Dube’s overs went for a few runs. But we kept on cheering for him from the stands. Soon, Kohli, who was standing in the slips got wind of it and got involved with us in cheering and encouraged us to cheer more for Dube. Then, at one point when we started chanting his name, he signaled to us to chant ‘India, India’ instead. Later, he even asked Shami to acknowledge us when we were cheering for him.” He adds, “As a fan group, we live for moments like these and hope to recreate the magic in the India-Australia game as well.”
Although It would be the first time that the two teams play each other at the stadium minus Sachin, the NSG will ensure that the Little Master isn’t missed. “Whatever be the match, we will make sure that the ‘Sachin, Sachin’ chant happens at least three-four times in the game. Even in the Karnataka versus Mumbai Ranji Trophy match a couple of weeks ago, we suddenly broke into the Sachin chant.” Irrespective of who the favorite cricketer is of the NSG members, admiration for Sachin connects this enthusiastic bunch of Mumbaikar who come from different walks of life.
Such is the love for Sachin that one of the Gang members, Ajinkya, convinced his family members and in-laws to change the date of his marriage which coincided with the batsman’s final Test at Wankhede in 2013.
Although ahead of the India-Australia tie, there was no shifting of marriage plans happening, the members of NSG were busy preparing for the big day. Abhishek informs, “Since the tickets are delivered in hard copies and all of us live in different parts of Mumbai, matchday minus one is about making sure everyone has their tickets.So a lot of phone calls are being made the entire day. Apart from that, we are also busy making chants for tomorrow’s match.”
Chants are the life-breath of any group of supporters cheering for their team from the stands. And mind you, they have their impact on the game too. Ask Mitchell Johnson. The left-arm pacer who breathed fire in 2013 Ashes on Australian pitches was given a hard time by England’s Barmy Army four years ago in 2009. Every time he came on to bowl, they’d go“He bowls to the left, He bowls to the right, That Mitchell Johnson, His bowling is shite!”
The good folks from NSG aren’t planning chants to get under the skin of Johnson’s teammates on Tuesday. But they do have chants prepared for one of their own. “A few folks out of us are quite creative in general. Plus, sometimes we give an Indian twist to famous existing chants. So, EPL’s ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ becomes ‘Kohli, Kohli, Kohli’. Similarly, a chant for local boy Rohit Sharma has been prepared this time that has elements from Marathi cinema, which is followed passionately by some in the group.”
The group unveiled the chant on their Twitter account on Sunday in an elaborate video. The highly addictive nature of the chant would easily make Indian fans wish that the ‘Hitman’ unleashes one of those big hundreds on the Australians at the ground where he has lifted multiple IPL titles as Mumbai Indians captain.
Post the 1996 World Cup encounter, the two sides faced off twice at the venue where India lifted the World Cup in 2011. In 2003, in the fourth encounter of the TVS Cup tri-series, the match followed a similar script where Australia posted a challenging total batting first courtesy a century from Damien Martyn. In reply, Sachin and Dravid kept India in the hunt till the halfway mark before the former’s dismissal sparked a collapse to hand the visitors a 77-run victory.
A favorable result finally came India’s way in 2007 when, after taking six wickets with the ball, left-arm spinner Murali Kartik stitched an unbeaten 52 run partnership with Zaheer Khan to take India home by two wickets. That, however, was the final ODI of a seven-match bilateral series that India had already surrendered. The series-opener on Tuesday presents India with a chance to equalize against the Aussies at the Wankhede.
When asked to predict the match result, Abhishek reveals that members of NSG prefer to refrain from wearing the expert’s hat. The Mumbaikar says, “We have consciously taken that decision since our love for the Indian team overcomes all the analysis eventually.” He adds“But it’s definitely going to be a super tough contest between the two sides, considering how well Australia played the last time they were here in 2019. Given how a lot of Australian cricketers have a good knowledge of Indian conditions thanks to their stints at the IPL, the only home advantage that team India has is the presence of their fans.”
Like most, the NSG also hopes for a cracker of a contest between the two sides. “A close contest is what we are looking forward to. As the match goes down the wire, there won’t be much of a need to work up the crowd and get them to do the Mexican waves, the chants, and the cheers. Everyone just gets into it.”
With two teams so equally matched, a close contest is definitely on. Leave it to the Wankhede and the NSG to provide the perfect background music to the affair.