Sunday, September 24

That electric feeling: The Gujarat Titans are finally home

It’s not a good time to carry a mobile phone if you happen to be anybody doing anything with the Gujarat Cricket Association. Ever since the Gujarat Titans sealed their place in the final on Tuesday, there is a mad demand for tickets for Sunday’s Indian Premier League final. Everyone associated with the sport — coaches, administrators, GCA staff have become the most sought-after people in town. Their phones have simply not stopped ringing.

Unaware that the local association has no control over the ticketing process, being a BCCI-IPL event, the cricket people have been flooded with requests to use their influence to help get a couple of seats in the 1,25,000-seater Narendra Modi International Stadium. “Tickets are sold out but the phone is not stopping, it keeps ringing till late night. I am telling them this is an IPL thing, we can’t do anything,” says Hitesh Majmudar, a former Gujarat Ranji player, who is the secretary of Indian Cricketers Associations and oversees GCA’s junior cricket.

You don’t have to be a senior member of the GCA, even the coaches are expected to help find a ticket. Gujarat Under-16 coach head coach Hem Joshipura isn’t being spared either. “I am getting a lot of calls but we can’t help. The tickets are only online, not off line. They believe that since we are involved with GCA we have easy access to it, but we don’t,” says Joshipura, who played first-class cricket for Gujarat.

Mumbai Indians have a massive following in Gujarat. But, Gujarat Titans’ dramatic entry in the IPL, full of thrilling run chases and dominant displays, has made everyone sit up and take notice. It has helped establish an instant connect. Can there a more dramatic entry? Your debut game at home is the final of the tournament; of one of the most high-profile events in world cricket – the IPL?

Before the tournament, the Titans had assembled in Ahmedabad for a short camp. With the league games being held in Mumbai and the first two play-off games in Kolkata, they haven’t really had the opportunity to soak in the joy of a home game.

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Returning to Ahmedabad, Gujarat Titans’ Director of Cricket Vikram Solanki could feel the buzz around his team, the chord they had been able to strike with the fans. “Fans are very important for any team, they are very important to us, we hadn’t had the opportunity to play in front of our home fans, we are relishing the opportunity to play in Ahmedabad. And we couldn’t have written a better script, the first game we play (at home) is the IPL final. At the outset we had made comments around wanting the Gujarat Titans fans to feel proud of their team, I hope in some small way they have been able to feel proud of their team,” says Solanki.

Ahmedabad is their home base but even fans from neighbouring districts are desperately trying to find a seat in the stadium to be there to see IPL history being created.

Manish Desai, president of the Kheda District Cricket Association at Nadiad, Axar Patel’s home town, a two-hour drive from Ahmedabad, is at his wits end trying to convince local cricket fans that the district bodies can’t help. “I feel that even if the capacity would have been two lakh and fifty thousand, it would have also got packed such is the demand for tickets. People are after me for tickets. But tickets are only available online. It’s not that you will get on the counter. People are not aware of it. Those who don’t get it, they get after you. I think, they have closed the GCA office in the city. Looks like full staff will sit in the stadium, because when I called (on Tuesday) it was closed. They said: “we are at the stadium, office is closed,” said Desai.

On the website, the tickets for the final range from R800, 1500, 2000, 2500, 3500, 4500, 7500 to 14500. An official informed that then there is the hospitality box tickets which are for R65,000 per person.

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“I will tell you GT didn’t have a huge following in Gujarat, Mumbai Indians ka hi jyada tha starting point mein (at the start of the IPL people mainly followed MI here), but as they went on winning, it’s become solid now. After their last match, whoever I am meeting, the first question they are asking: “aap ne match dekha tha? (did you watch Titans’ match).”

For Desai, better known as Bhopi bhai in local cricket circles, the Titans’ started to establish the connect with their dramatic last-over chases. “Before the tournament nobody was expecting both the new teams to do well. I think the crucial games that they won were the turning point.”

Former India stumper and chairman of selectors Kiran More, who hails from Baroda, said: “For me this is a big achievement for the Titans, to be playing their first match on home ground as the final of the IPL. They are going to pull in a huge crowd and that will be a huge advantage for them. Their followers will grow in big numbers, which is going to help them immensely. It is definitely one of the best stadiums in the world. It is a big occasion for Gujarat Lions.”

“I think it is great for cricket, you have two new teams come in and do well. And it was not easy because this year the auction was delayed because of pandemic, there were hardly any days to come together and prepare. It has been terrific from the Gujarat franchise.”

Buying a team in the IPL at a huge cost is one thing, but establishing a connect is an entirely different challenge. Most teams take at least three to four years to establish that. From what Majmudar has experienced in the IPL, he is most impressed by Chennai Super Kings’ passionate fan base and the atmosphere they create on match days. Because of the Cinderalla story that they have created, he is expecting a similar experience will greet Titans at the grand Motera Stadium on Sunday.

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“When you went to see CSK’s match, the magic is there to see. The whole stadium looks yellow. That is the type of fan following they are having. When it comes to Titans, they are playing the final at home, now this time you will see a sea of blue. It will be electrifying.”

So far, even in this edition, the biggest draw cards were Virat Kohli, M S Dhoni and Rohit Sharma. But, the coaches in Gujarat are now seeing that youngsters are also looking up the likes of David Miller and Rahul Tewatia. Under-16 coach Joshipura says: “Hardik Pandya has become immensely popular. He is now seen as a captain. But, also Miller and Tewatia have performed so well that now players have started to believe that a small role is very important in T20 cricket. Every time it is not necessary that you score 70-80 runs then only you contribute to the team. A quickfire 8-10 ball innings can change the course of the game or finish the game. That is the value addition they look for. They also want to emulate it, now batters say, ‘I will go for only two overs, it will be a match-winning knock’.”

As for Solanki, cricket comes first and he is being careful not to get carried away by the hype. “I couldn’t agree more (that it’s a fairytale story), (but) let’s take two things separately. One to get to an IPL final is quite brilliant, we are all very much excited about the game, we are all looking forward to the event. That said, it is a cricket match, we are focused on our preparation for our cricket match, we are trying not to make it bigger than it actually is. The significance of the match is not lost on us either.”

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