Samarnath Soory
23 Sep 2022 | 07:51 PM

Nagpur relishes 92 balls of cricketing ecstasy after a three-year wait

International cricket returned to one of Maharashtra's big venues and the local crowd couldn't be happier

Rohit Sharma was struggling for words when he was asked about the team’s plans at the delayed toss.

"We really don't know what to expect from an 8-over game. We just had a team huddle and we want go express ourselves."

It was clear from the Indian captain's words that his side was duty-bound to give the Nagpur crowd something to cheer for. There were no empty seats in the stadium and the deafening roar at the coin toss had the joy of thousands waiting to see their idols after a gap of three long years. 

Rohit was the captain of the Indian side when they last played at the ground in November, 2019 - against Bangladesh. India won by 30 runs. Deepak Chahar recorded his career-best figures in that game claiming six wickets for just seven runs.

There was an equal amount of urgency from the ground staff who pulled out all stops - saw dust, a hot iron, a hair dryer - to get the pitch and ground ready for the match.

They got their money's worth in the first hour. The ball was finding its way to wherever Virat Kohli was present. He had previously amazed the Nagpur crowd with two ODI hundreds against Australia, including a 116 in the last fixture at the venue. 

He started out by dropping Cameron Green but then ran him out two balls later. Then there was Rohit hitting Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Adam Zampa deep into the stands.

The damp weather had a lot to do with the crackling atmosphere. Had it been a typical late-September day in Vidarbha, where the dry hot wind of the morning would become dry evening cold air, the energy could've been different. Apathy or delirium, the Nagpur public have always displayed it collectively. During the IPL 2010 match between Deccan Chargers and Chennai Super Kings, the stadium DJ tried in vain to raise the noise and was told off when he pleaded for a Mexican wave.

"Itni garmi mein bhai sahab ko Mexican wave chahiye. Indian silence chalega?" was the reply, as ESPNCricinfo's reporter noted at that time. (Sir wants a Mexican wave in this heat. How about some Indian Silence?) 

A rain-shortened shortest format of the game meant a lot of wickets, improvisation and a bag full of unpredictability. 

Aaron Finch went for a cheeky ramp shot off the second ball of the match and tried a switch hit – a shot that no one would associate with the Australian captain. The stumps lit up thrice, twice to Axar Patel's skidding deliveries and a toe crusher from Jasprit Bumrah.

India had two of their own when KL Rahul and Kohli threw the kitchen sink at Adam Zampa and missed. But there was enough calm on their side that proved to be the difference. 

Matthew Wade (43 not out off 20 balls) went for textbook drives on the off-side and found tiny gaps every time there was width. Anything fractionally short found its way to the ropes on the leg-side.

Rohit (45 not out off 20 balls) doing something similar and pulling India to a series-levelling win was just what the cricket-starved city needed. It can be a frustrating night for cricket’s number gurus to dig into a match that had all but 92 balls, but it had a leading thread to follow. 

Harshal Patel’s struggle with his most potent weapons will worry India. His slow balls that were short of the length were punished and conceding 20-plus in a single over for the second match in a row will need some looking.  

The series caravan will now move to Hyderabad for the decider, where fans have been similarly deprived of international stars. An extended shift for all those involved is not expected given the dry conditions prevailing across the Deccan plateau, but there are plenty of tense moments in store.

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