Chepauk

Madras is not Bombay; or North India.

The several non-Madras people and their new found love for Chepauk reminds me of the idiot yuppies who discovered Rajini. A popular quip — from Harsha Bhogle to Gaurav Sabnis, whatever that gamut means, is — Chepauk is and has always meant a sporting wicket in an Indian sense. Quick turn, true bounce and a quick outfield. The sad thing about Madras is, its original residents are now in the Bay Areaand no longer care enough to save their beloved Chepauk from marauding North Indians. The non-brahmins from Southern Tamil Nadu who now live in places vacated by those who once visited Chepauk, have long looked at Cricket as a yardstick for proving their own sophistication.

Asal Madras people, such as this woman’s family, will tell you what Chepauk was in the 70s. Fast and furious. Not sporting — just fast and bouncy. They will also offer their own theories on drift and swing after 2 PM when the sea breeze set in; apart from admonishing the concrete structures that have taken away that balancing aspect between the bat and ball. If you do not believe the people who watched all the games, you could ask a certain Bob Willis who still swears by the Chepauk pitch. He rated it to be quicker than Perth or Jamaica — and having bowled at all three venues, maybe he knows better.

Starting from the 70s is a good cut-off, since Test Cricket in Madras returned to Chepauk from the Corporation ground in the 60s. Consider average runs for a wicket over each decade: in the 70s it was 22.8, in the 80s it was 42.2, in the 90s it was 33.8 and so far in this century it has been about 35.5. Since the 90s, people around the world have been complaining how the game has become increasingly one sided in favor of the batsmen even in Test cricket — flatter pitches, better bats, more protection equipment and favorable rules. The progressive increase in average in the last two decades, even if by only two runs per wicket, can be attributed to that. However, the startling increase in the average runs scored per wicket by a factor of two in the 80s, compared to the 70s, is something all the recent converts seem to either ignore or be ignorant of.

The famous tied Test, which seems to be quoted often, was famous only becauseGreg Matthews was called Kirukku Mathews; he even picked up the man of the match award for being a crowd favorite. That was actually a boring Test match dominated by the Aussies for four days and made interesting by a brave/complacent declaration. The other enduring memory of the 80s Chepauk is a young Sivaramakrishnan being swept by Fowler and Gatting for 652.

Then came the most disgraceful part of India’s Test history: the Wadekar, Azhar & Kumble combine. Which basically destroyed pitches across the nation. Rajesh Chauhan and Ashish Kapoor played for India. QED.

Thankfully, destroying an already destroyed pitch had some strange result. The once fast and furious Chepauk, made flat in the 80s, got to the stage we are at. Resulting in bounce and quick turn, as opposed to rest of India — where the turn is slow and hence easy to negotiate. Lack of preparation this time, caused by bad weather leading up to the Test, showed us how we still are in the 80s before the digging up operation prior to each Test. Poignantly, Anil Kumble is now the captain.

Now, if you are claiming Chepauk to be a sporting pitch, please tell me — what is it that you actually mean.

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