Stand on the eastern grass banks of the Pallekele stadium and close your eyes, it feels like a full house. The decibel levels rise as the bowler runs in, with cheers accompanying each boundary or a dropped catch. India are quite used to this in a cricket match. Only, this time it was not for them.
Pallekele is a quaint town about ten kilometres away from Kandy. The roads leading to the cricket stadium are two-way and winding, which restricts the speed you can drive at. Travel is not the easiest and as a result, the queues for security checks aren’t serpentine for the men’s Asia Cup.
Add to that forecast for rain, the prospect of India playing in the vicinity, and Nepal squaring off against them for the first time in international cricket, was not enticing enough for the fans in Kandy on a Monday afternoon. But a contingent of around 200 fans clad in Nepal’s jersey had walked in and took their spots in different stands. And their presence was unmissable once the action began.
A group of about 75 Nepal fans square on the leg side from the broadcast end were creating the atmosphere and revelling in it. In the sixth over of the match, opener Kushal Bhurtel played a straight punch to split mid-off and mid-on. The fans ran to their right, in the direction the ball had been hit. The next ball was pulled way over long leg. The direction didn’t matter; the fans yet again had their running shoes on.
A 45-year-old in the group matched an 11-year-old for energy. All of them in the contingent were from Kathmandu. The cricket match was a stop in the week-long educational tour of Sri Lanka organised by Rajarshi Gurukul.
“We have a yearly trip and this time we are in Sri Lanka,” Rajeem Dhungel, an economics teacher who was managing the kids, said. “The most exciting thing for us is the historic match between Nepal and India.”
The songs Raato ra chandra surya – by Nepal’s one of the greatest bands Nepathya – and Kutu Ma Kutu – the fastest Nepali song to 20 million YouTube views – proved to be perfect for the group to groove to. The cherry on top was Nepal had raced away to a rollicking start: 53 for 0 in nine overs.
Even the subsequent wickets, and rain, did not dampen the spirits of the fans. And they were given reason to cheer their throats out when Aasif Sheikh completed his half-century and then when Sompal Kami hit a 56-ball 48 to delay the end of the innings. It was as if the players gave every fan more reasons to cheer for them.
The stands largely wore a deserted look. If not for the Nepal fans, an India game would have had an unusually quiet look to it. Not always are India fans outnumbered. And not always is an India win just a footnote.