Cricket returned to India for the first time in over a year with the 'Men in Blue' hosting England for the first Test in Chennai on February 5. But things weren't quite all the same, with COVID-19 protocols requiring the match to be played behind closed doors at the iconic MA Chidambaram Stadium.
However, Saturday was special for fans in Chennai, with crowds allowed to visit the stadium at a reduced capacity. And S Sriram, a die-hard Rohit Sharma fan, couldn't be happier.
He always had his loyalties divided during the Indian Premier League (IPL), where Rohit captains rivals Mumbai Indian against his favourite Chennai Super Kings, but those boundaries were removed on Saturday with the 'Hitman' donning the whites of test cricket for the first time.
Sriram was elated when he saw his hero play his trademark pull-shot Ben Stokes with authority. "I am so happy to watch Rohit playing in whites in Chennai. He is such a lovely player to watch. Fans cheering 'Rohit, Rohit' gives me the goose bumps. Cricket without spectators was not such a great idea but the pandemic forced it," he told PTI with palpable excitement.
"I waited for a whole day to get my (online) ticket redeemed but that does not matter as I am inside the stadium now watching the Test," he added.
Cricket fans in Chennai are among the most knowledgeable in the country. They know the game well and always appreciate good cricket, even if it is from the opposition team. In 1999, Wasim Akram and Pakistan received a standing ovation here after beating India in a thriller.
49-year-old Test cricket fan R Venkatraman has watched all matches played at the venue since the India-West Indies game in 1988. "I am a big fan of Test cricket and have been coming to the Chepauk for all matches since 1987 and just enjoy the experience. The situation now is different and the pandemic has changed life to a great extent," he said.
"It is good that sporting events have resumed and the best part is that crowds are allowed. But it is important that people obey the safety rules like wearing masks and frequent sanitising," he added.
Authorities have allowed a 50% capacity crowd for the second Test, with spectators lining up outside the stadium from as early as 8 am. For the first time in a decade, the 'I', 'J' and 'K' stands were opened to fans.
"It is good that the BCCI and TNCA took a decision to allow spectators (50 per cent) for the second Test. The fans need to be responsible and follow the safety protocols because a small indiscretion can undo all the good work," S Prabhu, a techie and another avid fan said.
"It is good that the 'I', 'J' and 'K' stands have been reopened for fans and nice to see people sitting in the three (stands). Their closure due to some issue with the local authorities deprived M A Chidambaram stadium the opportunity of hosting several matches including the 2016 T20 World Cup. Now that they are open again, we can see a full stadium for the IPL hopefully," he added.
Meanwhile, Syed Mustafa, while cheering on his heroes, stated it might be tough for fans to follow all protocols. "It's an unbelievable feeling. Just to come out and enjoy the experience. If India wins, then its like icing on the cake. It will be slightly tough to follow the norms but people have to do so for their own good. Even a small mistake can cost big," he said.