x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Kochi Tuskers Kerala will have to wait for their maiden IPL victory

Spectators rock but the new Indian Premier League team rolls over to the Royal Challengers Bangalore in a six-wicket defeat.

AB De Villiers, the Bangalore batsman, crashed the Kochi party with a match-winning fifty.
AB De Villiers, the Bangalore batsman, crashed the Kochi party with a match-winning fifty.

They call it God's Own Country. But driving into Kochi from the airport, it may as well have been another nation.

Sure, there was the odd IPL hoarding and banners promoting Kochi Tuskers Kerala, but they paled into significance next to the thousands of posters for candidates seeking election to the state assembly next Wednesday.

This is a state that takes its politics very seriously and less than a week on from India's World Cup triumph, cricket seemed to be an afterthought.

It was a different story outside the stadium later in the day. It was hot and muggy, but the orange-and-purple jersey - a combination of Blackpool and Fiorentina's football strips - could be seen everywhere. A man on a unicycle was the cynosure of many eyes, pedalling and juggling three clubs at the same time.

On another side of the ground, a group of Tuskers fans had Karate Kid-style headbands and were playing the chenda - a local percussion instrument - and the cymbals, creating the sort of sound usually heard at temple festivals.

This massive stadium, which has hosted seven one-day matches since 1998 - one of them abandoned due to rain last year - has been spruced up for the IPL, with a cantilevered roof protecting fans from the elements, and it was also far easier to access than Chepauk on the opening day.

It is a long way down from the third and top tier, and there were just a couple of thousand in at 6pm to listen to the in-stadium DJ playing Pink Floyd's Coming Back to Life. They were still trickling in slowly, the threat of rain having passed, when the teams came out to practise, but those in their seats were already making quite a racket.

The roar that went up when Mahela Jayawardene won the toss was eclipsed only by the enthusiasm with which the Russian cheerleaders were welcomed.

Once the game started, though, the distraction were peripheral, with most fans in dreamland as Brendon McCullum and VVS Laxman, the artist in a format for blacksmiths, got the new boys off to the perfect start.

The ground was just a little over half full - it can seat up to 60,000 - but there was no lack of atmosphere as the innings progressed. There was certainly no booing of India heroes such as Zaheer Khan and Virat Kohli. But it was fairly obvious that this crowd wasn't going to lose out in the parochial stakes.

The crowd was buzzing by the time Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, the local hero, got the ball and you could feel the vibrations from the noise and celebrations after he dismissed Tillakaratne Dilshan with his second delivery.

Vinay Kumar, one of the Karnataka players that Bangalore let go, was excited after getting Kohli, but with Raiphi Vincent Gomez, a Kerala Ranji Trophy player, disappearing for 20 in his lone over, the yells, handclaps and chendas were gradually muted.

AB de Villiers starred with five sixes in his 54, and the Tuskers will have to wait for another day to rock their loyal constituents.