IPL 2022: Garavi Gujarat’s long wait ends

Jai jai garavi Gujarat [victory to proud Gujarat], the DJ exhorted an enthusiastically willing crowd to shout during the Qualifier 2 match of the IPL at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Friday. It is the name of the poem Narmadashankar Dave – considered to be the founder of modern Gujarati literature – wrote in 1873, and it is now the state’s anthem. That it should be referred to during an IPL game at all, and one not even involving the newly-minted local team at that, is a small insight into what is often called Gujarati asmita (pride). It may not be as assertive as, say, the Tamil or the Bengali identity, but there is an unmistakable undercurrent of a collective linguistic, cultural ethos in India’s westernmost state.

When the Ahmedabad franchise was seeking a name for itself, it had to decide between picking between the city it was going to be based in, or the state in which its home city was situated. Market research was commissioned, and ultimately, Gujarat Titans went for a name that would resonate with all Gujaratis, not just Amdavadis.

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The team will be playing its first game at its home ground in front of more than a hundred thousand people on Sunday night – the grand final against Rajasthan Royals. But waltzed into the title clash under the leadership of an inspirational Gujarati first-time captain, they have already begun to capture the hearts of local fans, who had been starved of a team to root for during the first 14 long years of the league’s existence.

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Their team was not even playing on Friday, but you could see numerous fans with Gujarat Titans t-shirts, as if warming up for the big one on Sunday night.

It was an endearing fact not lost on Dr Parag Sheth, a local sports enthusiast who grew up seeing the fallow days when Ahmedabad would get the odd major cricket match amid a general absence of action. Naturally yaar. We have reached the final and we are supporting Gujarat Titans, simple,” Sheth said. “So many players from Gujarat have played in the IPL – the Pandya and Pathan brothers, Jasprit, Axar, Jadeja, Pujara – and it feels so good to finally have an IPL team from the state.

“Ahmedabad was left out all these years but Gujarat Titans have reached the final in their very first season,” Sheth said. “It has proven our concern as to why Gujarat or Ahmedabad did not have an IPL team all these years. We would get very few matches earlier but right now it is like a carnival.”

You can sense how thirsty the fans are for even a glimpse of players in the colorful league; on Friday evening, a young, uncapped player such as Yashasvi Jaiswal was cheered so loudly as he ran warm-up laps that it felt like Virat Kohli had been sighted.

The 2022 season has been played largely in Mumbai amid pandemic-enforced bio-bubbles but when the league reverts to the usual home-and-away format, Ahmedabad will host at least seven, if not nine, matches in a span of a couple of months.

Priyank Panchal, the veteran Gujarat batsman and captain who has been around the India squad for a while now, knows how much it will mean for fans in the city where he has spent all his life.

“People are really excited here,” Panchal told The Indian Express. “Fans will get to interact with each other and watch the players. And the size of the stadium will give a lot more people the opportunity to come, watch and get inspired. We talk about true fans, die-hard fans, and it is very important for those fans to get this kind of experience. They make this game all the more enjoyable. That is one part which I think because of this bigger stadium, is going to play a bigger role. And crucially, the kids who will go to watch will come back feeling that we can also play this game, we also have the opportunity now, that it is possible to take up cricket as a profession. Fans are the biggest thing after all.”

As it has done in the rest of the country, spreading out from traditional centers such as Mumbai and Delhi, cricket has made its way around Gujarat too. The state, with its three first-class teams, Baroda, Gujarat and Saurashtra, has started to produce more players for the national side. Parthiv Patel, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman, had earlier recalled how he would have to travel to Mumbai for more and better exposure, as there was barely any to be had in Gujarat.

“Growing up, we used to analyze Mumbai cricketers, that we’d try to play like them and so on,” Parthiv had said. “It wasn’t that Mumbai was the only center in the country but it was the closest for us so we would come there a lot and play club cricket so that we would get to learn a lot. The facilities were good there.

“Now you see the facilities have improved all across Gujarat, not just Ahmedabad which has the big stadium, but even in the districts there are proper facilities where you can play first-class matches and conduct NCA (National Cricket Academy) camps. And with the infrastructure coming up, the players are also coming.”

Parthiv was convinced an IPL franchise setting up base in Ahmedabad would inject fresh momentum into the local cricket set-up. “There is no doubt that kids will feel inspired when international stars are playing in front of them, maybe even inspired enough to take up the game at the age of 7-10,” Parthiv had said. “Even if you can get to watch big players practising, it teaches you so much. Local bowlers who go to bowl in the team nets will pick up things. There are also ample opportunities to interact with high-level coaches.”

As far as Sunday night is concerned, there is only one team the world’s largest cricket stadium will be rooting for, and the Hardik t-shirts will be out in their numbers. “There is a burning desire to win, being a team from Gujarat, the final is in Gujarat, he wants to take that there,” former India head coach Ravi Shastri had said about Hardik Pandya on Star Sports.

As the Gujarat Titans slogan goes, aava de (bring it on). Garavi Gujarat can’t wait.

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