The night Chennai smiled again

ISL Season 2 The Final - FC Goa v Chennaiyin FC

 

Sport has many unlikely heroes. Sometimes sport itself is an unlikely hero.

In 2004, Hurricane Katrina reduced New Orleans to smithereens and ripped apart its very soul. The Superdome, home to its NFL team was used to house victims of the disaster. A year on, the team would go on to have one of its most successful seasons in the league and ostensibly begin the healing process.

In 2008, India woke up to its financial capital under siege. Terrorists from across the border held the country hostage and an entire nation was transfixed to their tv sets, unable to comprehend the mayhem that was playing out in front of them. The England cricket team rushed back and the ongoing test series was suspended indefinitely. A few weeks later, after much cajoling and reassurance, the English team agreed to return and play under heightened security conditions in the MA Chidambaram stadium. In the backdrop of the most dastardly attack on Indian soil, its cricket team set out to bring back a sense of normalcy.

A few weeks after people had gathered around television sets, aghast at what they were seeing, they gathered around again. But the purpose was different. India were mounting an improbable chase against England. Chasing 387 on the 5th day, Virender Sehwag got off to a Sehwagesque start and laid the foundation. The winning runs came from the bat of Sachin Tendulkar. But it wasn’t the winning runs or Yuvraj Singh enveloping him in a bear hug and lifting him that lingers. It is that of a groundswoman who somehow gathered the courage to walk upto the great man and shake his hand. Tendulkar said it was only then that he realized how much the victory meant to the people of India who were still shaking with rage and looking for answers from the government. In those few moments, a game of cricket helped a country sniff a semblance of normalcy.

The ghosts of Katrina and 26/11 will always haunt the residents of New Orleans and Mumbai. But the games that were played in their aftermath have become  part of folklore, intertwined with the tragedies themselves.

Chennai has been dealt a bad hand in every which way possible. In the past few weeks, the city’s limits have been tested. Its politicians have been reduced to memes and its people have have shed divisions to come together. It is paying the price for the greed of a few who think nothing of giving permissions for structures to come up over water bodies.

Unlike many other cities where fans thrown bottles on the field if the national team is losing, Chennai stands up and applauds the real winners. Remember the heartbreak at Chepauk in 1999 when India lost 3 wickets in 4 runs and the entire stadium stood up to applaud the Pakistani team when they went around on their victory lap? Its cricketing icon till just a few months ago was MS Dhoni from the heartland of North India. Australian Doug Bollinger said he was stunned to hear fans chanting his name when he was a part of the Chennai Super Kings franchise. The city doesn’t stop at loving its sport, it also respects it.

Now it’s all gone. The IPL team, gone. It won’t host any main match of the 2016 t20 world cup. It seems as if the city is now paying for the sins of the N Srinivasan regime which ran Indian cricket from Chennai.

The popularity of the Chennayin FC ISL franchise cannot be compared to the devotional following that the Chennai Super Kings enjoyed. But there will be no chants of CSK for the next two editions of the IPL. And on 20th December, the beautiful game came to the city’s rescue.

Goans love their football, feny and bibenca. Chennaites love their filter coffee, kutcheries and cricket.It was Goa’s game till minute 87 when Joffre Gonzalez netted what seemed like the winning goal and handed them the lead. Shepherded by the mercurial Marco Materazzi, Chennayin FC  played hard and according to many purists, not fair. But we are talking about a man who irked Zinedine Zidane to the point where he got head butted by him. The final whistle was just a few minutes away when Goa’s keeper Laxmikant let an own goal in.

90th minute, scores tiled 2-2.

Before Goa could get their breath back, Stiven Mendonza netted the winner in dramatic fashion in the first minute of stoppage time.

As if Chennai hasn’t had enough drama to deal with in the past few months. But at the end of this drama, the city could at last do what it couldn’t for sometime now – smile.

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