Mumbai last hosted a Test back in 2016 when India and England played, with the former side winning by an innings. As the Wankhede Stadium gets set to host an international red-ball game after five years - India and New Zealand play the second Test of the series from Friday - one of the heartbeats of the venue, the North Stand Gang will be in attendance.
A group of fans makes it a point to watch and cheer Team India from, as their name suggests, the North Stand. Even this time the group will be in attendance though only 20 of the possible 60 could get a hand on the tickets, says Anish deSouza, the founder of the North Stand Gang.
“I’m really looking forward to the Test match. But due to the restrictions, I am not sure about the atmosphere around,” deSouza tells FPJ in a telephonic chat.
“Hopefully we have a good game and watch some high-quality cricket.”
The Mumbai Cricket Association has limited entry of spectators to a maximum of 25% of the capacity of the stadium following directives of the Maharashtra State Government owing to Covid-19.
India last played at the Wankhede Stadium in February 2020, when they lost an ODI to Australia by ten wickets. But ahead of a Test at the venue after a long time, deSouza and his group are excited.
“Just like players love playing Test cricket, we like watching the format,” says the 32-year-old. “But we are happy to cheer whenever the men in blue play here.”
DeSouza first sowed the seeds of the North Stand Gang in 2009 after watching the India versus Sri Lanka Test at the Brabourne Stadium, where Virender Sehwag made 294. Along with a ‘stranger’ Ashutosh Shirke, he decided to regularly meet up for international matches that India play.
Why the name ‘North Stand Gang’?
“We formed a bond watching and discussing cricket from the North Stand at the Wankhede Stadium. Hence that name seemed apt.”
The youngest member of the group must be in the twenties while the oldest one in the fifties. The ‘Gang’ coordinate and watch games not just at the Wankhede Stadium but also at other venues.
“We watched the 2011 World Cup matches in Ahmedabad and Nagpur and also the Pune Test against South Africa in 2019,” says deSouza.
The group as a whole isn’t too superstitious, but they do have their own such incident.
“In 2011, one of our members missed the World Cup final because he believed India lost everytime he watched it from the venue,” deSouza recalls the ‘sacrifice’.
While their favourite slogan “Mumbai ka king kaun (who is the king of Mumbai)? Sachin, Sachin!” may still be going strong, deSouza and the Gang are all set to chant “Kohli ke peeche kya hai? Kohli ke peeche (What’s behind Kohli)!” as Virat Kohli and his men take the field on Friday.
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