It’s D-Day. The final of IPL 2011. Chennai Super Kings are defending their title at home against challengers Royal Challengers Bangalore on Saturday. The Chepauk is a sea of yellow with Chennaites having flocked to the stadium in thousands to support their home team.
The Twenty20 tournament has been as noisy and flamboyant as ever, but some experts believe it has suffered a poor year caused by its ballooning format and cricket overkill following the World Cup.
Dwindling spectator attendence at grounds and falling TV ratings have been worrying organisers, sponsors and franchises, desperate for their share of the IPL pie.
The finale though seemed to follow the perfect script with Chennai, the defending champions, taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore in their backyard where they have won all their seven league games of the current edition.
The packed stands at the 50,000-seater Chidambaram Stadium were in stark contrast to the half-empty rows spotted during the second and final qualifier on Friday that featured Bangalore and Mumbai Indians.
“For us Chennai is the team that matters,” said Ravinathan Iyer, a 23-year-old management student who had queued up outside the stadium gates three hours ahead of the start of the game.
“I saved all my pocket money so that I could book tickets for the final. I was confident of Chennai progressing to the title clash such has been their strength at home.”
Latha Subramaniam, a 17-year-old college goer, told AFP she was desperate to watch her favourite cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni in action after missing out on watching the World Cup games.
"Dhoni is my hero," squealed the teenager, dressed in a pastel pink top and long, black skirt. "He has had a perfect World Cup and winning the IPL will be like the cherry on the cake."
Another fan, banker Sathish Ramanathan, said it was premature to suggest that the popularity of this Twenty20 competition was on the wane.
"Look at the people who have been lining up to watch the game despite the stifling heat and humidity," said the 38-year-old. "I was here for one of the World Cup games and the excitement of fans seems the same if not more.
"Chennai public relates to home grown players like (Ravichandran) Ashwin and are fiercely loyal about their franchise. It is the cricket-crazy fans who will fuel IPL's growth."