If I were to ask what you did for dinner a couple of days back, you’d probably have to scratch those grey cells a little longer than usual to recollect that memory. But for Ajinkya Pandharkar, Abhishek Chopra and many more from Wankhede Stadium’s ‘North Stand Gang’, Monday evening’s dinner was a moment to savour as they got to share it with one of India’s cricketing legends.
“A few days back we had dinner with Sunil Gavaskar,” starts off Pandharkar in an exclusive interview with SportsAdda.com, going on to add, “We were lucky enough to get invited for an awards event; and there we met Sunny paaji and got a chance to dine with him.”
And a meet-up with the Little Master isn’t an isolated incident for the North Stand Gang, as they have connected with several other Indian cricketers over the years. “All these former players like VVS Laxman, Aakash Chopra and Harbhajan Singh are all there (Wankhede Stadium) doing their media work, and when we chant for them they all recognize us. We’ve met most of them in person and Harbhajan also follows us on Twitter,” added Abhishek Chopra, another member of the North Stand Gang.
The group has come a long way in the past decade, going from being a bunch of scattered, passionate fans to a cohesive troop, recognised by many in the upper bastions of Indian cricket. “North Stand has traditionally been the stand where some of the most knowledgeable fans sit and watch the matches. But they were not grouped as one in the earlier days. They didn’t identify each other by faces or phone numbers back then, but they used to meet each other every match,“ says Pandharkar on the origins of the North Stand Gang.
“2009 was the first time when cell phones were allowed in the stadium, and there, one of our founders, Anish (D’Souza) took the numbers of all the regulars who were coming to watch the matches and created the North Stand Gang. We have completed 10 years now and we have watched all the matches together, including the World Cup final (2011). We’ve watched all the Ranji matches as well and also watch the Kanga league matches as and when possible,” he added.
The members of the North Stand Gang were also patrons of T20 Mumbai, attending a few games of that competition last season, including the final."T20 Mumbai is great way of channelizing the club level cricket in Mumbai which is now getting into t20 cricket into a much more professional form of cricket. If IPL is the feeder system to the Indian Cricket team, Mumbai T20 feeds local t20 talent to tournaments like Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. You may never know, we could get our next Premier Ranji bowler from this t20 league," said the North Stand Gang members.
The North Stand Gang have about 70 members in their group now and have witnessed a lot of iconic games at the Wankhede Stadium, like Sachin Tendulkar’s last Test match, India’s World Cup triumph and many more. However, the most memorable match for Pandharkar was the India-England Test series in 2016, where Virat Kohli scored a double century.
“That match is special because the Barmy Army were also here (stadium) with the England team and they saw a kindred spirit in this, they loved our chants and T-shirts. After the end, they had a sort of post-match party and we were fortunate enough to be invited to that party. We exchanged shirts, we exchanged numbers and they also gave us a Barmy Army flag. We have been friends since. We wished them for the Ashes and wished them before the World Cup as well,” revealed Pandharkar.
At the moment, the North Stand Gang are restricted to watching games at the Wankhede Stadium, but harbour aspirations of one day being able to travel to different venues in India and also travel overseas.
“We dream to be like the Barmy Army, but all of us are either students or working professionals so it becomes difficult. A few of our former group members, however, are in Australia now. One of them works in MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), so next Boxing Day Test match, you never know, the North Stand Gang might be in the Bay 13 crowd,” concludes Chopra with a beaming smile.