Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I just made up that word... so I get to decide what it means! It means the love of stadia (or stadiums, if you prefer). More precisely, I'm actually referring to the love of watching cricket - or other games - in stadia, as against on TV. Somehow it just feels like a different game altogether when you're watching it in real life, and not just live.

I've heard these arguments in favour of TV coverage numerous times - the dozen viewing angles, the action replays, the statistics (or often, trivia), the "expert" commentary, the snickometers and Hawkeyes, and so on. And yet, watching it in the stadium gives me a much better feel for the game. The 360 degree view, the thwack-sound of willow on leather, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the excitement of a ball being lofted into your stand... TV coverage just can't convey these.

And so, I'm a stadia-phile. Truth be told, I haven't had the chance to see too many cricket stadia. I grew up watching cricket at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai of course. I've seen all kinds of matches there - Tests, ODIs, Ranji and Duleep games, and even a festival match between Kapil's Devils and Azhar's Army! In the early days, I used to sit in the West Stand - courtesy of free passes from one of the clubs to whom they are allotted. This gives you a view from square-leg or cover, which isn't ideal. But it does have the advantage that the stand is in the shadows during the hot Mumbai afternoon, unlike the East Stand where you get roasted! Later on, I watched a lot of games from the Garware Pavilion. Always tried to find a seat close to the player's enclosure above the dressing room. On more than one occasion, I was able to toss an autograph book over the fence to the players (Karsan Ghavri - my idol, Raju Kulkarni, etc.), to get their autographs!

Also had the chance to watch some games at the Brabourne Stadium next door, but only rarely - by the time I started watching cricket, the Wankhede had already been built. Nevertheless it was fun to see the Brabourne pavilion (much better looking than the Wankhede of course), the clock that was once smashed by an Ajit Wadekar sixer, etc.

Back in 1983, while still in school, I had the chance to watch an ODI at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad. We had travelled by train from Mumbai, to spend the Ganapati holidays with an uncle. The train reached Hyderabad in the morning. My uncle greeted us at the station, put us into his Ambassador car, and took us straight to the stadium! Unknown to us, he had arranged for tickets to this match between India and Pakistan - what a treat! By the time we reached the stadium, the match was about to start. As we were negotiating the lines to get in, up went an almighty roar from the crowd inside -- Kapil had got the wicket of Mudassar Nazar off the very second ball of the match! India went on to win that game comfortably, leaving me with great memories, and a small tinge of regret at having missed the first wicket.

Ten years later, I spent a week or so in London. It was my first visit to the U.K. There is, of course, so much to see in London. But I spent my first day in London visiting three "places of pilgrimage" - Lord's, the Oval, and Wimbledon! I had bought an all-day pass for the London underground (4 pounds, at that time), and used that to zip over from one place to another. It was great fun to visit these stadia. This was in the first week of October (1993), so the cricket season had just ended, and there was no cricket-stalking to be done! But that was a blessing in disguise, because in the off-season, you get to stomp around the entire ground, including the pavilions, the changing rooms, etc.

At Lord's, there is a guided tour available. An old (very old) MCC member took a small bunch of us around the ground, pointing out the various famous landmarks like the W.G.Grace gate, the Father Time weathervane, the then-headquarters of the ICC, etc., all the while chattering away about various incidents in cricketing history associated with Lord's. We also saw the museum with the original Ashes urn among (many) other memorabilia. But the highlight of the guided tour was walking through the Long Room in the pavilion, and the home & visiting teams' dressing rooms! It was amazing to be standing in the balcony where Kapil Dev and co. lifted the 1983 World Cup. The honours boards in the dressing rooms where every Test century and 5-fer is recorded... And the Long Room, with all the portraits of famous crickets of years past, and a selection of Bradman's bats. The old guide pointed out portraits of Larwood, Voce and Jardine and asked us "So what connects these gentlemen?" I immediately piped up, "Bodyline!", and the old member was suitably impressed - "The young man knows his cricket!". I almost replied with a "Pshaw" to that one, it was too easy :-)

After Lord's, the Kennington Oval - the home ground of Surrey CCC, and host to many memorable Test matches - is inevitably a bit of a letdown. For one thing, when I visited it, it had been renamed the "Foster's Oval", after the sponsor, a beer brand. You just don't do that to venerable cricket stadia! But there it was... Secondly, there was no guided tour there, and no entry to the pavilion itself. But I was free to walk around, and I did, breathing in the history of the place, replaying in my mind the grainy highlights of Chandra bowling out the English in 1971! There was also a cricket museum there, which was quite nice, and I was able to pick up some souvenirs.

Since this is a cricket blog, I won't go into my Wimbledon visit the same day - suffice it to say that as a tennis fan too, that was yet another wonderful experience, albeit without the strawberries and cream.

I lived in Delhi for almost 6 years, but somehow never managed to watch a game at the Feroze Shah Kotla. The Kotla has such a poor reputation for spectator comfort/convenience that I never really felt like going. Now that it's being rebuilt, one can hope that those issues will go away. I'm now based in Pune, which sadly doesn't host Tests. So I'm waiting for the next opportunity to watch a one-dayer at the Nehru Stadium here. What I've seen of it from the outside isn't particularly promising, but if the cricket is good, it may be worth it!

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