To say that the Kochi Tuskers' journey in the IPL has been controversial even before they've played their first match would be an understatement. But you wouldn't get even a hint of that after visiting the 55,000-capacity Nehru Stadium, all decked up for the Sreesanths, the Muralitharans and the McCullums.
The jamboree called the Indian Premier League has finally reached the southern-most shores of India and no one wants to dwell on the past. "The IPL is finally here and I couldn't be happier. We are looking to win it," said Kochi Cricket Private Ltd co-chairman Mehul Shah as he prepared to welcome the team to the ground.
Reports of infighting among franchises did not go down well with the Indian cricket board. Then, the unpleasant publicity surrounding Sunanda Pushkar's involvement in the franchise saw her 'surrendering' her stakes. And, finally the minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, had to step down. It was not until the ownership issue was sorted out that the BCCI gave its nod of approval.
But by the time the controversies subsided, it was late December, giving little time to the franchise to put things in order.
The biggest problem was the stadium. The venue - where Sachin Tendulkar had bowled his best figures of 5-32 against Australia in 1998 - is owned by the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA). A wary Kochi franchise even mulled shifting the matches to a venue outside Kerala but the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) quickly stepped in.
"We took the ground on lease for five years just three months back, said KCA president TR Balakrishnan. "There was no roof. The drainage system was in a mess, leading to the washout of the ODI against Australia last year," said Balakrishnan. "A sum of Rs 32 crore has been invested in refurbishing the stadium," Balakrishnan said.
Putting on the map
But the KCA is determined to put Kochi firmly on the world cricket map. "Kerala was a nonentity when it came to cricket. Earlier, we used to be grouped with Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or Hyderabad, making even surviving relegation difficult," said Balakrishnan.
Finally, the state known for producing athlete PT Usha and footballer IM Vijayan, has found its latest star. Before Sreesanth, the only Kerala players who had made the cut to the India team were Sunil Walson, who never got to play a single match in the 1983 World Cup, and fast bowler Tinu Yohannan. "Thanks to Sreesanth, it's all changing now," said Balakrishnan.