Nostalgia has this enigmatic quality to make one feel both young and old. Walking into the Cricket Club of India (CCI) this week on the first day of the third Test against Sri Lanka, I felt 17 once again — only to feel like Rip Van Winkle a little later.
I had watched the previous Test played here in early 1973 and memories of that match came back in a rush. The game was drawn but there was excitement galore: Salim Durrani hitting sixes on demand, Gundappa Vishwanath hooking a ball into the swimming pool to the roar of a packed stadium.
Incidentally, this was the same body of water into which, some two decades later, New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns (“charged to the gills” as a source described it) had jumped with a Bollywood starlet after a party. It was a soggy romp that left the elitist club’s officials fretting about the rules being broken and Cairns’s team management crimson with embarrassment.
Almost every brick and seat in this quaint stadium has a story to offer — most genuinely cricketing, some salacious — but perhaps none more significant than the confrontation of the CCI with the Mumbai Cricket Association which ended with international cricket being shifted to the Wankhede Stadium in 1974. In hindsight, the power struggle was highly avoidable.
Mistakes were made on both sides and overnight, the CCI was robbed of its soul — all over the allocation of some seats.
Ergo, in the 36 years since the last Test was played here, the CCI had become something of an anachronism. Started in 1933 after much debate and politicking to promote sport — and particularly cricket — it had been reduced to a venue for all kinds of events major and mundane including, diabolically, even dog races. The CCI still had a vote in the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) power structure, but it hosted international matches only as alms.
Ironically, Mumbai now has perhaps the most number of stadiums where first class cricket has been played than any other city in the world. Apart from the CCI and the Wankhede, there is good old Bombay Gymkhana (where India played its first home Test in 1932-33), the RCF ground, the new Mumbai Cricket Association ground at Bandra-Kurla and, not too far away, the slick D.Y. Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai. Heck!
The purpose of this article, however, is not to pine for what might have been with the CCI, but use this saga as an allegory for what needs to be done ahead. India, I believe, is on the cusp of a sports revolution and what is going to drive this transformation — apart from growing disposable income — is planned infrastructure.
Recent controversies over the construction of stadiums for the Commonwealth Games bring home the problems of ill thought-
out government expenditure. Too often, infrastructure becomes redundant once the event is over, as the examples of Balewadi near Pune, where the national games were once held, and several others across the country show.
Real value is only possible if the money spent on infrastructure gets adequate returns on investments. Which is why public-private partnerships may be the way to go. Studies across the globe show that sports infrastructure is viable only if it is used between 250 and 300 days a year. Private partnerships would create a vested interest that would work towards this objective by creating multi-purpose stadiums that can be used for all kinds of things, including convention centres, academies et al. The government should only monitor to disallow greed and wastage.
Of course, for a true transformation, the mindset of people also has to change. On the first day of the Test against Sri Lanka, the members’ stand of the CCI was almost bare. And this after 36 years of pining. But that is a different story altogether.
Mumbai-based Ayaz Memon writes on cricket and other matters
The views expressed by the author are personal