My association with the Cricket Club of India began even before I entered this world. My father was its 'Patron No. 4' and had attended the inauguration of the Brabourne Stadium in 1937.
Earlier, he had led the CCI XI in a match against an Australian team captained by former Test captain Jack Ryder. This match was played in Delhi in the winter of 1935-36, a few months before I was born.
I saw the CCI for the first time in 1953. I remember arriving at the club with Bhausaheb Nimbalkar, one of the select few to score a quadruple hundred in first-class cricket.
We were taken around the Club by the then India opener Madhav Apte. It may have been my first visit, but my father told me so much about the institution that the place was not new to me. The bonding was instantaneous. I felt as though I belonged there.
The CCI had an awesome cricket team those days. I was a reasonable cricketer who played Ranji Trophy for a number of years. However, I was not considered 'good enough' for the CCI squad for several of them! The Brabourne Stadium has been described in glowing terms by different personalities who have graced it with their presence and proficiency.
Among the tributes that stand out are the ones paid by the ebullient Keith Miller and Denis Compton, and Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the father of Pakistani cricket. Miller and Compton called it 'a cricketing paradise', while Kardar referred to it as the 'Lord's of India'. The unique features of the venue are its ambience and atmosphere.
It was the first stadium in India to be erected exclusively for cricket. In fact, the CCI preamble mentions its key objective - 'To promote and encourage the game of cricket in India'.
There are far too many unforgettable moments to recount from the matches that I have had the privilege of witnessing at the CCI. One that immediately comes to mind is the 1964 Test against Bob Simpson's team, which Tiger Pataudi's Indians won by the slender margin of two wickets.
Then there was the Hero Cup encounter between South Africa and the West Indies in 1993, in which Jonty Rhodes became the first nonwicketkeeper to take five catches in a one-day international.
The ground hosted an extraordinary partnership between two schoolboys answering to the names of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli in early 1988. It was obvious from the way the righthander batted that he would be around for a long, long time.
Exactly a decade later, Sachin played what I believe is the greatest innings at this historic venue. His double hundred in a three-day game for Mumbai against the touring Australians took the then Ranji champions to a comprehensive win and laid the foundation for India's 2-1 win in the Tests.
These golden memories apart, there are also some forgettable ones. The fact is that a little bit of flexibility might well have prevented the impasse between the CCI and the Bombay (now Mumbai) Cricket Association in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But that would not have stopped the MCA from eventually building a stadium.
The point is that the CCI nev er had the right to host Test matches. We were able to do so only because the MCA didn't have a ground at that point of time. An honest assessment of the situation that prevailed in the late 60s and early 70s would be that some elements in the CCI were living in a fool's paradise, and were therefore indifferent to the MCA's concerns.
The story goes that Vasantrao Naik, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, was watching a particularly interesting game along with some Govt. secretaries. The match had reached an interesting stage when lunch was taken, at which point the secretaries mentioned to the CM that there was a possibility of their missing a critical part of the game if they returned to nearby Mantralaya for lunch.
They then looked into the pos sibility of having lunch at the CCI itself, since they knew that the CCI President had made arrangements for about 200 people. However, their request was denied. Apparently the secretaries spoke to Mr. Wankhede, who was the MCA President then. He then asked the CM to gauge the extent of the CCI's hoity-toity attitude.
If they could behave with senior Government officials like that, then the way they behaved with MCA officials could only be imagined. That, I am told, started the process that ended with the erection of the Wankhede Stadium.
It is amusing to recall that CCI members continued to be indifferent even when the construction of the new stadium began. They were convinced for some reason that the Government would never release the steel and cement. One member even claimed that the bails would fall every time a train passed the Wankhede Stadium!
The stadium duly came up and consigned the Brabourne to history. Well, almost. Relations between the two associations, which had hit rockbottom in the mid-1970s, took a turn for the better after Madhav Apte's appointment as CCI President. We are on excellent terms with each other today. The only disappointing note vis-à-vis the Wankhede as far as I am concerned was that they ought to have built a state-of-the-art 75,000seater back then.
In a way, the CCI's return to the forefront started in early 1987 when Pakistan visited India. The modalities of the tour were being thrashed out when I met their manager Hasib Ahsan. We were members of the World Cup organising committee for the World Cup that was to be staged later that year. Ahsan asked me what was happening at the CCI.
"Nothing much besides crows flying and alighting", I replied. He then inquired if something could be done. That query resulted in the organising of a 'Golden Jubilee' match between an India XI and a Pakistan XI. I have never seen a bigger crowd at the CCI.
I still cannot believe that international cricket is poised to return to the CCI in such a big way. It's almost like a widow getting remarried and starting a new life. But make no mistake, the widow is still exceptionally beautiful!