A group of neatly dressed schoolchildren pad up for their morning coaching session at Azaqd Maidan, while four teenage boys drive makeshift stumps into the dusty ground, laughing as they demarcate their play area. Everyone has been part of that picture when they were young. On No TV Day, go back to those days and play a match at one of the several maidans in the city. From Colaba to Dahisar, there are several places where one can host a football and cricket match.
With 21 cricket pitches and ample space to stretch your legs, grounds such as Azad Maidan are rare.
Like Azad Maidan, finding a place to play a sport in the city is easier than you think. Whether it is football or cricket, public grounds in the city provide the basic requirements for a keenly contested or merely friendly match.
South Mumbai alone has the three well known, time-weathered fields – Azad, Oval and Cross Maidan. Many a budding cricketer has started his or her career at these grounds, which provide pitches - some free of cost, others for a minimal daily charge. The various pitches provide an authenticity that galli-cricket lacks. “Playing a match at Oval Maidan is a great fun, simply because you get to play on a real pitch, instead of in a friend’s building,” said Rahul Sharma, 20.
Groups of college students frequent these maidans, which provide the perfect atmosphere for a match, with side-screens, umpires that can be hired for the day, even tents in which you can leave your bags and rest.
For those who choose to steer clear of cricket, the opportunities to play football are far more, as the city is home to several grounds that are open to just about anyone who wants to traipse in. One doesn’t need a team or even a companion to play at these grounds, as simply asking to join a game can do the trick. “During my college years, looking for a break one day I walked into a ground near my house and asked a group of people if I could join them, and had the time of my life,” said Ankit Pandey, a Nallasopara resident.
Grounds all over the city, from the Indian Oil grounds at Sahar, Raheja Park at Powai or the St John’s Church ground at Marol, allow you to play for free. And if you want, you can hire the whole ground for two-hour periods, but it is expensive. Of course, few grounds in the city are as well known as Shivaji Park, which has a flourishing sports scene. While cricket has been the mainstay of the park over the years, it has also become the home to popular football clubs in the city, including Adarsh FC and Kenkre Football Club.
“Recently, the park has got a set of floodlights, which makes playing at night convenient. Our group has there daily football game there nowadays,” said Abhishek Sanghvi, an IT professional. Raj Shekhar, who runs a sports management company, said, “There are enough spaces to play unless you want to play a full-fledged, eleven-a-side match.”