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Sports must gain more ground in Mumbai

mumbai Updated: Oct 19, 2017 23:47 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Ayaz Memon,Cricket

Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.(HT FILE)

Last week, on either side of playing a cricket match with old friends, I watched Ghana and Niger compete in the under-17 World Cup and briefly the visiting New Zealand cricketers take on the Board President’s Xl.

The football match was at DY Patil Stadium. Reaching Nerul can be a task, but for townies at least the Eastern Freeway is a godsend. Initially, the stands looked disappointingly bare. But later around 25,000 turned up. A big deal considering India wasn’t playing. This shows not just a spike in the popularity of football, but that passion for sports in Mumbai is still alive.

The Brabourne Stadium, where I watched the Kiwis in a warm-up game had sparse spectators. The first ODI between the visitors and India is on Sunday and fans perhaps were more interested in this match.

But the CCI has a special place in my life. This is where I got hooked on to cricket, and it doesn’t take much goading for me to watch play there. The Kiwis had lost the first warm-up match on Tuesday, but were thoroughly impressive in winning the second, in a forewarning to Kohli & Co.

The friendly cricket match I played in, however, was the most memorable. Not the least because it took me several decades down nostalgia lane when we played regularly on Sundays or holidays at the Oval, Cross or Azad maidans.

Diwali would coincide with the start of sports season in the city, with tournaments at the Cooperage ground (football), the Bombay Hockey Association at Churchgate, tennis at the MSLTA, to name just a few disciplines.

Each to his own passion and mine was cricket. Apart from the coveted internationals at Brabourne Stadium and later Wankhede, the SoBo maidans, Shivaji Park and others would be flush with activity. This is where our world revolved. Peak season would be between October and March, before academics took precedence. But for these 5-6 months, matches – not necessarily affiliated to an official tournament — would be played in right earnest.

The biggest challenge was in getting a `real’ pitch and with a tent as pavilion to give the match gravitas. But getting a proper 22-yard strip wasn’t easy.

Sometimes bookings would have to be made weeks in advance, occasionally by using influence but what worked best was giving the groundsman ‘bakshish’. In the late 1960s, 70s, pitch hire would cost Rs 20-25. The maali’s fee would be Rs10, a season ball came for Rs10-12. If the match was not played among friends, the losing team would pick up these tabs. Sometimes for lunch too!

I wonder how much it costs youngsters to play a match these days. Equipment costs and pitch hire have undoubtedly soared. So has disposable income so I suppose these things square off satisfactorily. Of course affordability is still an issue for vast numbers. Hopefully, the day is not far when no youngster is deprived of an opportunity to play because of lack of money.

Equally important however is wanting to play. On a broader canvas, stoking this urge at an early age is important if India has to become a sporting nation. Personally, I can aver there is nothing quite like the smell of the maidan and competitive juices flowing.

Where result is concerned, the match I played wasn’t gratifying. Our team got licked. But hey, when old friendships are renewed and old memories revived, there can be no losers! We’ve agreed on more matches this season, with better fitness and keener competitive edge. But after a certain age, the fact of playing is in itself both challenge and reward rolled into one, so I’ll take that as it comes.