Monday, November 30, 2009

Test cricket returns to CCI

The Cricket Club of India is to India what Lord’s is to England, and the Melbourne Cricket Ground to Australia.

Steeped in history and dripping cricket, the Brabourne stadium at the CCI is primed to welcome back Test cricket after a 36-year-old hiatus.

The construction of the Wankhede stadium, not far from the CCI premises, meant Test cricket moved to a venue with a greater seating capacity. Brabourne made its debut as a Test centre when John Goddard’s West Indies came calling in 1948-49. The last Test here was in 1972-73, India holding Tony Lewis’ England to a draw a match that saw Gundappa Viswanath slam 113 and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar pick up his 200th Test to clinch the series 2-1.

“I never thought that would be the last Test at such a beautiful ground,” said Ajit Wadekar, India’s captain during that series. “It is sad that this ground is going without cricket, it is unthinkable.”

The final Test against Sri Lanka, beginning on Wednesday, is being held at the Brabourne only because the Wankhede stadium is undergoing renovation ahead of the 2011 World Cup.

“What Lord’s is to England, Brabourne is to India,” added the 68-year-old Wadekar. “It is the ultimate dream for any cricketer to play at Lord’s; by the same token, every Indian cricketer would like to play at the CCI. It has a lovely atmosphere and that makes you feel different. You also play in front of a knowledgeable crowd.”

Eleven out of the 17 Tests at the Brabourne have ended in a stalemate, India winning four and losing two of the other six. The most famous of those draws, of course, was in that ’72-73 game. “It was a crucial match for us, basically to win the series,” Wadekar recalled. “That is the reason we went out with all intent. The uniqueness of the stadium is that the dressing room used to be shared by club members too. They advised me to field first but when I walked up to the wicket, I saw no moisture in the pitch -- it was a dry wicket.

“When I decided to bat, the club members questioned my wisdom. When we got 370 for three, nobody approached me! I also recollect Farokh Engineer and myself being engaged in a big partnership and England bowling a negative line. I shifted the off-stump as Tony Greig ran in to bowl. Greig told me, “Don’t do that to me, Mr Wadekar,” he said. “So I told him to stop bowling negative. ‘I will hit you with a bouncer’,” Greig retorted. “I said go ahead, you are slower than Prasanna!”

‘Perfect venue’

Wadekar had his wish list ready for this Test. “Sachin getting a hundred at Brabourne would be special. The way India are playing, this could be match where they will be crowned number one,” remarked Wadekar, adding that it would be the perfect venue for India to reach the number one Test ranking for the first time.

“We have a balanced side, a tremendous batting line-up and a balanced attack. The players seem full of confidence and the captain (Dhoni) has done extremely well.”

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