Home » In Indore, a slice of cricket history is relegated to the sidelines

In Indore, a slice of cricket history is relegated to the sidelines

Every Sachin Tendulkar fan has a list of favourite Tendulkar shots that excludes the obvious candidates – no Shoaib uppercut, please – and is painstakingly curated to show the breadth and depth of their Tendulkar fixation. Mine includes a front-foot late cut from an innings of 139 in an ODI against Australia in 2001. During the course of that innings at Indore’s Nehru Stadium, Tendulkar became the first batter to reach the 10,000-run mark in ODIs.

I can summon up nearly every frame of this shot in my mind’s eye, but memory is a tricky thing. I can tell you how this shot was actually three shots in one, a moment of improvisation born of two changes of mind in one delicious instant: a premeditated lap-sweep morphing into a push through cover point before morphing again, with a miraculous twirl of the wrists, into a deft slice past the keeper’s right glove.

I can tell you all this, but I had no recollection, until I began writing this piece, of who the bowler was. Mark Waugh? Ian Harvey? YouTube tells me it’s Damien Martyn bowling his occasional medium-pace. Yes, of course.

I’m watching this innings now because it’s the eve of another India-Australia match in Indore. This match, however, will be played not at the Nehru Stadium but at the newer, larger, purpose-built Holkar Stadium.

All these years later, Indore’s Nehru Stadium is a relic of a time when a number of Nehru Stadiums across India – multi-sport facilities maintained by municipal corporations and leased out to sports associations – hosted international cricket regularly. From 1956 – when Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy put on 413 for the first wicket against New Zealand at the Corporation Stadium in Madras (now the Nehru Stadium in Chennai) – to 2014, six Nehru Stadiums and one Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium combined to host 61 international games.

A departure from Nehru in more ways than one, that 2014.

Indore’s Nehru Stadium hosted nine ODIs, the last of them the 2001 game that featured that Tendulkar late cut. Ian Botham once smashed a 48-ball hundred here, in a first-class match against Central Zone during England’s 1981-82 tour of India.

Walking around the ground now, it’s impossible to picture Tendulkar or Botham ever having played here. The entire outfield, including what must have been the square, is dry earth that’s crumbly in patches and cracked in others, with barely a tuft of grass.

Cricket endures, nonetheless, though not of the kind that’s covered on this website. A pitch is being rolled out, well off centre, and a group of boys in cricket whites is practising near one edge of the outfield.

Most of the seating is uncovered concrete terraces, and the pavilion is a modest, utilitarian structure with a corrugated concrete roof. It isn’t without charm, though. There are broad swathes of ochre and blue as well as little touches of indigenous architectural flair that modern stadiums often lack – the outer windows, for instance, feature latticework that tussles playfully with the sunlight.

There are nods to history too. You enter the pavilion through a gate named after the swashbuckling Mushtaq Ali. And right outside the stadium is a public park with two notable bits of sculpture.

One is a statue of CK Nayudu, India’s first Test captain. It’s hard to say with any certainty what shot it depicts. Is Nayudu shouldering arms? Or has he picked the spinner’s length in a flash and rocked back and across to cut or maybe pull? Whatever shot it may be, it’s a statue of a cricketer playing cricket – the new one at the Holkar Stadium has him decked up in colonel’s regalia.

The other is the Vijay Balla (Victory Bat), a giant bat commemorating India’s Test-series wins in the West Indies and England in 1971. It features the names of the players who went on the two tours, all in the Devanagari script, and the captain’s jaunty autograph, in English: Ajit Wadekar.

Three years after the bat went up, an irate mob defaced it, a reaction to 42 all out and every other misfortune that befell India on their 1974 tour of England. Wadekar never captained or played for India again.

The Victory Bat shows no signs of the defacement now. Instead, it wears a faint and by no means unattractive network of surface cracks, like a Test-match pitch on a fifth morning that begins with all four results still possible. A monument to a monumental achievement, weathering the passage of time with grace.

But what’s old and what’s new can be hard to pin down in Indore. The Nehru Stadium was built in 1964, a year after the remarkable Nayudu played his last first-class match – for the Maharashtra Governor’s XI against the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s XI – at the age of 68. His opponents in that game included a 22-year-old Wadekar.

Nayudu never played at the Nehru Stadium, but he played 27 first-class matches at the Yeshwant Club Ground from 1935 to 1953. The old Yeshwant Club Ground occupied a patch of land that partly coincided with what is now the Holkar Stadium. The pitch on which Nayudu and Mushtaq batted is said to have occupied a space that’s now a lane between the new stadium and the Indore Tennis Club, which abuts the Yeshwant Club.

Time, like Tendulkar’s late-cutting wrists, traces complex paths in Indore.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo