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The Rediff Special/Harish Kotian
It's Showtime again at Brabourne!
October 10, 2006
The Cricket Club of India, which houses the stadium, and its members are delighted as are old-timers in the metropolis who grew up watching international cricket at the Brabourne before Test cricket shifted to the Wankhede Stadium in January 1975 with the fifth India-West Indies Test.
The last international match at the Brabourne was held in November 1995, a One-Day International between India and New Zealand. Rigorous work by the CCI's energetic organising committee has ensured that the stadium is in fine shape and ready for the Champions Trophy games.
"We are absolutely ready to host the Champions Trophy," declares Milind Rege, the chairman of the CCI's organising committee.
"It took six months of hard work to get to the stage we are at now. Everything was done with sheer professionalism and according to the strict norms set by the International Cricket Council," he added.
Since 1975, Mumbai's cricket fans have gotten used to watching cricket at the Wankhede stadium, which is owned by the Mumbai Cricket Association. Due to branding issues, the Wankhede could not host the Champions Trophy matches. The Board of Control for Cricket in India had no option but slate the Brabourne stadium as one of the venues for the Champions Trophy.
The last of the 17 Tests that the Brabourne hosted was against England in 1972-1973. Following a dispute between the CCI and the Mumbai Cricket Association over allotment of tickets, the latter decided to build its own stadium. Since then -- January 23, 1975 to be precise -� the CCI has lost out on major international games, hosting only three One-Day Internationals and a few warm-up matches for foreign teams.
Asked how difficult it is for a non-regular venue to get ready for such a big event, Rege replies: "It's hard to believe, but all the work went on smoothly. All the officials working at the CCI are paid professionals, hence there was no lag. Everything was very, very systematic and everyone focused on giving their best shot. You can see the results -- a beautiful ground ready for cricket!"
"For us, it all started with a big meeting with the ICC officials in April. They addressed the CCI organising committee about what is expected, what is needed from the organisers. It was the first big step -- a big eyeopener for everyone -- and we worked according to the strict guidelines underlined by the ICC."
Indeed, the CCI has undergone a major revamp. There are new airconditioned dressing rooms for the players, the outfield has been relaid completely with a drainage facility, there are special rooms for doping tests, a new press box with increased seating capacity, a media conference room and more toilets for the general public.
The 'Super Soppers', informs Rege, have also been specially imported from Australia for the tournament, hastening to add, "Look at the current weather in Mumbai it could turn out to be a wise decision."
"It was a challenge for us to put the lights. At the start, we thought it would be impossible to put up the lights because of lack of space to install the huge poles that support the lights. But the technology used is fantastic; now we have one of the best lights," Rege said.
A look at history says the Brabourne stadium was built on a piece of land presented to the CCI in the 1930s by Lord Brabourne, then the governor of Bombay.
Lord Brabourne was asked what would he would prefer to accept from sportsmen: money for his government or immortality for himself. He chose the latter and thus the CCI was allotted 90,000 square yards for a new stadium.
The CCI opened on December 1937 with a match between the CCI and Lord Tennyson's team.
"Life has come a full circle and we are happy to see cricket back at the CCI. It has been Raj Singh Dungarpur's dream to install lights at this stadium and I am glad that we have finally achieved it," said the 57-year-old Rege, a former Bombay cricketer who played most of his first class matches at this venue.
The lights' movements are controlled by a computer and run using a generator that also has a back-up. The expenditure incurred to install the lights is around Rs 6 crores (Rs 60 million), but can that guarantee the CCI regular cricket after the Champions Trophy?
"They can host domestic matches here. The lights can also be used to host rock concerts and other big events. Who knows, the CCI could also get some international matches along the way, you never know," says Rege, a former Bombay captain.
He says the Wankhede stadium needs to take a leaf out of the CCI's book and upgrade facilities too.
"They need to renovate the Wankhede stadium. For the last 34 years we have been using it, so it is time to upgrade it. The stadium needs to be brought down and built anew. The focus must be on spectator comfort," says Rege.
Unlike the Wankhede, which can seat around 45,000 people, the Brabourne can accommodate only around 25,000 people. The CCI feels the huge demand for tickets will ensure a full house.
"Around 22,000 tickets will be on sale. Another 2,500 will be the clubhouse tickets issued to members, Test cricketers and first class cricketers, who have played 45 matches," informs Rege.
"In fact, 10,000 tickets for the final have already been sold. After all, Mumbai is a cricketing city and I am sure all the matches will be filled to capacity," he adds.
Asked if it is a dream come true to have the stadium ready and dressed like a beautiful maiden under the newly-installed lights, Rege replies quickly, "Not yet."
"It will only be after the completion of the final. The icing on the cake would be India reaching the final and winning it, else Mumbai fans won't see India playing here," he said, peeping out of his office window at Tata Steel in Mumbai to check on the unseasonal rain.
"Yes it (rain)] is a bit of worry, but what can we do about nature? It is not in our hands. Whatever is in our hands we have done it."
While fans all over the cricketing world will admire the Brabourne's beauty, few will ever know what went into making it what it is now and the men responsible for the feat.
Rege prefers to take a backseat on that count and would rather let the cricket hog the limelight. For him, at the moment, life is "Eat cricket, Drink cricket, Sleep cricket!"