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Mansingh stadium is a marvel

October 13, 2006 23:07 IST

The rustic facade of Jaipur fades away once you enter the premises of the Sawai Mansingh cricket stadium, which houses the Rajasthan Cricket Association. It is no longer the arid Pink City with Rajasthani paintings on the walls and pillars surrounding the streets.

It's a sparkling world, with its steel railings and white walls adorned with cricket photographs. The dry heat disappears when you enter the air-conditioned state-of-the-art media centre. The north pavilion of the stadium, which was made ready for the Champions Trophy in six months, is nothing less than a Cricket Club of India or Mohali stadium.

Just behind the stands is the Rajasthan Cricket Academy that has come up in only four months. It's equipped with mobile nets, a swimming pool and gymnasium; the lush grass paints a sharp contrast against the barren lands behind.

The product must look good. That's the first trick of marketing. And Lalit Modi, who has sold Team India right down to the cricketers' gloves, is a master at it. One look around the Mansingh stadium and you'd understand that.

Even the district teams, which few know of, are sexed up. They are the Ajmer Bucks, the Tonk Eagles, Siroh Elephants. The names, in big bold print along with their logos, flutter on the white flags that line the entrance to the pavilion.

And if ticket sales for the non-India games has been a problem for venues in the tournament, Modi has an answer for that too. A package deal. People who hold tickets for the India-England match on October 15 have been warranted entry for the qualifying matches as well.

Though it hasn't encouraged a packed house, there was a sporting crowd at the stadium during the Zimbabwe-Bangladesh match on Friday.

Andrew Flintoff and his Englishmen were at the stadium too. After a hard work-out in the field they made a dash to the academy's swimming pool, but to their consternation were not allowed to make a splash in it. Reason: "It hasn't been officially inaugurated!"

Work in progress

Team India had a banner hanging over the dressing room during their nets: 'Work in Progress'.

But Zimbabwe manager Lovermore Banda begged to differ.

"It's Zimbabwe that's a work in progress," he joked. "India is more like work to be finalised.

"Hopefully, their work will be over by 2007. I think the world is ready for an Indian win at the World Cup. It will be a fantastic gift for players like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. They have been great servants of the team.

"But then imagine (Brian) Lara going out with it, at home. That will be something!"

Banda though would be happy if Zimbabwe is able to provide some competition during the tournament.

Since Andy Flower quit the international team in protest against the Robert Mugabe government's policies, Zimbabwe's performance has dipped sharply.

"This is the third level team," the stocky Banda agrees. "After Flower there was Heath Streak's team, then Tatenda Taibu's team and now the one under (Prosper) Utseya. We would like to believe that there will be some stability in this team.

"The team under Taibu was dismantled before they got enough exposure. But this time we want to give them a long run. The aim is to get a competitive team ready by 2011."

Banda admitted that Zimbabwe has performed worse than expected in the on-going Champions Trophy qualifying tournament, but said the experience is necessary for the team to progress.

"This is what happens when you play against Lara. The first time he'll take you to the cleaners, the second time he'll take you half-way there, the third time it may not be as bad... and you never know what will happen the fourth time.

"That is where we want to get; but for that to happen you should have the experience of the first three times."

The South African nation was competitive in the late 1990's, also making it to the Super Six stage in the 1999 World Cup.

"We were a good ODI team. We were competitive against bigger teams, at times we upset teams like India and Australia. But, essentially, it was a team that beat Bangladesh consistently. We never beat the big teams in Tests. That is what the current Zimbabwe team should be judged against."

Deepti Patwardhan in Jaipur