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October 28, 2008

Samir Chopra

Memories of Kotla

Samir Chopra

The Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi is an odd place. I first noticed it when watching John Lever rip the guts out of India's batting in the 1976 Test. Delhi's bright winter sunshine lit up the Kotla that day and emphasized several things which I would come to associate with the ground over the years: it was small, most of it was uncovered, and it had a slightly ramshackle feel to it.

That feeling only grew when I visited it for the first time to watch Clive Lloyd's West Indians in the 1983-84 series. It was the first and only day of Test cricket that I observed in India. The approach to the ground was over an unpaved road, the parking lot was a dusty, disused field, and the entrances to the ground similarly nondescript. A friend of mine had secured what were supposed to be very good tickets but the sight lines still weren't great. The crowds were raucous; their hardest hitting lines were reserved for the Indian players. I still blush when I think of some of the lines directed at Shastri, then often fielding close to the boundary line.

The Kotla already had a reputation as a dead pitch by then. One that had, in Lala Amarnath's immortal phrase, "taken an overdose of sleeping pills". But that day's cricket turned out to be surprisingly competitive. Richards did hit a brilliant 67, including a first ball four that sped to the fence before I had processed his entry and taking guard. But otherwise the West Indians stuttered before Lloyd and Logie put together a fightback. That Test, like many other Kotla Tests seemed to, ended in a draw.

Later, I went on to watch more cricket at the Kotla, but almost always domestic fare. Something about the ground was discordant and didn't mesh with my imagined visions of what Test cricket grounds should look like. The Delhi team won many Ranji Trophy games there, and so it acquired some lustre by virtue of being home to a champion team. But it remained a small ground: legend was that some of Tom Moody's sixes, hit during his tour with the Aussie U-19 team in the mid-80s, had actually landed outside the ground next to the bus stops.

It was while watching a Wills Trophy game at the Kotla that I enjoyed one of my most pleasant Indian cricketing experiences. A bunch of us lads from the University had gone down to see a match-up between the Challengers and the Indian side in a one-day game. We showed up with little money in our pockets other than the odd rupee that would aid in the buying of cheap cigarettes and possibly a cup of tea later in the day. Food seemed like a minor detail at the time. The sun was out, cricket was on, what more could we need?

An elderly gentleman sat in front of us, and at lunchtime, proceeded to unpack what seemed like a gigantic lunch box. We looked on hungrily, our appetites suddenly aroused by this sight. Our friend, who had chatted gaily with us about matters cricketing before, proceeded to share his lunch with us, handing out delicious parathas left right and centre, all gratefully and ravenously consumed by us. He was generous to a fault, and he knew his cricket. It was a uniquely Indian moment.

The Kotla has improved over the years though some parts of it still look ugly. Its pitch has gone from being a dodo to a spinner's delight (or so people say). But my relationship with it is unique: looking at images of the Kotla from thousands of miles away is guaranteed to make me homesick, bringing back memories of radiant Delhi winters, bus rides to Delhi Gate, but most of all, memories of the university, chatting about cricket with mates, and deciding impromptu, to head down to the local ground to catch the cricket action.

As I watch the match, I'll be straining to catch glimpses of the city outside. More than any other ground in India, this one is "home", for better or worse.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Cap'n Patrick on (March 7, 2009, 15:40 GMT)

I'm a long way from Delhi - (my home test ground is the Gabba) but loved reading this well-written post; and I pray that cricket will soon once again be a unifying force on the Sub-Continent. Best wishes everybody (go Mitch!)

Posted by Vikram Kewalramani on (October 29, 2008, 5:42 GMT)

I'm watching the first day's proceedings at the Kotla on TV and the stands/ stadium remind me of a NASCAR/ F-1 race car driver. The TATA stand looks hideous with red, yellow and blue colors which I can only imagine are ads. It is one thing to monetize the product but there has to be a balance. Sadly, that is severely lacking in this case.

Posted by Ganesh on (October 29, 2008, 2:50 GMT)

Great Post. I am a Mumbaite now here in Atlanta for last 9 years. But this post has brought back pleasant memories, I used to visit Delhi to my grandparents and uncle/aunt's place at Munirkha every Diwali vacation during my school days. I still remember the 1983 game when Gavaskar equalled Bradman's record, I was at the Rail museum that day but was more hooked to radio commentary.

Delhi winters in 80's is something which I would take anywhere, it used to be pollution free and healthy, but not anymore as I realised last year.

Other Delhi game that I have nostalgic memories is the 1987 Reliance cup game vs Australia, it was Diwali day like today, India scored big batting first, after India's batting I went for shopping at Pallika Bazar, watched Indian bowling eating chat in one of the stalls, still remember the great caught and bowled Azhar took to dismiss McDermott and India won handsomely.

Diwali & Delhi winters, in mid-late 80s to go with cricket matches will remain in memories !

Posted by VB Sharma on (October 28, 2008, 23:59 GMT)

Great Post Pal !! Delhi does bring that kind of nostalgia even, if you are just passing it. I wonder if it's the history of this magnificent city. Delhi's charm is captured very well by William Dalrymple in his tavel book'City of Dijns'. Kotla does need a good revamp befitting to a great stadium in a great capital city.

Posted by JK on (October 28, 2008, 20:44 GMT)

I am neither from Delhi nor have I watched cricket at the Kotla live, yet this post makes me nostalgic. It reminds me of days spent at the fateh maidan and gymkhana grounds (in hyderabad/ sec'bad) under the hot sun.....In 1991, in a ranji game btwn Karnataka and Hyd, I remember Abdul Azeem hooking K.G.Sekhar for 6 and the ball landed right next to me! what a shot, what a day!

Posted by Sagar on (October 28, 2008, 19:55 GMT)

I am not from Delhi but still Kotla has a different nostalgia about it. The two matches that never leave my memory of kotla are - India Vs Lanka World cup match in 1996 - Jayasurya butchering Manoj Prabhakar, forcing Prabhakar to bowl offspin. I can remember every corner of the ground being laced with Jayasurya boundaries.

Other absolutely memorable moment of Kotla is the Kumble's 10 for in 1999. Had a distinctive Kotla feel to the whole memory of Kumble celebrating as Laxman completed the catch of Wasim Akram and Gaekwad running on from the player's balcony.

Kotla looks different today...doesn't it?

Posted by Vikram Kewalramani on (October 28, 2008, 17:32 GMT)

I am from Mumbai; in the good ol' days it was always about Mumbai v Delhi. I lived in Mumbai but spent my summers( and hence played a lot of cricket) in Delhi. I digress: I remember going to the Kotla to watch a Tamil Nadu v Delhi Ranji trophy game. This must've been in the late 80s. Ajay Sharma, KP Bhaskar and WV Raman were playing in the game. I vividly remember eating Chole bhature and tnen running on the ground during the drinks break only to be shooed off by Ajay Sharma :) Needless to say we had a great time.

I remember watching the Ind v SL ODI (96 WC) which I believe was played at the Kotla. Not too fond memories especially when our strike bowler, Prabhakar, was bowling like a spinner.

Somehow, I get the feeling that Kotla might have a result like the Perth test: a fortress for the home team. India definitely cannot let their guard down and take this test for granted.

Posted by Samir Chopra on (October 28, 2008, 16:30 GMT)

Glad to see I introduced some nostalgia, and that Saurabh managed to make me even more homesick :)

Agnihothra: I hadn't forgotten about that at all, its just that it didn't happen when I was at the ground!

Posted by saurabh on (October 28, 2008, 14:18 GMT)

dude i work in US as well, but im in Delhi for diwali and i will be going to the ground to watch the test match :d

Posted by agnihothra on (October 28, 2008, 13:03 GMT)

Hey Samir the delhi test of 83-84 against WIndies was famous for a more momentous occassion,Sunil Gavaskar getting to 29th hundred.It was a vry big deal then wonder why you didnt remember that one....

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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