December 10, 2001

What next at Motera, the ground where records tumble?

It is one of the most inconvenient venues for Test cricket. Many have asked how a venue of this kind was even granted Test status. Well, without getting too negative, a few things must be laid out in black and white. The Sardar Patel Stadium is away from the heart of Ahmedabad, at least a 30-45 minute drive by any mode of land transport. The lead up to the venue is dusty, the roads riddled with indisciplined traffic and the air polluted from the emissions of the various thermal power stations in the area.

The stadium itself is anything but picturesque, a large concrete monstrosity. The massive unpainted cement beams that rise up all around the stands make for a setting of a B-grade horror movie rather than a cricket ground. Surrounding the stadium is an area of undeveloped land, barren and perfectly suited to gusts whipping up clouds of dust that are known to develop into mini sand-storms. The outfield itself is bumpy, knobby and more weed-ridden than grassy, and leads to a wicket that could make the best fast bowler weep at his choice of profession.

Hang on a sec though. It's not yet time to sound like a 'whingeing pom,' going on and on about the dirt the pollution and the poverty. Let's move to the main dish - Test cricket. On that count, anyone who faulted this venue would be doing a grave injustice to the Sardar Patel Stadium.

The romance with records here began back in November 1983, when India took on the mighty West Indies soon after beating them in the World Cup in England. After conceding a 40-run first innings lead, India managed to dismiss the Windies in just 60.3 overs in their second essay. And no, it wasn't a case of visitors struggling against spin. It was more the sweat and toil of Kapil Dev. The all-rounder scalped 9-83 from his marathon 30.3 overs and showed the world that it was possible for medium pacers to excel even in conditions of this kind. It's a different matter that India were skittled out for 103 chasing 242 for victory and lost by 138 runs.

The next big moment that Motera played host to came in March 1987. India took on arch rivals Pakistan and although the match was drawn, a very important milestone was witnessed. When another of India's best-loved sons, Sunil Gavaskar stroked Ijaz Faqih away in the course of his innings of 63, he became the first-ever batsman to score 10,000 Test runs. Everyone knows how proud all India and Gavaskar were of his feat until another great, Allan Border, went on to overtake Gavaskar as the highest scorer in Tests.

The third big event that Motera witnessed saw Kapil Dev return to the limelight. Nothing like his old self, the medium pacer was slower and much less menacing when he took the field against Sri Lanka in the Ahmedabad Test of 1994. Menacing or not, the joy was unbridled when Hashan Tillekaratne edged a Kapil Dev delivery to Sanjay Manjrekar. With that wicket Kapil Dev surpassed Richard Hadlee's tally of 431 wickets and became the leading wicket-taker in Tests.

After Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar it was the turn of Sachin Tendulkar to carve his name in the history books at Motera. It was a long-standing criticism of the batting maestro that he was unable to play the long innings. New Zealand suffered at hands of Tendulkar in October 1999. On the second day of the Test, he notched up 217, his first double ton in Test cricket.

Nasser Hussain and his men now take on India at the very same venue. Going by the history of Indian cricketers rising to the occasion at Motera, the visitors may have more to dislike the venue for than its sheer physical inconvenience by the end of the Test.