ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
World Cup 2011
The Wankhede enters the 21st century
There are a few rough edges that need smoothening out, but all in all the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai has been transformed from a concrete monstrosity into a ground worthy of hosting a World Cup final
February 20, 2011
The ugly duckling has turned into a swan. Over the last 21 months, and at a cost of Rs 275 crores ($61 million), the concrete monstrosity that used to be Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium has been transformed into something befitting the 21st century, and a place worthy of hosting the World Cup final. Originally built in just nine months in 1974, the Wankhede was a testament to a bygone era where no matter how uncomfortable stadiums were, the fans would still come. Today, the uncomfortable benches that forced fans to squash up against each other are gone. So too are the concrete pillars that obstructed many a paying spectator's view of the field, forcing them to lean one way or the other to catch the action. Instead, a sea of individual bucket seats, coloured green, blue and grey greet the eye.
At first glance the seats appear to be randomly coloured, but let your eye follow the clumps of green seats and you soon notice they form a wave pattern that travels all around the stadium. It is an unexpected aesthetic touch that adds a festive air. There are also 57 new air-conditioned boxes and there will be three giant replay screens that overlook the ground, although only the one above the Vijay Manjrekar stand has been installed so far. The new seats and boxes mean the stadium can hold 33,500, down from roughly 38,000, but it was a necessary sacrifice.
"We had a choice to look at numbers and compromise on the facilities," Ratnakar Shetty, the treasurer of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), and tournament director of the World Cup, said. "But the board decided not to compromise on the facilities for the paying spectator." While the north and south stands were completely rebuilt, the structure of the Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Manjrekar pavilions to the east and west were left untouched.
A heavy roller lay at one end of the pitch, which officials say is ready to host a game today, while the area around it was thick with a carpet of bright green grass. There's still work to be done on the ground though, with less than a month before it hosts its first World Cup game on March 13. The outer rim of the outfield was dotted with large sandy patches, a legacy of the delay in relaying the turf. However, former India batsman, and MCA vice-president, Dilip Vengsarkar, said it was nothing to worry about and that the entire ground had originally resembled a sandy desert. Give it another five or six days, he said, and the outfield would be completely green.
The ground had to be re-laid because it was dug up to install a sand-based drainage system (similar to the one at Lord's) that should ensure fans won't have to twiddle their thumbs while the outfield dries. A roof offers shade to most of the ground, but the east and west stands have been left exposed, allowing the sea breeze to get rid of the stultifying heat that used to hang in the air like a blanket.
The changes inside are less visible, but equally significant, driven in part by the speed of the Twenty20 game, which didn't exist when the stadium was built in 1974. Test cricket offers the luxury of time, and missing an over or two isn't critical. In Twenty20, one ball can irrevocably change the course of a game. "People don't want to miss even a single ball now," Amol Prabhu, an architect with P Sashi Prabhu and Associates [the firm that co-designed the new stadium along with PK Das], told ESPNcricinfo. The result is 21 exits from the stands, where there were 11 previously, allowing fans to make a quick dash to one of the many food courts between overs.
Perhaps, the area where fans will feel the greatest difference, and be the most grateful, are the restrooms, and once again they have the IPL to thank. "30% of those watching the IPL consist of ladies and children," Shetty said. "We had to make facilities for that group also." So it's goodbye to long queues and long waits to use the restrooms, as they have mushroomed all over the stadium. The number of urinals has grown by 500% (from 153 to 767) and the number of water closets has doubled (143 to 292), with separate facilities for women in every stand.
The players and media haven't been neglected either, with both getting new homes. The new dressing rooms are over 3,000 square feet each, and come equipped with a balcony, multiple showers and a bath. Located on the first level on the south side, they are entirely enclosed by glass and face straight down the pitch, giving the players a perfect view of the game. The players won't be distracted either. Access to the rooms has been restricted to a single staircase as the teams have to be kept secluded under ICC regulations aimed at preventing match-fixing.
Meanwhile, the media centre has been relocated to the north side of the stadium, directly opposite the dressing rooms. The old media centre was a makeshift one, barely able to hold 80 people. The new one is narrow, but what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in width, extending across one side of the ground and capable of comfortably accommodating 194 journalists. There is a separate working area for photographers as well, and a lounge where journalists can chow down on refreshments.
Security was another ingredient the designers of the stadium had to build into the plan. Turnstiles are being set up at all the entrances and fans will have to scan their tickets to enter the stadium. The use of barcodes is meant to eliminate the problem of counterfeit tickets and make sure those who are watching the game are there legally. Those who do have legitimate tickets might also want to make sure they are wearing their Sunday best because a security camera will photograph each person as they enter the ground. A further 200 CCTVs are being installed around the stadium to make sure nobody slips in unannounced.
There were some concerns raised over the ability of the stadium to deal with a fire, after the Mumbai department said, on Friday, the stadium had not yet got their approval. But, Shetty said all the required permissions would be obtained before the Wankhede hosts a match.
The Wankhede Stadium's newest avatar was inaugurated by Sharad Pawar, the president of the MCA (and the current president of the ICC). He admitted that the old stadium had plenty of flaws and that improvements were much needed. The idea was to build something "such that not only the people of Bombay, but everybody should feel that Bombay has produced a stadium of international quality." While there are still some rough edges that need smoothening out - exposed wires, a patchy outfield, furnishings for the dressing rooms - at first glance, it looks like the association has succeeded. The real test though, will come when the stadium actually opens its gates to the fans.
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