From 'toilet block' to cricket field
As with most achievements in India, the picturesque Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) Stadium in Hubli is more a product of individual enterprise and ingenuity than the system running behind it. This story of the stadium, which will host the final game of three-match unofficial Test series between India and West Indies' A teams, is mostly about one man learning about outfields and pitches on Google, and another man implementing the what was learnt to convert a "toilet block" on a slope near a railway track into an even and big playing field with a hill on one side and a bit of a valley on the other.
Shivanand Gunjal is a paralympian, a former Karnataka Universities cricketer, a civil contractor, and most importantly the curator and the maintenance man at the stadium. He was 13 when he dived badly on his right elbow and lost all the strength in his right arm. It doesn't swing fast now. He kept keeping wicket, just that the first slip has to stand closer than usual. In 1996, he represented India in the Atlanta Paralympics. He came back and kept playing club-level cricket in Hubli.
The owner of his club, Baba Bhusad, is now the Dharwad Zone convenor for KSCA, which has of late shown keen interesting in taking first-class cricket to remote venues in the state. When Bhusad and Gunjal began to work on this land, they were ridiculed.
"Around 2003-04, we zeroed in on this land," says Gunjal. "The place was a toilet block next to the railway track. People laughed at us.
"We had no background in making pitches and growing grass. I was an engineering-diploma holder. We used to go with the convenor to the horticulture department. We learned things there. Before that we couldn't tell between Bermuda grass and Mexican grass. Our convenor used to search for things on Google, and used to ask me to work on them."
The first challenge was to level the playing field. They dug up one half and used that sand to fill up the other. Then they began to test various soils. "We used to sit in a truck with empty bottles and fill them up with various kinds of soil," Gunjal says. "We went all the way till the Goa border and also in north Karnataka. We used to add dry soil to clean water and test it. If we thought it would be good, we used to send it to the laboratory to know the exact soil content."
The ingenuity worked the best here. They knew that the soil used for the Ganpati statues had a good clay content so they went to the labourers and the vendors who sold the statues to ask them where they got the soil from. With a general idea in mind, they brought many samples and sent to laboratories the ones they liked. Finally they decided on the soil from a dense jungle 30km from Hubli, in Kalghatgi. The soil had more than 50% clay, not quite living up to the standard-bearer they had found on the internet: Perth's WACA Ground, with more than 70% clay.
They had always had the permission from the KSCA to go ahead and work on the ground, but not much knowhow. Now the KSCA is supportive too. Narayan Raju, the chief groundsman at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, got Gunjal enrolled for a curators' seminar at the Wankhede Stadium. After a high-scoring match last year - when Amit Mishra scored a double-century - Gunjal has now turned out a green strip. Leading up to the match, it does look a green top, and the trailing home side doesn't really have many reasons to ask for the grass to be shaved off.
This has been quite a turn for a paralympian and a civil contractor who never even dreamt of making pitches, but not quite as dramatic as the one for the "toilet block".
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo