Little jewel with a beat of Bhangra
There was the scent of tandoori in the air, and bhangra played during the intervals. The stadium was three-quarters-full by late afternoon, a large proportion of them students on Diwali vacation. It was a colourful relief from the numbing symmetry of Chandigarh. All that was missing was taut cricket - which is not to say that New Zealand were boring, but that the contest never acquired an edge on a pitch that exposed Mohali once and for all as a flat batting track and undeserving of its seamer-friendly reputation.
But that shouldn't obscure the bigger picture. Mohali is a superb cricket centre, complete and with a palpable cricket ethos. If there was ever a statistic indicting the rotation policies that (must) regulate Indian cricket, it is that this little jewel is hosting only its fourth Test since its debut nine years ago, a period that has seen 36 home Tests in toto. The progress of Mohali, under IS Bindra, once the president of the BCCI and its nemesis since, should serve as an embarrassment to most other state associations.
The pillars upon which a venue must be built upon are: spectator comfort, player facilites, a well-maintained ground, and sufficient provisions for the media. If beyond this, it can be pleasing to the eye, so much the better. There are Test stadiums in this country which might fail on every one of these counts
Mohali's greatest forte is what it offers the player. Tucked away on one side of the ground is a large practice area with four pitches (and place for a dozen more, which might be constructed at a later date) and a bowling machine. Just behind this is a well-equipped gymnasium, the type that the Board has instructed every association to house. But this one is meant only for the junior players and academy students, because a new state-of-the-art health club - sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi included - has been installed at the other end of the premises. Behind this is the sparkling white Punjab Cricket Club, boasting a pool, tennis courts, a bar and restaurant, and conference rooms. In the ground itself, the toilets are usable, the food is good ... and they serve beer!
The development of Mohali is tied to a larger vision for the growth of cricket in Punjab. Traditionally, Mohali is no cricket centre - those are Amritsar, Patiala and Jalandhar, where only yesterday the PCA announced the commencement of academies ("centres of excellence") sponsored by Lifebuoy soap. But Mohali, because of its proximity to the capital, is seen as the point where the energy from all over the state may converge. The investment is bound to pay off.
One the eve of the match, Daljit Singh, the curator, was beaming at Mohali's latest baby - a canopy for a pitch cover, one which can be rolled easily to the centre and which lets the pitch "breathe" so that moisture might not settle upon it. On this count at least, it appears that Mohali has got it wrong. On today's evidence, what this match really needed was a pitch with no cover whatsoever.