The allure of the MIG ground
There's something unique about the experience of watching cricket at a serene club ground away from the hustle and bustle of the city. While Mumbai's illustrious international venues, the Wankhede Stadium and the Brabourne Stadium, seem to mingle with the imposing concrete structures that dot the southern end of the city, the Middle Income Group ground in the suburbs has a character of its own, symptomatic of the relatively laidback pace of life in a typical residential colony. The quiet settings make it possible to hear the stimulating sound of leather on willow, and a batsman's frenetic call to his non-striker, sending him back to avert a suicidal run-out.
It's no fluke that such a ground successfully hosted three practice matches involving the international sides Australia, New Zealand and South Africa before and after the start of the Champions Trophy. One look at the well-manicured outfield and pitch of international standards shows just why. Chandu Borde, the former India captain, once remarked how pleasantly surprised he was when he visited this venue a few years back. John Bracewell, the New Zealand coach, said he never expected such a quality surface from a club ground.
The club is also the favourite haunt of its greatest patron, Sachin Tendulkar, who spent hours every day toiling away at the nets batting with a single stump, fending away wet rubber balls hurled at him by eager youngsters, determined to recover from a career-threatening tennis elbow injury. His association with the club dates back to his school days when he regularly trained during the summers and relaxed by playing board games under the tents, which stood where the impressive club house is now.
Chandrasekhar Santh, a former journalist with the Maharashtra Times and now a managing committee member of the club, recounts the humble origins of the club. "Back in 1966-67, this was just a marsh," he said. "Pravin Bharve, now the general secretary, approached the government and municipal corporation to establish this club. Back then, the membership was a meagre Rs.10. It was only in 1992 the clubhouse was set up, making it what it is today. Sunil Gavaskar laid the foundation stone along with Madhav Mantri. Polly Umrigar has also worked here as the executive secretary."
The in-house facilities are worth a mention, catering to other sports as well. Both dressing rooms are air-conditioned, making it possible to host international teams. "This has to be one of the best cricket grounds in the city, in terms of the outfield and pitch," gushes a proud Santh. As far as cricket in the suburbs is concerned, we have provided the best."
While crowds and domestic cricket in India rarely go hand in hand, the MIG has seen otherwise. The stands, which were erected outside the ground, were packed to capacity for fans to catch their stars Vinod Kambli, Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Nayan Mongia play. But the ground came into prominence in 1997, when Belinda Clark, the Australian women's captain, slammed an unbeaten 229 in a whopping total of 412 in a World Cup match against Denmark. The game was so lopsided when Denmark folded for 49. Among the other noteworthy fixtures are the two Ranji Trophy games it hosted in 2000-01. One of those was significant for Iqbal Siddiqui, the forgotten Indian fast bowler, whose six wickets earned him a place in the Test squad.
The biggest drawback of the ground is the fact that there are no stands for spectators inside. The first two practice games had large crowds gathered on the narrow tree-lined streets adjacent to the ground, with little ones having to crane their necks to catch a glimpse of their stars. However, a provision was made for the Australia-Mumbai match and the packed stands even took the Australians by surprise.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is editorial assistant of Cricinfo