Ranji Trophy 2012-13 November 1, 2012

Ghaziabad ahoy

With hoardings all around the stadium, the refurbished small-town UP venue is ready to welcome India's Test stars for the Ranji season opener

The reason Uttar Pradesh's opening Ranji Trophy game had to be moved from Meerut to Ghaziabad was "security". A UP v Delhi Ranji match usually excites a few local cricket nuts and hecklers. This season, though, stampedes of enthusiasm could be possible.

Four out of seven batsmen that featured in India's last Test, against New Zealand, will be playing this match, along with two players who were part of World Cup winning teams, both senior and junior. Plus there is the lone saving bowling grace from India's nightmare tour of England last year, a bowling contender from India A and a batsman who scored a century in his last Test series for India. This is domestic cricket's version of the Northern Lights.

Naturally, they needed a venue that at least had a fence to hold off what some locals dreamily believe could be 15,000 spectators. If the ground can fit in that many.

Bowlers will line up against Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina knowing that making a dent could make their name. Ishant Sharma will want to motor his way through the UP wickets at speed, and Parvinder Awana will be well aware that in this season - with at least eight more home Tests, eight ODIs and four T20Is left - the conveyor belt of Indian fast bowling could move quickly.

Delhi are at full strength for the first time in at least four seasons. In 2012-13, this could well be the only time. It gives them an edge over the unglamorous cousins across the state border. In recent Ranji seasons, though, Delhi have always been less than the sum of their parts.

When the stars are away, their gaps are filled by hardy first-class stalwarts, of whom Rajat Bhatia will be out for the first three matches with an injury sustained during the Champions League T20. Delhi's batsmen will face up to the wiles of Praveen Kumar, bowling in what is his best "area", the haze of north India's winter.

Both RP Singh, who not so long ago opened the bowling for India, and Piyush Chawla are injured. Praveen's partner will be Bhuvneshwar Kumar, fresh off his heroics in the Duleep Trophy semi-final against North Zone, where he scored his maiden first-class century. But the fastest bowler on the ground, they say quite proudly, will be UP's Imtiaz Ahmed, expected to play ahead of Sudeep Tyagi.

Tyagi's face could only loom in a large poster at one end of the ground, along with Ghaziabad's local heroes, Robin Singh jr, Raina and Manoj Prabhakar. Their images were flanked on one side by a similarly gigantic poster of UPCA officials Rajeev Shukla and Jyoti Bajpai and the pillars of Ghaziabad's civic administration on the other: the district magistrate, senior superintendent of police, managing director of the hospital across the road and the vice-chairman of the Ghaziabad Development Authority, who owns the ground.

The GDA have spent, it is said, Rs 50 lakh on refurbishing the ground. Parts of the ground were being done up as the rockstars of Delhi turned up for their first practice before the Ranji game. It was not, said Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya, meant to be an insult to the hosts but rather to a lack of practice pitches at the ground.

Nehru Stadium remains a small venue still excited about hosting a Ranji Trophy game. There is the smell and cleanliness of fresh whitewash over the dressing rooms and "officials" area between the two. For privacy, the dressing rooms can be sealed off from public view - and indeed all views - with rolling shutters common to the many shops around the ground. Electricity for the rooms will be run by two small generators parked just on the inside of the Nehru Stadium's new gate. It was inaugurated only on Wednesday, and is still covered with strings of marigolds.

Somewhere in the middle of all such hubbub build-up stood a bowling machine and a massage table. It belonged to the UP team, brought over from Kanpur under instructions from its month-old coach Venkatesh Prasad. The man called "Venky" laughed at having to issue loud instructions in Hindi and relishing the start of the season. "Delhi may be full strength, but in our team we have batsmen who have played the quality bowling and bowlers who have bowled to the best batsmen in the world. No way would we have wanted an easier way."

Ghaziabad is agog. Delhi would no doubt have liked an easier way to start their Ranji season.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo