Hubli readies itself for the big day
The new Karnataka State Cricket Association ground in the north Karnataka city of Hubli sneaks up on you. One minute you are in a tree-lined locality with low-rise apartment complexes and old houses which are small but still have gardens in front, and the next you are entering the stadium's gate looking at the bustling volunteers, workers and policemen who are putting things in place for the biggest day in Hubli cricket for two decades - a first-class game.
The last time a first-class match was played in the city was back in 1992-93 when former India left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi, the most famous cricketer from this region, made his debut. That game was called off midway due to curfew after the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
That game was played at the Nehru Stadium, which didn't have much grass on the outfield. In contrast, the new ground has a lush green outfield - one of the larger ones in India with a radius of around 90 metres -a quaint brick pavilion, and looks well-equipped for first-class cricket with temporary stands that the organisers hope will accommodate about 12,000 spectators.
"Since 2002 we have been planning for a stadium in Hubli," says a proud Baba Bhusad, the KSCA convenor for the area, and one of the key persons behind the development of the new stadium. "There have been plenty of challenges along the way. The first one was getting the land." It was in 2005, with Brijesh Patel in charge of the KSCA, that the land was acquired on a 30-year lease.
"Then came the redevelopment of the ground, which has been going on for more than a year now," Bhusad says. Three thousand truckloads of soil were lugged in to convert the rocky surface to something more suitable for cricket. "When it comes to fielding, kids here are not used to sliding and diving, but they needn't worry now with the outfield we have here."
And the latest challenge has been to get the stadium match-ready. "The landscaping has been in progress for over 20 days," Shivanand Gunjal, a KSCA organiser, says, "and the KSCA curator Narayan Raju has been helping us with the pitch for the past few months."
Everywhere you look, there are last-minute arrangements in progress. Dozens of policemen are being shouted instructions by their boss a day before the chief minister arrives to inaugurate the pavilion, several men are tending to the garden at the entrance, excavators are shifting away construction debris, hundreds of chairs are being placed in the stands, a new refrigerator arrives prompting discussion over where it needs to be kept in the pavilion, the outfield is tended to make sure it's smooth, and the wiring needed for television cameras is being put in place.
The stadium falls in line with the Anil Kumble-led KSCA administration's drive to spread cricket in Karnataka, decentralising it from the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. "The new stadium will give cricket in the region major impetus," Bhusad says. "In our time, we needed to go to Bangalore if we wanted to play on turf pitches since there were only matting wickets here." Now, the stadium has ten turf pitches as part of the Royal Challengers KSCA academy which opened this July.
Last year, the KSCA held a match in the central Karnataka town of Shimoga, and this time they have allotted matches to Mysore and Hubli. A double-century from CM Gautam in Mysore gave the home team three points and kept them firmly in the quarter-final race.
In Hubli, they are up against the team that knocked them out last year, Haryana. Stand-in Karnataka captain Stuart Binny said that defeat still rankled, and that the team discussed the game in the pre-training huddle in the morning. Despite the absence of regular captain Vinay Kumar (calf-muscle injury) and fast bowler Abhimanyu Mithun (on national duty) Karnataka will start favourites against a side whose inconsistent batting has made more than 300 only once this season.
They can count on one factor in Hubli that they usually don't get back in Bangalore - a vociferous crowd cheering them on.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo