Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The Sardar Patel Stadium at Motera is a remarkable facility: four dressing rooms, a clubhouse with fifty deluxe rooms and five suites, six indoor pitches, two outdoor practice grounds with pavilions, and a main ground lit entirely with LED lights.
But when the project to build it began, circa 2016, the brief wasn't necessarily glamour; it was simply to top the Melbourne Cricket Ground's 100,000 seating capacity and build the world's largest stadium, one that could serve as the new home for cricket in India.
"They wanted it to be the largest - and from 1 lakh in Melbourne, we said, 'Okay, let's go to 1.1 lakh'. And that's how the brief came to us in the form of a tender," MV Satish, whole‐time director & senior executive vice president (buildings) at construction giant Larsen & Toubro (L&T), who had won the government tender for the reconstruction, said. "It was a design-and-build tender, so there were no initial schemes as such, except for a brief that it has to be [of] international quality, [and] a 1.1 lakh seating capacity cricket stadium."
The Sardar Patel Stadium had been established in 1982, with a seating capacity of over 45,000. At the time the tender floated, the facility was already in line for demolition. The completed stadium, which will host its first Test match on Wednesday, would have to be built out of the rubble of the main stadium - which wasn't very conducive to scaling up a stadium's capacity by well over twice the amount.
"The existing stadium was only about a 35-40,000 capacity stadium, and the footprint was the same - we didn't get much extra space," Satish said.
L&T had built stadiums before - the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, the Wankhede Stadium, and even the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, which built in a record time of 260 days. But while they had experience with stadiums, the scale of this one was a "different ball game". To play that game effectively, they sought out the architects at Populous, a global firm that has built some of the world's grandest sporting arenas, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium being one of them. The specific design challenge when scaling up capacity was retaining visibility for the spectators.
"In a cricket stadium first of all we had to achieve those lines of sight for everybody," Satish said. "It is one of those stadiums where you need to see the ball at the boundary line; you don't want to miss out on that opportunity from anywhere - to see that somebody is saving a six or somebody just crashed along the boundary line but couldn't save the ball [from crossing it]. So that was a major challenge in terms of getting the right geometry for the entire stadium within that short space.
"Wherever you are in the stadium, you can have a view of the boundary line and beyond - and almost three metres beyond, which is great and not available in a lot of the stadiums. A lot of people don't realise it, but if you're sitting, it's very difficult to get a 360-degree view of the boundary line and beyond from any point of view - whether you are the top or the bottom tier. So that was the challenge we could overcome with the help of our engineering team and Populous."
Their clients could sparsely believe it, Satish said, and it took a temporary mock-up of 52 rows to prove to them that the range of visibility was identical from any part of the stadium.
"Plus, I think the beauty of this stadium is that as you climb to the podium, you have the entire vista of the stadium," he said. "You have a beautiful airflow. I don't know how it will play out. But what I hear from the cricketers is that based on the season and the timing, a lot of air can move out. So it's not that the air inside the field is getting blocked."
The stadium has what L&T describes as the best of Australian European stadiums retrofitted to India's own stadium culture. Satish's team, alongside Sthaladipti Saha, the vice president and head of public space and airports for L&T, scouted stadiums in India and around the world to pick up the best there was in the space.
In all, L&T estimate that more than 2500 on-site staff worked on this project - apart from those on the design and engineering teams - over a three-year span that had challenges that varied from hauling columns that weighed 285 tonnes, to delays caused by electricity transmission lines getting in the way, and the need to keep the height of the stadium from interfering with flight paths.
At the end of it all stands a stadium that fits the original brief. A large, spacious, grandiose structure that leaves India's other stadiums some way behind. It is the only stadium, for instance, that has received a Gold rating from Indian Green Building Council for its eco-friendliness; among those features is a rainwater harvesting system with a capacity of 320,000 litres per day, and 11 acres of vegetation to enhance biodiversity. Accessibility is also superior to other stadiums, with ramps and lifts for people with disabilities and a "flat level" in the stands that allow easy movement and viewing.
The stadium's only event with a full 110,000 capacity was when the Indian government hosted former USA president Donald Trump, shortly before Covid-19 lockdowns hit the country last year. During that event, it is estimated, the time taken to vacate the entire stadium was roughly eight minutes.
During India's third Test against England, only half that capacity will be permitted. But with mainstream sport increasingly returning across the country, it shouldn't be long before the Sardar Patel Stadium achieves its brief.