Revival of Kotla
It was really nice to see international matches being played at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla grounds after a long time. This historic venue had been barred from holding international cricket matches after the infamous Indo-Sri Lanka fixture some time ago. It was feared that this ground will not be used for the World Cup tournament but persistent efforts by DDCA officials including Arun Jaitley have ensured that top class exponents of the game come back and regale the local crowds. Though there is no major match involving India, which is going to be played here, it is great to know that Ferozeshah Kotla continues to be one of the top most cricket venues in the country.
I was in junior school when I first witnessed a match at this historic ground. The Indo Pakistan conflict had got over and there was a charity match of President’s XI versus the Prime Minister’s XI, which was played here. The Presidents team was captained by Polly Umrigar, one of India’s most famous cricketers and the PM’s team by another legend Vijay Manjrekar. Apart from them a host of well-known test players like Ramakant Desai, Salim Durrani, Chandu Borde, Rusi Surti, Hanumant Singh etc played. The two sides also had four West Indies players. I can recall Stayers, King and Roy Gilchrist among them. Gilchrist was one of the most feared bowlers of his time who had been banned from playing for his home country due to an unsavoury incident in which an Indian player’s head had been hit by a rising ball. Gilchrist was not too tall but had very long arms. But when he bowled, it was with frightening speed. It was during the match I also came to know about Sitaram, the curator of the Kotla who used to prepare pitches for all Delhi Test matches and who was also associated with the Roshanara Club. Sitaram was tall and dark and many mistook him to be a West Indian at that time. But he was very humble and soft spoken and held in very high esteem by officials of the DGCA.
I witnessed many Cricket matches at the Kotla thereafter and one I remember very vividly while I was still in school was the India Australia tie in 1969, which India won. It was match where Bill Lawry, the Aussie captain carried his bat through after opening the second innings. It was also the match where both Vishwanath and Ajit Wadekar steered India towards victory with some swashbuckling batting. It was also the match where EAS Prassana and Bishen Bedi wrecked the Australian batting after deceiviong great players like Ian Redpath, Paul Shean, Doug Walters and Ian Chappel by the guile of their spin and flight. It was the match where Farrokh Engineer inspired the bowlers from behind the stumps.
Another match I can recall very well was when in the early eighties, Sunil Gavaskar scored his 29th Test hundred. I was in Times of India and got the passes from Sports Editor R. Sriman and S.K. Mehra to watch the memorable innings where Gavaskar whom I regard as India’s greatest batsman ever played like he had never played. He started belting Malcolm Marshal, at his best, from the word go and reached his milestone. This was the second Test against the West Indies during that series and in the first one, Gavaskar’s bat had been knocked out from his grip by a Marshal delivery in Green Park, Kanpur. The match will always remain etched in my mind.
I also saw many other matches and Kotla always looked greener and better each year till the disaster some years ago against Sri Lanka. Last year during the IPL, I happened to go to the refurbished Kotla to watch Delhi Daredevils lose against a combative Punjab side. I am sure many more interesting matches will be played in the future at this venue which was like a second home to the greats like Lala Amarnath who evern used to watch school cricket at this ground. Such was his passion and love for the Game. I and many of my colleagues have also played at the Kotla where the annual match between the Crime Reporters XI and Delhi Police XI used to be held for the G.Murali Trophy. The annual match has since been discontinued for some odd reason.