INDIA VS WINDIES, 2018
Barsapara stadium was in line to host home games of Rajasthan Royals this year, but it didn’t materialise. Months later now, ODI cricket comes to town. © AFP
Guwahati could have hosted its first Indian Premier League game in the 2018 edition had there been no ongoing litigation and restrictions on Rajasthan Royals playing outside of Jaipur.
The largest city in Northeast India, home to a rather contemporary cricket stadium, was of interest to the senior management of the Royals who wanted to have their home games there, even gaining approval from the BCCI. In the end, the litigation and ruling of the Rajasthan High Court put a halt to that endeavour.
Located with the backdrop of hillocks galore that is trademark to north-eastern landscape, the Barsapara Cricket Stadium, also known as the Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Cricket Stadium, was initially a dumping ground. Allocated about 24 acres of land by the Assam state government, construction for it began in 2006, and took about seven to eight years for completion.
It wasn’t until the 2013-14 season, though, that it hosted its maiden first-class game when Assam took on Kerala in the Ranji Trophy. The stadium that can house a crowd of 37,500, will now be hosting its first One-Day International on Sunday (October 21) when India take on the Windies – the first one-dayer in Guwahati since 2010.
It isn’t however, the first international game at the stadium. Last year, it hosted its first T20 International when Australia beat India by eight wickets. It was a historic moment for not just the city, but for the Assam Cricket Association who have had their fair share of challenges in getting the stadium up and ready in order to host an international game – including acquiring a 16-crore grant from the Assam state government for completion of the stadium after the abrupt stoppage of funds from the BCCI. That, due to a Chief Minister who loves his sport.
“When the present committee took over in June, 2016, the stadium was 90 per cent ready,” says Devajit Saikia, the Vice President of the Assam Cricket Association. “We took charge on June 12, 2016 and the Lodha Committee judgment came on July 18, 2016. It was hardly one month that we had completed and most of the people were new to this organisation. So since July 2016, the fund-flow from the BCCI stopped. We have not been getting any funds for construction or any developmental work from the BCCI for the last two years.
“We had to finish 10 per cent of the remaining work, and after a few months we got the opportunity to host the T20 match. We have a very sport-loving chief minister in Assam so we had to approach the state government because the BCCI was not releasing funds due to the restraint order by Supreme Court. The state government was kind enough to release… the honourable Chief Minister and the honourable Finance minister, who was also the previous president of the Assam Cricket Association, they gave us a grant in aid, which is not even a loan, of 16 crores, which is big money.”
It was this money that was utilised in completing the stadium that could then host its first international match. The initiative of the Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and the Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma helped build the stadium, but there was a larger problem: maintenance.
“Maintaining a structure of this stature needs a lot of funding,” says Saikia. “Till now, not a single corporate house has come forward (for funding), or maybe there’s lacking on our part wherein we’re not approaching them properly to have proper maintenance. Having one match a year, it’ll be very difficult to maintain a stadium of this magnitude.
“With funds of 16 crore, we managed to complete the stadium, but on the other hand, to run the daily activities we had taken a loan from Apex bank and Yes bank. We finally got some BCCI funds to pay our coaches, staff and players. We’re managing somehow.”
The ACA adopted a constitution which was approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, which has eased the situation out for the board a bit at least. The BCCI, too, had adopted the same constitution, registering in Chennai, and the ACA also adopted it within a stipulated time-frame of 30 days.
“That will take care of it because once the regular fund flow starts, then these things can be very easily sorted. We have some other plans also. Let’s see how the committee takes up matters.”
Prior to the T20 match that was played last year, several Ranji Trophy matches were held here. But the galleries still hadn’t been constructed, so logistically, it was a challenge to organise last year’s game. “It was a big challenge because it was a huge structure and we did not know the roads, the galleries, indoors, outdoors, there are 23 gates… it was very difficult for the first time from a logistical and security point of view, but we gained a lot of experience last year.”
But there is a stark difference, for obvious reasons, between hosting a T20I and an ODI. For starters, the duration of the game. The experience of hosting one international game has given the association a glimpse into what the loopholes or challenges may be to get things streamlined come game-day. Yet, there’s only so much one can depend on a blueprint from the past.
How things pan out on the day, however, is anybody’s guess. One thing for certain, though, is that the ACA hasn’t left a stone unturned in terms of security. Hundreds of police men and women, armed even, manned every entrance to the stadium. The stadium was infested with scores of fleas and insects, to get rid of which, fumigation drills were conducted repeatedly, keeping cleaners on their toes.
The press box, that can seat 166, on recommendation of the BCCI, was moved from the Southern end to the Northern end, right above the pavillions, easing the process of post-match obligations. They even made provision for a designated ladies washroom, which is fully functional, which is a rarity in case of most stadiums in India.
The last time an ODI was played in Guwahati at the Nehru Stadium against New Zealand, Virat Kohli scored a century in India’s 40-run win. The full-house tomorrow would hope for history to repeat itself, and thus adorn the success story of the Barsapara Cricket Stadium.