Lords of Mumbai
Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai's first, hasn't had the chance to host many international matches in the past 40 years. But that has not deterred the club in any way. Seventy five years since they hosted the first match, the Cricket Club of India is raring to go
Aa we walked into the reception area of the Cricket Club of India on Dinshaw Vachcha Road, we couldn’t help but marvel at its beautifully maintained premises. From the impressive wooden balustrades to the perfectly polished flower-patterned floor tiles — everything seemed frozen in time.
“This is exactly how you would have found the club when it was first built in the 1930s,” Sevantibhai Parekh, president, CCI, tells us, as if reading our minds.
We ask him to narrate the story of how the club was formed, and he is more than happy to oblige. “Way back, in 1932, the Maharaja of Patiala went to watch the first-ever Test match between England and India (captained by CK Naidu). The match was at the Bombay Gymkhana grounds, where Indians were made to sit separately from the British. This didn’t sit well with the Maharaja and he decided that Indians must have a club of their own,” reveals Parekh.
With some help from Anthony S de Mello, who went on to become the first secretary of CCI, the Maharaja managed to convince the then Governor of Bombay, Lord Brabourne, to grant 16 acres of land to the club. Lord Brabourne’s only condition was a that the stadium be named after him. By 1933, the club was formed and in May 1936, Lord Brabourne laid the foundation stone for the stadium.
Parekh’s office window gives us a panoramic view of the very impressive Brabourne Stadium. Right in the middle of the perfectly maintained pitch, are workers toiling away, dismantling the stage that had been set up for the grand ceremony held the day before to celebrate 75 years since the first-ever match was played on the pitch.
“The first match was a friendly one between Lord Tennyson’s XI and the CCI team. It was played on December 7, 1937,” says Parekh.
On Thursday, the club felicitated cricketing greats including Sachin Tendulkar, Andy Flower, Graham Gooch and Alastair Cook. “Former president Raj Singh Dungarpur, who passed away in 2009, had been keen on felicitating Tendulkar. Early on in Tendulkar’s career, Dungarpur had realised his potential. The president made a special exception for Tendulkar, allowing him to use the dressing room even as a 14 year-old. The club is extremely strict about its policies, no one below the age of 18 is allowed to use the changing room,” reveals Sanju Kothari, honorary treasurer, CCI.
Former cricketer Kiran More, who fondly recalls the three years he spent playing under-19 cricket at the club, talks about their ceremonious ways. “I played a lot of cricket at the CCI between 1977-81. I remember playing alongside Ravi Shastri and Shivlal Yadav. Many of us were from small towns and the coach had to teach us things like using a fork and knife,” he laughs. The best part about playing at the club, he adds, is the atmosphere. “I would put CCI’s Brabourne Stadium right up there with the Marylebone Cricket Club’s Lords in London,” says More, a proud member of both clubs.
Bring on the matches
Brabourne Stadium was once known as the mecca of cricket. A lot of hard work and funds have gone into maintaining its world-class pitch. But in the last 40 years, only a handful of matches have been played here, including the ICC Champions Trophy in 2006, the T20 Championships in 2007, and a Test between India and Sri Lanka in 2009.
“In 1974, SK Wankhede, who was the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly at the time and the president of the Bombay Cricket Association (BCA) then, demanded a reservation of seats at Brabourne Stadium. Vijay Merchant, then CCI president, flatly refused to do that and Wankhede decided to build another stadium for the BCA,” narrates Parekh.
After Wankhede Stadium was built in 1975, Brabourne was sidelined. But the club is undeterred. Maintenance of the grounds, which has been taken care of by curator and assistant horticulture manager Prakash Adhav for the past 12 years, is in full force.
As we walk out of the club, it’s clear to us that it is perfectly groomed and in immaculate condition. Eager to host, all they need now is international matches.
Camping for the best seats
Sevanti Parekh, who became a member in 1959, recalls the nights he spent queuing up at the club with his friends every time there was a match. “My friends and I came to the club for every single match. We used to camp out the night before a match, we played cards and chatted and so on. We wanted to get the best seats — the ones next to the commentary box,” he says. “Coming for the matches was a grand event, women used to come in fancy saris,” he laughs.