Set for takeoff

Y. B. SARANGI

Himachal Pradesh is home to some top quality cricket infrastructure. The stunning Dharamshala stadium (in pic) is one of them and is a popular tourist attraction in this hill station, writes Y. B. Sarangi.

A stadium set against the backdrop of the spectacular Dhauladhar mountain ranges; another one on the banks of the gorgeously flowing River Beas, and a third one sandwiched between the scenic Govind Sagar Lake and bewitching mountains. Himachal Pradesh provides some unforgettable picture-postcard-like settings for the ardent cricket lovers as well as those who have little acquaintance with the sport.

The mountainous state was almost unknown for cricket until a few years ago. However, under the leadership of the HPCA (Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association) President, Anurag Thakur, it started a revolution of sorts by finding land among the hills and building these beautiful stadiums.

Since the state is loaded with the gifts of nature, the idea of promoting cricket tourism was always in the minds of the HPCA top brass. Today, the stunning Dharamshala stadium is one of the iconic locations and a popular tourist attraction in this hill station, surrounded by a spellbinding waterfall and some Buddhist monasteries, including the official residence of the Dalai Lama.

After hosting a few Ranji Trophy matches and some practice games for the touring Test teams, the stadium, completed in the latter half of the last decade, became the second home of the Indian Premier League side, Kings XI Punjab, in 2010. The positive feedback helped the HPCA get its first international match, an ODI against England, last year followed by another one against the West Indies on October 17 this year.

“Whenever the IPL or international matches are played here, this town of 50,000 people and its adjacent areas earn good revenue. The inflow of tourists is so high at that time,” says Thakur.

Even as the HPCA is fighting legal battles, including a land dispute with the state government, Thakur wants the BCCI to make the best use of the state-of-the-art facilities (including an innovatively designed, naturally lit indoor arena). Besides, he has some plans up his sleeve. “We are planning to begin two events (one pre-season and one off-season) which will keep the ground busy and provide opportunities to our players. We will call teams from other states to take part in these tournaments,” says Thakur, who is also a Joint Secretary of the BCCI.

With teething problems such as inadequate hotel accommodation and flights sorted out, Thakur, also a Member of Parliament, has knocked on the doors of the BCCI with a request to grant the centre Test status. He also invites sportspersons from other disciplines to come and train at the hill station, utilise the modern facilities at the stadium and reap the benefits of high-altitude training.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Stadium on the banks of River Beas at Nadaun, situated 67 km from Dharamshala, is another lovely destination. Not very far from the famous Jwalaji temple, the ground, which used to be an awkward looking playground with a high degree of sloping, has been levelled, and on it stands a fine venue for domestic cricket. This year, it is going to host some Vijay Hazare one-day matches.

Nearly 65 km from Nadaun, Bilaspur offers a different kind of cricketing experience. The story of the ground is as breathtaking as its setting.

Locals say the town was shifted in the 1960s in order to provide space for the reservoir on River Sutlej that was formed after the construction of the hydel dam at Bhakra. The piece of land, mostly surrounded by the Gobind Sagar Lake, was developed by the HPCA to give the cricket loving kids of the district a platform to showcase their talent.

“The ground level is actually lower than the water level of the lake, but water never enters the playing arena. While preparing the ground, perforated pipes were laid under the turf in order to drain the water which could dampen the playing arena due to seepage,” says Vishal Jagotra, a former Ranji Trophy player and the Secretary of the Bilaspur Cricket Association (BCA).

As Bilaspur flaunts its sporting culture, featuring an annual sports mela and facilities for paragliding and water sports, it is only befitting that the BCA provides free coaching for girls at its academy.

The proliferation of top quality infrastructure in different parts of Himachal Pradesh has been possible due to the farsighted approach of the HPCA, which has worked overtime to give the state a prominent place in the country’s vast cricketing map. Only the talent in the state need to be spotted and nurtured well in order to make it a cricketing force at the National level.