Nostalgic Cricket Memories Of Guwahati’s Nehru Stadium
The author reminisces about the glory days of the iconic Nehru Stadium in Guwahati which played host to a number of international cricket matches. For paucity of space, the author restricts the article to cricket even though the multi-purpose stadium has hosted other disciplines including football.
The euphoria, heightened passion and long queues to watch the first Cricket One Day International (ODI) between India and lowly placed West Indies team in the newly constructed, picturesque, sprawling Barsapara Stadium on October 21, 2018 highlights the genuine sports-loving nature of the residents of Guwahati and the northeast. In fact, huge congregations of connoisseurs of sport have been invariably witnessed since time immemorial whenever quality sporting events have been hosted in Guwahati. Recognizing its superb infrastructure, Sarusajai Stadium was selected as one of the six venues by FIFA (Football’s world governing body) to host the prestigious Under-17 World Cup Soccer 2017. Javier Ceppi, tournament director, FIFA Under-17 World Cup, had reiterated that “Kolkata and Guwahati have seen the biggest spike in ticket sales.” A couple of years ago, the 12th South Asian Games (SAF Games) was held here successfully. No wonder that in recent times efforts are on to make Guwahati the “sporting capital” of India.
On 21st October last, the cricket lovers of Guwahati had their money’s worth having witnessed scintillating batting performances by both India and West Indies. More than six hundred runs were scored in the day-night encounter at Barsapara that included a hurricane century by Shimron Hetmyer followed by Indian captain Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma making mincemeat of the massive target of 323. While the first day-night ODI encounter at Barsapara was a runaway success, let us look back at a few memorable ODIs played at Nehru stadium, Guwahati before this historic ground gets buried in the pages of cricketing history.
An interesting piece of information is that Lance Klusener, the great South African all-rounder now retired, had shot into prominence on the international arena on the strength of his swashbuckling knock in a one day international encounter against Australia played at Nehru Stadium, Guwahati on 1st November, 1996 as part of the Titan Cup - a three nation ODI tournament.
The gruelling encounter between two foreign teams was enjoyed by a capacity crowd and their love for the game was adequately rewarded. Lance Klusener’s magnificent 88 runs helped South Africa get past the Australian score of 239 runs heralding the birth of a very successful all-rounder in the international scene.
While the first ODI was played in Nehru Stadium, Guwahati on 17th December 1983 between India and West Indies in which India (having been crowned world champions just six months back) suffered a humiliating defeat, the next ODI between India and Sri Lanka is still fresh in the memories of genuine cricket lovers who had watched that game for the superlative batting performance of the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. On a typically cold January morning in the year 1987, India took on a strong Sri Lankan team that had players of the calibre of Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda D’Silva and others. Capitalising on the turning track, Indian spinners, especially Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri had bundled the Sri Lankan batsmen out for a paltry 145 runs. Aravinda D’Silva was the lone batsman who had put up a semblance of a fight. Chasing the small target, India had lost two early wickets and the game was thrown wide open. But the batting maestro Gavaskar had displayed brilliant technique to combat the vicious spin bowling on a turning track. Gavaskar’s unbeaten 70 runs helped India win the keenly contested match. His innings was a feast for the eyes of the capacity crowd.
Among other memorable matches played at Guwahati, the ODI played on 5th November 2007 is worth recalling. This was an encounter between India and its arch-rival Pakistan. The entire city, nay the state, was surcharged with excitement long before the match actually commenced. The Pakistan team with stalwarts like Shoaib Akhtar, Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan etc made for a formidable opposition. Batting first, the Pakistan team had put up a challenging score of 239. The beginning of the run chase by the Indians had been disappointing. Losing the valuable wicket of Tendulkar early had been a big blow. However, Saurav Ganguly’s brilliant batting followed by MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh’s electrifying onslaught had steered India to a memorable victory.
Nehru Stadium, Guwahati has hosted 14 ODIs out of which two matches were abandoned due to extraneous factors. It has been a lucky ground for Team India which has won six matches here comprehensively.
A look at the history of building high end sports infrastructure in independent India reveals an interesting fact. The famous Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata were built in 1974 and 1984 respectively. Earlier, these two cities were thriving on the stadiums built by the British. In contrast, the multipurpose Nehru Stadium, built under the direct leadership and supervision of Late RG Baruah, “the architect of modern Assam” in 1962, magnifies the vision of the legend. For over five decades, Nehru Stadium remained the lone venue quenching the thirst for quality sports of the connoisseurs of Assam and the northeast.
With the establishment of Barsapara Stadium for cricket, equipped as it is with modern and world class amenities, coupled with the decline in popularity of the Bordoloi Trophy Football tournament which was a regular annual feature of the city in the summer months, the sight of the congregation of sports lovers outside the entry gates of the historic Nehru Stadium that is studded with pristine glory, to watch exciting matches is very remote and has receded to the background.
However, Nehru Stadium will continue to provide spontaneous joy to veteran sports lovers whenever they recollect in tranquillity moments of some magnificent sporting events they had witnessed here.