For a country where cricket is a religion, it is apt that the most picturesque stadium is in a city named Dharamshala (compound of dharma). The name refers to a shelter or rest house for the spiritual pilgrims. Well, as far as the cricket fans are concerned, there cannot be a better ground for their pilgrimage. And for the players, the setting is top-notch.
Located in the Kangra valley amidst the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas, it provides the perfect atmosphere for a cricket match. Imagine running in to bowl with snowclad mountains in front and it is bound to give one that extra motivation. The batsmen would have one eye at the peaks of the Himalayas and if you are a fielder, you can just soak in the serenity till the time the ball comes to you.
HPCA Stadium was established in 2003
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium (as it is referred to) was established in 2003. Since then, it has served as the home of the Himachal Pradesh cricket team and also for the Kings XI Punjab for few IPL matches. International cricket came to this scenic ground in 2013 when India played England in 2013. The home crowd was left disappointed as England won the match by seven wickets. Till date, it has hosted one Test, four ODIs and eight T20Is.
First stadium in India to use winter rye grass in the outfield
Given the climate, the ground provides a small window for organizing cricket matches. However, efforts have been made to make it match fit. Take the instance of usage of winter rye grass in the outfield which does not die when the temperature falls below 10 degree Celsius. With this, it became the first ground in India to do so.
Due to the pandemic, like on other grounds, matches have not taken place here for the last few months. But that has not stopped the authorities from the upkeep of the ground. As I walked in the stadium, I could see the ground staff doing their job. General Manager Col. HS Manhas who was kind enough to take me through the stadium said that preparations are in full swing so that matches can immediately start post the decision is taken. He was also hopeful that the stadium will get to host few matches in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
The other pleasing aspect of the stadium was how the interiors have been decorated. As one enters the lobby, the right wall has photos of players from the state under the caption – ‘Pride of Himachal’. The left wall is dedicated to the winning Indian team of the 2007 T20 World Cup. Then there are multiple photos of legends of Indian cricket like Col. CK Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Hazare, Chandu Borde, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ajit Wadekar, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh among others. Also on display are pictures of the Indian team before the 1950s which has a charm of its own. And it’s not just the Indian cricketers, the stadium pays its tributes to international stars like Richie Benaud, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Barry Richards, Muttiah Muralitharan and Alan Donald.
Three frames in particular caught my attention. The first one captures different emotions of Sachin Tendulkar, the second one shows Sourav Ganguly’s different reactions on probably a missed chance and the third one has dashing opener Virender Sehwag’s face at different stages in his career.
Talking of face, one is greeted with the face of a fierce lion on one of the pillars with the tag line – “If you kick me when I’m down, you better pray that I don’t get up”. Well, given this spectacular setting which would give the players that additional adrenal rush, one sincerely hopes that the Himachal Pradesh team does become a fierce lion in domestic cricket in near future.
With such thoughts, I packed my bag of memories, thanked the people who made this visit possible and walked out of the stadium with the desire of watching a live Test match at this magnificent venue someday.