Depicting cricket’s glorious past, Nehru Stadium stands tall in Pune- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

PUNE: If you travel to Pune city by bus and get off at ‘Swargate’, the city’s primary bus depot, you are just five minutes away from the venue that has witnessed plenty of cricket history. At first sight, you won’t even realise that there is a cricket ground inside those big walls. Today, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is a quaint place on Tilak Road, telling stories of cricket’s glorious past in the city.

Located just next to Sarasbaug, one of the most beautiful gardens in the city, which also has the famous Ganesh Temple, the Nehru Stadium was built to host international cricket matches in the city. The dream took off when Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) received the Town Hall Committee’s 9-acre land and The Club of Maharashtra’s 5-acre land on a lease basis for 99 years for the construction of the stadium. It was such a big deal back in 1965 that Maharashtra’s then chief minister Vasantrao Naik came to lay the foundation stone of the stadium on October 3, 1965.

Four years later, when Bill Lawry-led Australia visited India for the Test series, Pune’s first international cricket stadium was inaugurated. “If you see, there is a board at the ground that says me and Bill opened the ground,” Chandu Borde, then captain of the West Zone team that faced Australia in the practice match at the same venue, told this daily. Borde, an allrounder on and off the field, has another special bond with the stadium. After retiring, the Pune-born cricketer turned curator at this very venue from 1984. “It’s a beautiful outfield and pitch to work on. The black soil pitch offers everything you would need as a cricketer. The sitting arrangement for fans (25,000 capacity) is also amazing, so in all it’s a beautiful stadium,” he added.

With all these positive aspects, it was not surprising when India co-hosted World Cups in 1987 and later in 1996, the Nehru Stadium hosted a match on both occasions.

Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium | Express

While the ’87 contest was a one-sided affair between England and Sri Lanka where the former came on top as winners, Borde still remembers the 1996 clash, dubbed as one of the biggest upsets in WC history. “If there is one match I remember it was between Kenya and West Indies,” the veteran remembers. In what was a monumental task, Maurice Odumbe-led Kenya comprehensively defeated two-time champions West Indies, to register their first-ever win in the format. “Some of the commentators were talking (negative) about the wicket before the match, but I think they were all quiet after the stunning result,” he reminisced about the good old days.

Nehru Stadium’s love affair with WCs didn’t stop with men’s cricket, as it hosted two fixtures in the 1997 Women’s WC. Not just hosting the big tournaments, the stadium administrative staff helped budding women cricketers hone their skills from the very beginning. One of those was the former India captain Shubhangi Kulkarni, who even has one of the gates named after her at the stadium.

“I consider myself fortunate to have had support from the Nehru Stadium’s administrative staff. During those days most of the players could barely afford to pay for the facilities and we were granted access to it at a nominal fee and sometimes even without any charges,” she remembered.

“I spent the peak years of my cricket career honing my skills at Nehru Stadium. Born and raised in Pune, it had always been a cherished dream to represent my country on the international stage at this very stadium, amidst my home crowd. I can vividly recall the pitches which were known to be what we called a “Paata” (flat) wicket favoring the batters. As an all-rounder, I relished batting on these wickets. However, as a right-arm leg-spinner, turning the ball was a challenge and I had to use variations to be effective. I enjoyed the learning experience,” said Kulkarni, who fulfilled her dream of playing in front of the home crowd in 1984.

With every international cricket match in Pune being hosted at the MCA Stadium in Gahunje since 2012, the Nehru Stadium might have lost its relevance, but still holds a lot of memories for generations of cricket lovers in the city. 

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