Hyderabad awaits Test action

Pearl City set to host longer version of the game after a gap of nearly 22 years

The City of Nawabs, of ML Jaisimha and Tiger Pataudi, of Shivlal Yadav and Mohammad Azharuddin, of Arshad Ayub and Venkatapathi Raju, of VVS Laxman, has hosted three previous Tests, all against New Zealand, at the multi-purpose Lal Bahadur stadium.

The last of those Tests was in December 1988, when Kane Williamson wasn’t born, and
Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t made his Test debut!

For all the rich cricketing legacy of this buffer zone between north and south India, Hyderabad bemoaned the loss of its Test match-staging status following more than one instance of lack of crowd control at the LB stadium.

The construction of the ultra-modern Rajiv Gandhi International stadium, the brainchild of former India off-spinner Yadav, paved the way for the return of Test cricket to this proud city, still smarting from the diabolical 21 all out of their state side in a Ranji Trophy Plate clash against Rajasthan last week.

Yadav is today one of the vice-presidents of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, hands-on in every sense of the term. The man with more than 100 Test wickets can still turn the cricket ball like a top, as Harbhajan Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni found out first-hand when they strode out to have a look at the playing surface for the second Test.

When Dhoni spins the coin on Friday, he will formalise the coronation of the Uppal venue as India’s 21st Test-staging centre spread across 14 different cities. No other country can boast as many Test venues.

The HCA is leaving no stone unturned to make this a grand occasion and has sent out invitations to its former legends, including Tiger Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig and Azharuddin. The first two won’t make it due to ill-health, while parliamentary duties will most likely keep Azhar too away. Present, though, will be K Jayantilal and former state skipper MV Narasimha Rao.

One of the most popular men to have played international cricket, Raju is delighted that Hyderabad’s status amongst the elite has been restored. “It’s been a while,” the former Indian left-arm spinner, also an HCA vice-president, told Deccan Herald. “The coincidence is that we always play New Zealand here, and rain also follows us!

“It’s a nice feeling that Hyderabad is hosting a Test again, though unfortunately, we couldn’t play any Test matches here. Yesterday, Laxman said the same thing – that it’s nice to make his Test debut in Hyderabad after all these years! Better late than never.

We have got Test status and it’s a great feeling being a Test centre. Hyderabad has always been known for its cricketing culture and the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup was the number one tournament. Indian players were selected on the basis of their performances in that tournament. Hyderabad cricket has got a lot of history, and I think history is repeating itself.”

Positive note

Disappointed at not being able to parade his wares in the longer version in front of the people who watched his rise through the ranks, Raju strove to strike a positive note.

“You always want to play in front of your home crowd. Unfortunately, we could never do that. Arshad (the current HCA president) and Azhar had that privilege, and now Laxman and (Pragyan) Ojha will have that feeling. For me, it feels great to be a part of it.
Hopefully, we will have many more players from Hyderabad going on to play Test cricket, because Test cricket is the real test of a player.”

The sprawling stadium hasn’t been kind to home teams – India have lost all three one-dayers, Hyderabad haven’t done well, South Zone don’t have a good record and the Deccan Chargers are yet to win a single game here – but that doesn’t deter Laxman, India’s man of the moment, one bit.

“This is the city that has given me everything and it’s a special feeling to have my coaches, well-wishers, family and friends watch me play,” Laxman said. “Come what may, I’ll remember this Test match forever. It’s special.”

Tendulkar has this happy knack of embellishing special occasions with special knocks. He heralded the progression of the VCA stadium in Nagpur to the Test ranks with a brilliant hundred against Australia two years ago. Don’t rule out a 50th Test hundred at the venue where he made a spectacular 175 against Australia in a one-dayer last year.

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