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If Rajkot could somehow go magically silent some time during the afternoon, one can hear the snores of a city catching a nap. For years now that’s the time of day when the roads are deserted, legs of lazing auto-drivers peep out of passenger seats, shop keepers down their shutters and a few empty buses drag around the wide ring road as if on punishment laps. It’s only at around 4 pm, after a cup of strong sweet tea and laying their hands on one of the several evening newspapers, Rajkot officially ends its siesta.
On the outskirts of the city, some 10 kms from the snoozing swarm, there happens to be a group of men who have been sleep-deprived for days. Bhupat Talatia, governing member Saurashtra Cricket Association, is one of them. The veteran administrator pushes papers on his crowded desk to accommodate two cups of tea he has just ordered for his just arrived guests. In between shouting orders to arrange for a tent, 100 chairs and a loudspeaker for the cops, whispering the ‘pass’ distribution instructions and coaxing everyone who enters his room to the lunch area; he is reading the flight details of the Indian team that lands in the city tomorrow.
It is a stupid question but someone has to ask it. So do you think the match will take place? Talatia gives a cynical smirk, rolls his eyes and looks around the buzzing office that is housed in a sparkling new stadium. The cynicism and uncertainty of the Lodha vs BCCI battle hasn’t reached this far. Nothing can curb the enthusiasm of the venue that will be hosting its first Test, three decades after hosting its first ODI. The ‘stupid question’ isn’t answer as Talatia talks about the ticket counters outside the stadium, the Test promos on FM radio and the plan to give free tickets to school kids. “The ticket sales will catch up during the weekend as most of Rajkot will be returning after the longish Diwali vacation,” says Talatia.
The lady at the ticket counter outside the main gate doesn’t need a mosquito repellent as she has enough time to claps them to death. She is expected to get busy in the days to come. Many will be travelling to Rajkot on the four-lane highway next to the stadium that takes you, in a little over an hour, to Jamnagar, Ranjitsinh’s birth place. This is a region that proudly flaunts its cricketing history and, of late, even the thriving talent pool. Over the years, royal patronage and commoners who pride them as the connoisseurs of the longer version have helped the game survive and thrive.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s house isn’t far from the highway that passes the SCA stadium and eventually reaches Jamnagar, where his dressing room mate from Team India Ravindra Jadeja lives. The auto driver that drops you at the stadium, is a Jadeja fan, he wants to know the ticket rates. He thinks that Rs 100 for a day pass is a steal. “I am from Junagadh, I find Rajkot boring. Nothing happens. I am waiting from this game. I will return to Junagadh once I get to see the Test. It will be dream come true for me,” he scoffs.
SCA’s old hand Niranjan Shah too had the same dream. He wanted to build a world class stadium and make Rajkot a Test centres. Next week, both his life goals will be fulfilled. As the breeze from the adjoining fields slips inside the well-ventilated stadium, he looks lovingly at the lush green outfield. A well-travelled man, he picked stadium ideas from around the world. The most eye-catching being the Lord’s like press box. This year in June, Shah turned 72. Once Lodha reforms get implanted, it will be end of his long innings on the SCA executive committee. So the Test might be his last hurrah while at helm. Many in SCA feel that the Test needs to go the distance to make it memorable.
Dhiraj Parsana, former Saurashtra player, is the curator here. “I am all for giving a sporting wicket,” he says keeping the cards close to the Test. While in charge of the pitch at Motera, Parsana is known to have a mind of his own and doesn’t get influenced by captains or coaches. He promises an even contest, the kind that will see Rajkot’s sacrificing their siesta.