On a tall shaky bamboo ladder, lodged between two rows of stadiums seats, stood a painter whitewashing the parapet wall that had ‘Gautam Gambhir’ written on it with giant black metal letters. With the light over the Feroz Shah Kotla fading, the painter climbed down the ladder. The job was too risky, he complained. As he called it a day, panic gripped the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) officials who were overseeing the 11th hour preparation for the unveiling of the much-delayed Gambhir stand at Kotla.
There was another problem. Someone pointed out that putting up just ‘Gautam Gambhir’ on the stadium wall wouldn’t suffice, it needed a ‘Stand’ suffix. It was too late to order fresh metal letters.
One of the officials had a brain wave, a giant vinyl hoarding with ‘Gautam Gambhir Stand’ printed across it was ordered. Thankfully, for DDCA, it reached Kotla before Gambhir.
With the original slot already occupied, the new hoarding was placed at the other end of the stadium. Now Kotla had two Gambhir stands — one on the left of the stadium end and the other on the right. It was decided that Gambhir would inaugurate the end that had the just-arrived hoarding. A suggestion to decorate the stand was floated. As luck would have it the electricians couldn’t find enough wire to light-up the wall.
Things somewhat improved with Gambhir’s arrival. The cricketer-turned-MP cut the ribbon and posed for photographs with DDCA secretary Vinod Tihara and members of the Apex Council, who have revolted against DDCA president Rajat Sharma. There were whispers about how Sharma didn’t want Kotla to have a Gambhir stand.
That’s when someone from the crowd shouted ‘Vinod Tihara ki jai’ as the evening turned into a show of strength for the secretary who was suspended but now has the support of nine of the 16 members of the Apex Council.
“Today we have dedicated a stand to Gautam Gambhir. The stand should have been unveiled much earlier. Unfortunately there was a difference of opinion between members of the Apex Council. But today we have honoured a player whose contribution to Indian cricket and Delhi cricket is invaluable,” Rajan Manchanda, the DDCA joint secretary said.
When asked which of the two stands would eventually have Gambhir’s name, Manchanda was non-committal: “Whether the left side or the right side or the entire stand will be named after Gambhir will be decided shortly. What is important is that Gambhir’s contribution has been acknowledged this evening.”
The plan of the Apex Council was to inaugurate the stand in July. However, in September at a function attended by home minister Amit Shah, sports minister Kiren Rijiju and DDCA president Sharma, a Virat Kohli Pavilion was unveiled in the presence of the Indian captain. The ‘Gambhir stand’ was put on the back-burner till the Apex Council members, who are at loggerheads with Sharma, last Tuesday unanimously decided to honour the cricketer who has played 58 Tests and 147 ODIs for India.
When Gambhir took the stage, he spoke about the delay in naming a stand after him. “The president can answer this question better because earlier I was told that the stand will be unveiled during the India versus Australia game, then they said it will be the first game of IPL, then they said the hot weather (local tournament). This was what was told to me in the last six-seven months,” he said.
Infighting has come to the fore in the DDCA since president Sharma resigned earlier this month and a majority of the Apex Council members accepted his resignation and also reinstated suspended secretary Tihara. The DDCA ombudsman Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed will conduct a hearing of all warring parties on Wednesday before coming to a decision.
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Gambhir, who resigned as a government nominee of the DDCA last month, was scathing in his attack of the manner in which cricket was being run in the state unit. “One thing which is absolutely not acceptable is having a selector who has not played for Delhi. Delhi is like Mumbai and Karnataka, we are multiple time Ranji Trophy champions, so you don’t expect to have a selector who has never played for Delhi. In fact, you have got a junior selector also who has never played for Delhi. I had raised that point when I was DDCA director but it did not change anything and hurt me a lot,” Gambhir said.
Scholarship for 100 cricketers who don’t have jobs, increase in daily allowance for players and indoor nets at the Kotla are few of the suggestions Gambhir said he had put forward but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
At the end of the day, the man with the biggest smile was the official who had placed an order for the vinyl hoarding. “It was a back up plan,” he said smugly before adding, “chaos is always part of DDCA. Nothing new about that.”