NOT ALL runs in cricket at Mumbai’s iconic Azad Maidan were sprinted across 22 yards. Some involved a dash north to Churchgate station, 1.2 km away, or 350m east to CST. And a few were 60m sprints northeast to the end of Fashion Street.
Not any more. For the first time in its over 100-year history, Azad Maidan is set to get toilets of its own. According to Maharashtra Sports Minister and former Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) president Ashish Shelar, the state government will sanction toilets for clubs situated at Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan and Oval Maidan — the three nurseries of Mumbai, and Indian, cricket.
“We had a meeting with the MCA. The Sports Department will put the matter to the Heritage Committee on the plan prepared by the MCA for the toilet, which is one of the requirements. We will also put up some sort of a dugout for various club tents. I will follow it up with the Heritage Committee to get the necessary permission,” Shelar said.
Shelar’s assurance followed a meeting between the BJP leader and representatives of two clubs — National CC and United Cricketers.
“We met Ashishji, and he sanctioned our request. Our maidan clubs don’t have this basic facility, we don’t even have changing rooms for girls,” said Datta Mittbhavkar of National CC.
From Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sandeep Patil to Sachin Tendulkar, several generations of Mumbai cricketers have made that unspoken dash in these maidan games.
“It should have happened way back but if it’s happening now, it’s welcome,” said former India opener Wasim Jaffer. “I’ve seen it many times — a player before the game rushing to nearby stations as maidans didn’t have a toilet facility. Sometimes, when we were fielding, we’d look around and wonder where a player had disappeared. I’d be told that he would join soon and we would know why. Some used to go to the Churchgate station, some to CST, or you have to go to Fashion street.”
India’s current stars Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, all have similar stories to share. “I used to take the 4 am train from Palghar to Churchgate and often queue up at the public toilet there because there are none at the maidan. A lunch break is 40 minutes…it takes 15 minutes to reach the station and another 15 to return. If the queue is long, add 15 minutes more. By the time a player returns, he has to skip lunch,” said India pacer Shardul Thakur.
While the gymkhanas along Marine Drive are well equipped, loo breaks have to be factored in for individual players at the maidans in south Mumbai, where the Kanga League, club cricket and office cricket games take place.
“It was not just being homesick but going to the toilet that was a hindrance to sleep. There was no toilet at the maidan, and the one near Fashion Street that I used was closed at night. If you have a bad stomach, you just went behind the tree,” said Yashasvi Jaiswal, who stayed with groundsmen at Azad Maidan after coming to Mumbai from UP and is now part of the India under-19 team.
Officials, however, warn that a key question remains: Will the Heritage Committee of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) permit the construction of a semi-structure? In the past, a few clubs had built toilets in their tents but those were demolished since Azad Maidan is tagged as a heritage area.
“Even in the past, the MCA had approached the Sports Ministry to regularise a semi-permanent structure that was existing and permit new semi-permanent structures for which the plans were also approved. It included a toilet on the premises for the benefit of cricketers. But nothing much happened because permissions are required from the Heritage Committee,” said veteran cricket administrator Ratnakar Shetty.