Dharamsala set to host its first international cricket match

Dharamsala, Jan 17 (IANS) This picturesque Himalayan hill station, which has lured hundreds of thousands of Westerners since Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama settled here in 1960, is all set witness its first international cricket match this month.

The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) is leaving no stone unturned to make the fifth and final ODI between India and England Jan 27 at its new showpiece venue, located at an altitude of 4,000 feet above sea level, with the mighty snow-clad Dhauladhar Ranges forming the backdrop, a warm and welcoming affair.

"If everything goes as planned, the stadium has the potential to become a permanent fixture for future international matches," HPCA president Anurag Thakur, a member of the Lok Sabha, told IANS.

The stadium, 250 km from state capital Shimla, has a 21,600-seating capacity, besides a world-class indoor stadium comprising video analysis facilities for both bowlers and players, a club lounge, restaurant, bar and banquet hall.

He said the popularity of the venue soared after the seven IPL matches in the past three seasons.

"We are going provide not only the players but also the spectators with a world-class facility," Thakur, the force behind the Rs.100 crore stadium and ultra-luxurious residential complex, said.

He said the HPCA has been working overtime to get the stadium ready for the match.

"For the players, the Pavilion residential complex is almost ready. It has 32 huts made of imported wood and 38 concrete rooms. A world-class multi-gym is the new addition," he added.

The Pavilion, overlooking the stadium, is some three kilometres from the stadium.

However, the HPCA admits the spectators might face problems in getting suitable accommodation.

The town has 56 registered hotels and guest houses with a bed capacity of 1,100. Similarly, McLeodganj, eight kilometres from Dharamsala, has around 91 registered hotels which can accommodate 1,000 people.

"We have got some bookings but we are advising spectators to get bookings at nearby destinations also like Palampur and Jwalamukhi," Mohit Sood, HPCA's press secretary, said.

There is no five-star hotel in the vicinity of this small town. Even the airport at Gaggal, near here, has been shut for over five months now.

Thakur said a request has been made to the civil aviation ministry to start special Air India flights during the match as lack of air connectivity might prove a hindrance to the arrival of cricket fans.

According to espncricinfo, the HPCA venue is the first in India to use winter rye grass scattered around the outfield, which prevents the grass from dying when temperatures fall below 10 degrees Celsius.

The stadium figured first on the international cricket map in 2005 when it hosted a warm-up tie between the touring Pakistan team and the Indian Board President's XI.

Since then, the stadium has hosted 24 matches in the Ranji Trophy, apart from hosting two ODIs between India Under 19 vs Australia Under 19 Sep 24 and 25, 2005.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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