Amidst all the buzz around the series at the end of the Ranchi Test, India and Australia went to Dharamsala to play the decider. Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association’s venue was set to make its debut in the Test cricket arena.
HPCA stadium became one of six venues to be awarded a Test match before the start of probably the longest Test season at home, where India was scheduled to play 13 Test matches.
And what a debut it made. There are no words to describe the beauty of this ground. The icing on the cake is the cricketing facility. Outstanding to say the least, the infrastructure at this venue is probably one of the best in India.
What was really fascinating was the kind of wicket and conditions that were offered for the teams in the Test. Despite hosting the first ever Test match and that too for such an important match of the season, Dharamsala provided the best wicket of the season.
The result was the most enthralling cricket in recent times. There was consistent bounce and swing for pacers, steady spin for spinners and batsmen could play their shots once they got set.
The lush green outfield was fast and a feast for the eyes. Add to this the picturesque backdrop of the Dhauladhar range and the venue left everyone mesmerised and enchanted. From spectators to commentators to the players, everyone was praising the venue and those who didn’t attend the fourth Test have now added the HPCA stadium to their bucket list.
Former Australia captain Steve Waugh wrote in an article in Times of India:
Dharamsala made a stunning debut as a Test venue over the four days of the final Test for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The ground’s picture-postcard setting, images of which went all over the world, was a wonderful tourism advertisement for India and I’d love to watch a game there someday. The pitch was the best of the series by far, with a fair amount of bounce for the pace bowlers, runs on offer for batsmen who put a price on their wicket and applied a disciplined approach. The wicket also provided the spin bowlers with enough turn and variable bounce.
For a small town like Dharamsala, this was a moment of immense joy and pride to hear such a statement from a great cricketer.
The Story Behind the Dharamsala Stadium
But let's go back to the story behind this stadium. In 2000, former BCCI President and HPCA president Anurag Thakur, at the age of 25, took the reins of cricket administration in Himachal Pradesh. With Rs 20,000 in its account, the HPCA dreamt big and requested the Himachal government to provide land to build the stadium.
Along with his colleagues, he visited many places in the hill state but finally zeroed down on the irresistible backdrop of the Dhauldhar. This piece of land had a slope of 300 feet, filled with big boulders and a drain running through it. Many people around Dharamsala called the decision to build a stadium a terrible mistake.
With just Rs 20 lakhs to work with, the foundation stone of the stadium was laid by the HPCA on 19 March 2002 on an undulating boulder-covered ground and the maiden first-class match was played there on 23 September 2003.
It does stimulate many minds with a single question – how did the boulder-strewn hillocks turn into a promising cricket stadium in just 18 months?
Pakistan Team’s Visit in 2005
Since then,the HPCA stadium hasn't looked back. In 2005, the Pakistan side led by Inzamam-ul-Haq started their tour with a practice match at this venue.
Then, Shahid Afridi famously said:
Janab, ye Hindustan ki saazish hai, humme aisi jagah practice ke liye laye hain, jahaan nazaarein dekho. Yahan toh chai pio aur pahad dekho. (This is a conspiracy by India, they have brought us to such a place to practice, where there is marvelous scenery. Over here, we just want to drink tea and look at the hills.)
By 2013, the HPCA stadium hosted its first ODI game and during the 2016 ICC World T20, it was one of the eight venues.
Regular Destination For NCA’s Summer Camps
Situated at 1,317 metres above sea level, the Dharamasala stadium is ideal for training and fitness camps.
With state-of the-art indoor facilities and gyms, this ground has become a regular destination for the National Cricket Academy’s summer camps and other activities. The venue also has India’s first residential cricket academy for girls from the state.
The HPCA was aware that to host international games regularly, the city should have a five-star hotel with more than 100 rooms. It is the first association in India, which has built its own boutique hotel, The Pavilion.
This magnificent stadium has become a symbol of aspiration and ambition for the youth of Himachal Pradesh. And to add to it, there are two other equally picturesque cricket stadiums in the state, at Amtar and Bilaspur.
These facilities have inspired the youth of Himachal and players from the state have started representing India at various levels. Rishi Dhawan has played for India in ODIs and T20s and Sushma Verma has played for the Indian women’s team. Alongside the senior pros, many young cricketers from Himachal Pradesh have been part of the India U-19 and India A teams.
Dharamsala stadium has become one of the iconic venues in Test cricket. Every team, player and cricket lover wants to watch cricket here. Credit must be given to the vision of Anurag Thakur and the officials of the HPCA, who have worked tirelessly to make this happen. Thanks to this stadium, now, Dharamsala is famous for cricket, along with being home to the Dalai Lama.