When you think of the great Test venues in India, Ahmedabad is unlikely to be on the top of your mind. There’s more than one reason for that. Built on ravine land in 1982, the concrete and steel behemoth at Motera hosted fewer Tests (12) compared to traditional urban centres like Kolkata (42), Delhi (34) or Chennai (34). Proximity to Mumbai—Indian cricket’s nerve centre—didn’t help in the days of dubious zonal rotation policies. And unlike other big venues, it’s yet to host that one unforgettable game of cricket. Eden Gardens earned its bragging rights after the 2001 epic. Chennai still reminisces about the tied Test of 1986. Kotla witnessed surreal scenes in 1999, with Anil Kumble taking 10 wickets in a famous win against Pakistan.
Yet, Tests in Ahmedabad have not lacked for drama; unlike most venues, it also favours visiting teams.
Nowhere else in India have New Zealand drawn three Tests. India’s heaviest home defeat since 2000? That too happened in Ahmedabad, when South Africa won by an innings and 90 runs in 2008. Talking of drama, in that match, India were skittled out for 76 in the first innings facing the fire of Dale Steyn and Mkhaya Ntini.
Motera will also always be more than the sum of the matches it hosted. Two of cricket’s biggest personal feats were achieved at the Sardar Patel Stadium, almost by happenstance. It’s where India first caught glimpse of VVS Laxman in all his wristy glory against a fast bowling attack comprising Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers and Brian McMillan. The same match, in 1996, Javagal Srinath came up with a devastating spell of reverse swing to take out four out of the top seven South African batsmen. Six South African batsmen failed to even open their account in the second innings.
Three years later, India heaved a collective sigh of relief when Sachin Tendulkar ended a 10-year wait for his first double century. But it was earlier, at a time Indian television was still dominated by the lackluster coverage of Doordarshan, that Motera had the entire country’s eyes transfixed on it.
There were no wide-angle lenses covering cricket in India back in 1987, just fixed cameras that focused one side of the field per over. It could be panned around though, like on March 7, showing stands crammed with spectators wearing white paper sun caps patiently waiting for Sunil Gavaskar to complete his 10,000th Test run. When it finally came, the camera fused the live video of an elated Gavaskar scampering down the pitch with the spectators celebrating on the stands. There was a fairly big pitch invasion, prompting Gavaskar to dodge the more clingy supporters before finally accepting a marigold garland from an overzealous fan as the Pakistan players walked around, waiting for Gavaskar to soak in the moment. That is all the video footage—at least in public domain—we have of that day in Ahmedabad of the first player ever to reach 10,000 Test runs.
The video of Kapil Dev dismissing Sri Lanka’s Hashan Tillakaratne on February 8, 1994 to break Sir Richard Hadlee’s world record of 431 Test wickets isn’t readily available on. But those who watched it on TV clearly remember the buildup to that Test. Newspapers were awash with photos of the city putting up banners of Dev. Inside the ground was a particularly clever boundary advertisement reading ‘One “Vital” wicket left! Come on Kapil!’ serving as background of a photo of the moment Dev finally surpassed Hadlee. On TV, images of Dev leaping in the air as Sanjay Manjrekar took the catch at short-leg quickly cut to scenes of 432 balloons being released from the ground with Doordarshan playing “Haqeeqat hai ye khwab nahin/Kapil Dev ka jawaab nahin.” Remember that famous photo of Dev dancing on a table balancing a drink on his head? That happened at the Motera dressing room after the end of day’s play. And if you are wondering why Mohammed Azharuddin too is dancing alongside Dev, it’s because it was also his birthday.
Barring the ground itself, almost nothing remains of the old Motera. What was once a second tier venue two decades ago has been converted into a looming giant. With a capacity of around 50,000, it was always one of India’s bigger venues. Now it’s usurped the Melbourne Cricket Ground as the world’s biggest cricket stadium. All it needs now is a Test thriller, to ensure the old Motera lives on in the present.
– Motera from the archives, one last time
– Motera not only largest, but one of the best stadiums in world: Rijiju
– President Ram Nath Kovind to inaugurate Motera Stadium ahead of India vs England Test
– President Ram Nath Kovind to inaugurate world's largest stadium at Motera in Ahmedabad today
– Motera awaits grand reopening
– BCCI's power centre has moved from Mumbai to Motera. Its new patrons call all the shots
– World's largest cricket stadium Motera to be formally inaugurated by President Kovind today
– Building Motera Cricket Stadium was extremely challenging and equally gratifying: L&T
– Kiren Rijiju and Jay Shah visit mesmerising Hall of Fame zone at Motera Stadium
– Motera stadium gears up for T20 double-headers