Karimadom awaits better days

Shanavas had an inviting smile on his face. He was sitting on a bench on the verandah of the community hall with the newspaper in his hand. The 65 year old man lives in one of the flats built by the Corporation replacing the old dilapidated houses in the Karimadom colony of the Manacuad ward in the capital city of Kerala, Trivandrum.

The colony is near the famous Chalai Market which is a commercial centre in the East Fort area. Most of the people here work in the market as does Shanavas’s son in-law who lives with his wife and children in this community hall which is a temporary shelter for those whose houses are being constructed.

Shanavas, who runs a pan shop on the side of the Attukalkulangara  bypass road, seemed to be knowledgeable on the issues of the colony as he started throwing light on the history of the redevelopment project of Karimadom. In 2008, the Corporation came up with the plan to redevelop the colony under the centrally funded Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme. The plan was to rehabilitate about 560 families from old huts to flats built by the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD).

World famous architect Laurie Baker derived the concept for the cost effective design layout that creates several interactive community spaces in between building blocks by a staggered arrangement. There are 20 houses in one flat like structure. Each house has a hall, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. As of now, 8 flats have been completed occupied by 160 families.

Shanavas is not critical of COSTFORD’s construction methods but as a person who was part of the members of the colony who were shown the proposal before the works started, he feels that the constructed houses leave a lot to be desired when compared with the proposed plans. The lack of proper chimneys seems to be a concern to him. The Corporation had received Rs. 20,000 from each of the families beforehand according to Shanavas.

The community hall is home to about 49 families now. 30 residents live in the first floor while 19 are in the ground floor. A small room often accommodates more than one family. The rooms are divided with plywood. But the real problem are toilet facilities. A toilet block was constructed with four public toilets but often in the morning people are made to wait a lot of time to get to use them.

Last year, a community kitchen was inaugurated in the colony. It has only four stoves. The residents queue from the morning itself to use these. Frustrated by the long waits, some people have given up on this kitchen and started cooking outside the hall on their own.

After the old huts were removed, most of the families had to go out and find transit accommodation till the works of the flats were completed. This created a challenge for many as they found the rents outside for a decent living space not within their financial capacity. The lowest rent is as high as 8,000 rupees in the nearby area.

Biju, an auto-rickshaw driver explained the problem. “The main issue was finding a place where we can stay close to the city and at the same time not spend heavily for the rent.” He now lives in the outskirts of the city in a place called Pallichal which is 11 Km away, for a rent of 3000 Rs. “Most of the people who had to go far away from the city now find it difficult to come to their work places and also to get their children to schools.”

Ashok Kumar, a member of the Cluster Development Committee (CDC), formed to work along with the Corporation to improve the facilities at the colony shares his feelings. “We have no complaints with the Corporation’s project to rehabilitate us with better living conditions but the issue is with the speed of the development works. It’s been almost 7 years since the Corporation has started with the project and only a few people have been moved to new houses till now,” said Ashok showing the progress or the lack of it of the current phase of work for which even piling has not been completed.

Ashok who is a carpenter has his shop near the community hall in which he resides with his wife and two children. Though Ashok admitted that there are no issues of water supply as there is an uninterrupted supply of Corporation water, there is always a chance of the water getting contaminated. A sewage drain runs through the length of the colony. Much of the garbage dumping is done in the drains or in the Thekkenekara canal, which flows behind the colony. The rainy season is a nightmare for the people here as these canals and drains carrying a large part of the city’s garbage overflow.

It is not as if they have not presented their case to the authorities on this matter. Ashok, who was also the Secretary of the Resident’s Association, said that they had raised this issue multiple times with the Corporation and at once took their protest to the next level by blocking all the entrance points from the canal to the colony so that during last monsoon, the water overflowed to the Highway on the other side causing heavy traffic issues. This prompted the collector to call the colony residents for an emergency meeting and the collector promised them to resolve the garbage issue before the next rain season.

To tackle the health problems caused by these unhygienic surroundings, an Urban Primary Health Care Centre (UPHC) was established in October 2014 at Karimadom, the first of its kind in Kerala. It is part of a program called Urban Slum Health Upliftment Scheme (USHUS) which aims to improve the health of thousands of people living in slums in the state. Urban Slum Health Activists (USHA) are employed as per this scheme in these areas to provide medical services to the local people. The project envisages medical camps, epidemic-prevention activities, service of mobile medical groups and preventive injections. Treatment will be free and medicines will be provided free of cost.

Anumol, who is a Junior Public Health (JPH) nurse, says that the response of the colony people has been positive to the initiatives by the health centre. “As JPH nurses, we visit 20 blocks in one month and make the public aware of health issues and make them understand the need for keeping the environment clean to avoid diseases. We also make sure that vaccinations are done at the right time for children.”

Anumol says that a lot of Tuberculosis patients are there in the area. Other common ailments are Filaria and Leprosy. Anyway, the focus on healthcare seems to have a positive impact on the people’s mindset. More people are attending the medical camps and pregnant women are registering their names more than ever before. A child health care centre under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) also operates in the area. It conducts regular immunization programs for children.

Ashok who has been involved with the communication with the Corporation from the very start feels that one reason for the delay in construction is the cost escalation of building materials and labour.

As per the initial estimation, the cost for a building block consisting of 20 houses was Rs.34 lakh. But when four such blocks were completed as part of the first phase of the project in 2010, each of them cost Rs.64 lakh. By the time the second phase consisting of three blocks was completed in 2011-12, the cost had risen to Rs.78 lakh.

Palayam Rajan, who is the chairperson of the Karimadom Colony Welfare Standing Committee at the Corporation said that the third-phase costs could touch Rs.1 crore. But no change was possible to the Detailed Project Report (DPR) which was approved in 2007, and anything above Rs.34 lakh a block would have to be paid from the Corporation’s own funds.  The major item adding to the cost escalation is the rising cost of building materials.

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The Maxwell Story, so far

Australia will go into their seventh World Cup final on Sunday against the trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and most people would agree that the two best teams have reached the decider at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). New Zealand, who have played all their matches till now in their own backyard in much smaller grounds, may need to tweak their game plans to emerge victorious against the Aussies at the colossal MCG. The #MCGsobig hashtag has come up with its fair share of jokes on the eve of the match as a response to a comment by former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden who said that New Zealand would struggle to adapt to the MCG. Whether the Kiwis will be confounded by the sheer size of the ground or not, one definite challenge that awaits them in the final is the threat of Glenn Maxwell, the mercurial middle order batsman, who has now become a permanent fixture in an awe-inspiring Australian batting lineup.

Maxwell’s scores in the World Cup so far read 66, 1, 88, 102, 44*, 23. Except in his failure against New Zealand, in all other innings, he has scored at a strike rate of 150 or more. His scoring rate will not come as a surprise to anyone. But the consistency he is trying to achieve should cause some concerns to oppositions. It is very easy to forget that he had been criticised not so long ago for being a loose cannon and had been dropped multiple times from the playing eleven. Even with all his natural abilities to strike the ball and score at astronomical rates, his international career has been a bumpy ride till recently.

Maxwell was called up for Australia’s World T20 campaign in Sri Lanka in 2012 after an impressive debut series against Pakistan in the middle east. One year before this, he had set the record for the fastest ever half-century in Australian interstate one day cricket, reaching 50 runs off 19 balls for Victoria, and in the process, snatched a sure shot victory from a Tasmanian side led by George Bailey. Maxwell, who had already got the nickname ‘Big Show’ from his teammates for his fearless approach to the game, was supposed to make an impact in the Island nation for a team with a lot of relatively fresh players led by Bailey.

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Maxwell in his early days for Victoria. Credits: Cricbuzz

Australia’s campaign was going according to plan till they faced Pakistan in their last group stage match. They had overcome the challenges of West Indies, India and a much favoured South Africa. But against Pakistan, they failed +to chase a score of 149. It was the first time Maxwell got a proper hit in the tournament and he was out for just 4. But more crucially, earlier in the day, he had dropped Nasir Jamshed who went on to make 65 to rescue Pakistan. As expected, the under-performing Victorian was dropped for the semi-final and one of the most experienced T20 players of all time, David Hussey, was brought in. But the eventual champions West Indies were too good for the Australians as they crashed out of a campaign that had promised a lot more.

Maxwell got to play in front of his home crowds at the start of the next year. But tougher times awaited him. His only contribution of any note was inflicting two run-outs of consecutive balls in the first ODI against Sri Lanka in a five-match bilateral series. He went wicketless in the series and failed to reach double figures in the three matches that he got to bat. Former players and media were quick to brand him as a brash egoistic player who needed to rein in his natural instincts to be successful. There were even suggestions that he should try considering bowling as his first trade. The Sri Lankan visit ended with another unpleasant incident which saw Maxwell involved in an on-field brawl with the then Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene. To rub salt into wounds, he was unable to get Australia past the line in a tight chase.

Maxwell got his baggy green in Australia’s treacherous tour of India in 2013 which they went on to lose 0-4. In a series where all Aussie batsmen struggled against Indian spinners, he fared no better with 39 runs from 4 innings. He had to wait for another 19 months to play another test match.

Maxwell’s million dollar signing for the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Mumbai Indians came as a surprise to many as his records till then had not warranted such a huge amount of money. He came under much ridicule over social media and he was portrayed as a heavily paid useless cricketer. He played only three matches in the 2013 season. His biggest contribution for Mumbai Indians was his 37 off 14 balls in a high-scoring final of the Champions League T20 tournament later in the year which the team went on to win.

Maxwell was subjected to a public dressing down by coach Darren Lehmann during the ODI series against England in 2014 after he threw his wicket away in a chase at Perth. He joined Kings XI Punjab for the 2014 season of the IPL. He finished the league as the third highest run scorer with 552 runs and became an instant hit among Indian cricket followers too with his ability to clear boundary with ease.

Maxwell getting out to Pakistani spinner Zulfiqar Babar in Abu Dhabi playiing a rash shot. Credits: Sydney Morning Herald

Last October, Maxwell bowled a wicket maiden in the last over against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi to win a match under unlikely circumstances. But Maxwell’s comeback to the test side was also short-lived. Australia’s frailties against spin were exposed again and Maxwell’s brainless batting in the only test he played in that series in Abu Dhabi invited stringent criticism. After the forgettable ODI series against South Africa at home, in which he was dropped for one match as a kick in the backside, Maxwell had to win back the fans and he publicly admitted that he wanted to get rid of the tag of ‘Big Show’ and become more consistent.

The final of the Carlton Tri Series proved to be the perfect stage for him. After an initial hiccup, he guided the Australian innings in an uncharacteristic manner, scoring 95 from 98 balls, and later took 4 wickets to help the team lift the trophy ahead of the World Cup.

Maxwell had the chance to score the fastest century in World Cup history, but he slowed down when he neared the landmark against Sri Lanka in Sydney to get the monkey off his back after string of 90s earlier in his career. It is not just the runs he scores, the fear Maxwell induces in the opposition’s mind that sets him apart. They know that if they do not get him out early, he could take the game away in a matter of 30 or 40 balls. The new ODI regulations, which allow only four fielders outside the inner circle, have already pushed the average ODI scores up and with someone like Maxwell at the end, Australia back themselves to score 10-12 runs per over easily.

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Maxwell saluting the SCG crowd after his first international ton against Sri Lanka. Credits: NDTV

So far in this World Cup campaign, Maxwell has taken the Australia score to way above 300 after an initial platform was set up by the top order twice, against England and Sri Lanka. India were lucky in the semi-final to remove him early, otherwise they would have had to chase more than 350. What Maxwell does exceptionally well is playing according to the field set. He reads the field and premeditates what the bowler is going to bowl and then he uses his wonderful wrists to play around the dial.

Australia have a history of players standing up on big match days and in front of his home crowd, Maxwell could prove on Sunday that the MCG is not so big after all if he connects some from the middle of his bat. That would spell trouble for New Zealand and Australia would go a long way to their fifth World Cup win.

This post was first published on the blog The Writewatchman

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More power to Tahir, more joy for South Africa

Imran Tahir made his debut for South Africa in the 2011 World Cup. Ever since their readmission to world cricket, they had been looking for a world class spinner to complement their pace attacks which had almost always been outstanding. For a long while Paul Harris was their lone spinner in test matches. In ODIs, they depended on the slow left arm bowling of Robin Peterson and the off-breaks of Jean Paul Duminy to give the fast bowlers some breathing space. Add to that, they had the service of the great Jacques Kallis to call upon. But in the 2011 edition held in the subcontinent, South Africa genuinely believed Tahir could make a mark.

The Pakistani-born legspinner had represented Pakistan under-19 team and Pakistan A. Tahir made his first class debut for Lahore in as early as 1996 at the age of 17. But top level cricket always remained a far fetched dream for him in Pakistan. He played for Middlesex, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Hampshire and Warwickshire in England. After marrying a South African, he moved there and played for the Titans and the Dolphins in the country’s domestic competitions and impressed the national selectors.

After a few months of drama, he finally became eligible to play for the country as he fulfilled the residence requirement in January 2011. Earlier he was selected in January 2010 to play against England, but later disqualified because he had not met the eligibility criteria by then. Though he was picked for the ODI series against India in early 2011, captain Graeme Smith was not willing to let the mystery surrounding Tahir be out just before the World Cup.

Thus Tahir, the man with the record of representing most teams (27), played his first international match in a World Cup. He justified the captain’s faith with a four wicket haul at Delhi against West Indies on his debut. Tahir kept on getting wickets in that tournament. He was the second highest wicket taker for South Africa in that tournament with 14 wickets from just five matches, behind Robin Peterson who got to play all seven matches and got 15 scalps. Tahir’s numbers read 14 wickets at an average of 10.71 and an economy rate of 3.79.

More than these mind-boggling numbers, what Tahir got noted for in that World Cup was his celebrations after picking up a wicket. He would fox with the batsman with a googly or get him bowled or get a return catch or get him caught at long-on, and then run with his arms stretched out around the field. His team mates would need to wait for him to come back for the high-fives. That was to become a template for Tahir celebrations throughout his career.

Tahir celebrating  a wicket the 'Tahir Way'.

Tahir celebrating a wicket the ‘Tahir Way.’

Though his numbers suggested enormous potential, South Africa’s ignominious exit from the World Cup meant no one really took notice of it. He made his test debut in late 2011 against Australia, but had to wait till 2013 to play his next ODI match. His test performances never inspired a recall either. In 2012, Tahir got the embarrassing record of the worst figures in a test match with his 0-260 against Australia in Adelaide.

But when he finally got to play in coloured clothing again, Tahir showed that he could be a real match winner in the 50-over game. After his recall, he has taken 50 wickets in 28 matches at an average of 21.84. He is not profligate either, giving away less than 4.5 runs an over which is excellent for spinners of this era.

So far in this World Cup, Tahir has picked up 9 wickets from three matches. His 5 for 45 against West Indies at Sydney was overshadowed by an AB deVilliers masterclass. This was only the second five wicket haul in Australia by any spinner since 2000. That shows how difficult it is for spinners to stamp their authority on an ODI game down under.

What Tahir does is he keeps it tight during the middle overs and induces mistakes from the batsmen. It was his double strike that derailed Zimbabwe in the first match after they scared South Africa for a while. Even against India, when all other main bowlers leaked runs, he kept it tight and bagged the prized scalp of Virat Kohli. Leg spinners are crucial in Australian grounds where the mishits tend to stay inside the field usually. Tahir has a deceptive googly as well. The variations that end up futile in the longer version of the game, bring rich rewards for him in ODIs.

South African fans will be hoping that they would be witnessing more over-the-top celebrations from this maverick leg spinner in the coming days. And their players would not mind running after a jubilant Tahir at the MCG on March 29.

This post was first published on the blog The Writewatchman

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Is de Villiers too good for his team?

AB de Villiers produced two mesmerising moments of fielding at the MCG on Sunday. First, he ran out Rohit Sharma who had set off for a run from the non-strikers end after a misfield by JP Duminy at covers. Shikhar Dhawan sent Rohit back. By the time, he made the despairing dive, de Villiers had come in from mid-off, picked up the ball and released it. He had only one stump to aim at, from where he was throwing. If the action was stopped at that moment and a question was posed to a mathematician with expertise on probability theory, on whether de Villiers would hit or not, he would have answered no. He would have come up with a statistic too, “Of all the 32,346 throws made from a position when a fielder has only one stump to aim at in International cricket, only 1423 have hit the target, a meagre 4.39 per cent.”

But this is de Villiers; the mathematician cares about numbers only, not personalities. If the same mathematician were to be asked whether anyone would hit a century in a 50 over match after coming in to bat in the 39th over of the innings, before this January, he would have said, “No chance, it has never happened before.” But de Villiers with his 31-ball-hundred at the Wanderers against West Indies showed that there is always a first.

Back to the action, Rohit Sharma’s bat slipped from his hand, de Villiers did not miss the stumps and India lost their first wicket. Later in the Indian innings, Ravindra Jadeja, after playing a ball to mid off, took on de Villiers’s arm. This time, he had all three stumps to aim at. No mathematician was required; the probability of Jadeja surviving was zero.  ABD is unreal, he is not human, he could hit sixes at will, score hundreds in minutes, throw down stumps eyes shut. He is from some other planet. He would chase down the target of 308 single-handedly. India were coming off the back of a spirited bowling performance against Pakistan. But everyone knew this would be different. South Africa had Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and de Villiers himself. The chase had the possibility of turning into a cakewalk if these batsmen got their eye in.

Indian seamers were disciplined like they were against Pakistan.  Soon, they were rewarded. de Cock and Amla were dismissed within the first 11 overs. People said, “The game starts now.” The half-man, half-machine ABD walked out to the middle to join du Plessis.  The singles and doubles started to come by far more frequently. He did not go for any big shots early on. Then in the 14th over, de Villiers pulled Mohit Sharma imperiously through mid wicket. The next ball, he premeditated and came down the track. But as with any de Villiers improvisations, he waited till the last moment, let the ball carve out and picked his spot through covers for a four.

MS Dhoni, from behind the wicket, knew this could go horribly wrong for his bowlers. Dhoni, the man who believes in ‘processes’, asked his bowlers to keep hitting the right areas and waited for something to happen. In test matches, his wait goes on for days, sometimes. But in coloured clothing, more often than not, things fall in place for him. It happened here too. Seven overs on, de Villiers cut Jadeja through point; he decided that there was a run on the throw from the deep. He set out for the second run; there was no confusion, no stop-start. He believed in his strong leg muscles and took for granted the frailty of that of the Indian fielder’s arm from the deep. But Mohit Sharma produced a bullet throw straight to Dhoni’s gloves, right next to the stumps, and he did the rest. de Villiers was found short of his crease and South Africa lost their captain, and their game-plan. After that,  Duminy played a reverse sweep and spooned a catch to Raina at slip. David Miller took on Umesh Yadav and was run out by a comfortable margin. South Africa imploded. They lost their last seven wickets for 44 runs.

After that,  Duminy played a reverse sweep and spooned a catch to Raina at slip. David Miller took on Umesh Yadav and was run out by a comfortable margin. South Africa imploded. They lost their last seven wickets for 44 runs. It was not the first time that the run out of de Villiers induced a panic among the South Africans during a chase. In the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand at Mirpur, South Africa, chasing a target of 222, were bundled out for 172. That time also de Villiers was run out in mix up with du Plessis. His dismissal was part of a batting collapse that saw them losing the last seven wickets for 51 runs.

For all de Villiers’s bravado and unnatural feats, sometimes it feels that the South African team is beginning to play under the shadow of his genius. It raises a question. Are South Africa as good as so many people think?  Against India, they fielded five bowlers and batted with a tail end that started at number 7. Compare this to the line-up of hosts Australia. They bat deep with Mitchell Johnson coming in at 9. Leading upto the World Cup, Australia had comprehensively beaten South Africa in a bilateral series 4-1. de Villiers was not willing to accept the fact they were outplayed as he said that South Africa were a better unit than Australia irrespective of the result. South Africa are not that fearsome as they were considered prior to the tournament. It becomes even more evident considering the fact that they play most of their matches in Australia where the tracks for this World Cup have been absolute belters so far, in a way neutralising their pace attack. Going by the evidence of the first two matches, Imran Tahir is their best bet in these conditions, a leg spinner inducing mistakes and getting people caught at deep. 

This is not for a single moment written out of any disrespect towards South Africa or their captain.  AB de Villiers is the most versatile batsman in the world, by far. South Africa may still go on to win the World Cup, but it would for sure take a lot more than a supremely talented batsmen taking the mickey out of the opposition. de Villiers might be pushed while going for a risky second run again by another Mohit Sharma along the way. The rest of the team has to come together and get their captain’s back then. If that happens, South Africa could lift the trophy on March 29 at the same MCG. The mathematician might also agree as the law of averages catches up and makes it impossible for them to miss out again.

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This post was first published on the blog The Writewatchman

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The Development Conundrum of Aranmula Airport

Kerala’s development always poses a dichotomy. Kerala is traditionally assumed to be not such a friendly state to investors. Labour strikes, politically supported trade unions and a skepticism towards large businesses have all made industries turn their face away from Kerala. But even with all these presumable challenges to growth, Kerala is one of the most developed states in India. It has over the time fashioned out an economic model of a unique kind. In fact there is a Wikipedia page called ‘Kerala Model’. The high literacy rate of Kerala can be attributed as one of the main reasons for this success. It leads to high levels of political participation from people of every class and thus Kerala has managed to bring in so much of developments keeping in mind the welfare of the public.

A new project which has created a lot of controversy in Kerala is the proposed Aranmula International Airport. It is a private airport planned to be built by the KGS group at Aranmula, a heritage village in Pathanmathitta district. Aranmula is a famous pilgrimage centre with the Parthasarathy Temple being one of the prominent Vaishnava temples in Kerala.

The proposed airport at Aranmula is a private airport, which if it comes to existence will be the fourth international airport in Kerala adding to the ones at Trivandrum, Kochi and Calicut. But it will be the first private airport in the state. Ever since the project was announced, there has been a massive protest from environmentalists and social workers citing that it is supposed to serve vested interests of private parties rather than the public. Now let us have a look at the arguments for and against the airport.

The main arguments for the airport are:

Demand from NRIs

It is a well known fact that Kerala has a healthy NRI population. Over the last eight years air traffic in Kerala has increased five times. The supporters of the project says that an Airport in Pathanamthitta is an aspiration of millions of people from this part of the world who are working outside the country and who are instrumental in supporting the Government exchequer with the much needed supply of foreign currency.  Also some studies have shown that 40 %  Kerala’s air traffic is hailing from the influential zone of this airport.

Influential Zone

The airport is expected to serve four districts in Kerala namely Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki and Alappuzha.  Out of the foreign and domestic tourists arrival to Kerala, these four districts together accounts for about 21 percent of foreign tourists and 14 percent of domestic tourists.

Employment Potential

There is also a  huge employment potential that a project like this generates. Some estimates have shown that around 1500 direct and 6000 indirect employment opportunities may arise as as a result of this project. Also there are plans to have a Special Economic Zone, a multi-specialty hospital, a shopping mall, a luxury hotel and an international school within the airport complex.

The main arguments against the airport are:

Environmental Challenges

The conversion of paddy fields for setting up big industrial purposes is a not a new thing in Kerala. The Kerala State Bio Diversity Board observed that 80% of the 500 acres of land taken over for the project were paddy fields. In April 2013, the National Green Tribunal stayed any constructions at the proposed site. But the airport project was given environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in November 2013.

In January 2014 , in a report filed to the Kerala High Court, S. Subash Chand, Advocate Commissioner, said that indiscriminate reclamation of paddy fields and blocking of the tributary of the Pampa river would endanger valuable plant species, fish, and microorganism. The report also added that such large-scale conversion of paddy fields would have an adverse effect on the food chain and would accelerate the depletion of fish resources and other flora and fauna in the Pampa river. The reclamation would deprive fish species of its breeding grounds. Also biodiversity loss and water shortage would be caused due to razing of hills in the nearby areas.

Proximity to the temple

The proximity of the airport to the Parthsarathy Temple has been a major cause of concern among its detractors and the local people. Aranmula has been declared as a heritage village by UNESCO and the temple is an iconic and integral part of the cultural fabric of the place. As per studies by the Project Planning Report of Airport Authority of India, the flag post (Kodimaram) of the temple is to be shortened for the airport project. Apart from that the report also calls for a change of the temple’s entrance from it’s current position.

Land Acquisition and Eviction of people 

The biggest concern for people would be the eviction of people. Around 3000 families face the prospect of being deprived of their land for the project.

Destruction of Heritage 

Supposedly, the new airport would bring in more tourists. But it would destroy much of what is attractive to visitors. Aranmula has been declared a global heritage village by UNESCO. The place is renowned for metal mirrors made from unique clay and the annual snake boat regatta along the Pampa river. The runway would be less than 1 kilometre from Aranmula’s famous temple, visited by pilgrims from far and wide. Aircraft noise would not be conducive to peaceful contemplation.

Right from the very start, the airport project has come under a lot of scrutiny from  the public. The agitations against it have been led by the Aranmula  Paithruka Grama Karmasamithy (Heritage Village Action Council) with the support of eminent personalities like poet cum environmentalist Sugathakumari, social worker Kummanam Rajashekharan, a politician of an unblemished track history,V.M Sudheeran,  political activist and writer C.R Neelakandan and many others. There have been a lot of protests going on in Aranmula for the last three years. Rallies, fasting and human chains have all been conducted as means of conveying the public’s dissent.

The question now remains. How long can the people of Aranmula protect their heritage. How long can they hold on to the soil under their feet ? The airport may fulfill the flying aspirations of many people, but will it be at the cost of cutting the wings off a lot of other people.

 

 

This post first appeared on ‘The Alternative’

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A Year of Fresh Hopes

Indian cricket team is about to start its first overseas tour after Sachin Tendulkar‘s retirement. The team has been playing a lot of cricket without Tendulkar over the past few years, but now it is official that Tendulkar is a former Indian cricketer. As India prepare for a challenging and at the same time exciting tour in South Africa, let us look at the year 2013, that has given fresh hopes for Indian cricket.

2013 has been an outstanding year for India. They have won everything, not only virtually, but in reality too. The ODI series against England, the test series against Australia, both at home, the Champions Trophy in England, the tri-series in West Indies, the one day series against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, the one day series against Australia at home, and the test and one day series against West Indies also at home.

It’s a remarkable achievement and a run that could be classified as the stuff of champions. But one diminishing factor about this is that most of the times India have played at home this year. All the six test match victories have been in India, that too against oppositions who were clearly not well equipped to handle sub-continental conditions.

One unquestionable aspect of India’s performance is that they have become a better ODI side over the years. They now play this format better than most teams and are rightly placed as the number one team in ODI cricket at the moment. A lot of the credit for this success goes to the batting firepower that India have at their disposal.

It  has often come to the team’s rescue even when the bowling has been abysmal at times. In fact, India under MS Dhoni’s captaincy have started to win the big moments in a match and they have learnt  to cope with pressure situations and to come out victorious, a trait exhibited by the Australian teams of the early 2000s.

If we look at India’s ODI record from the year 2000, it is in 2013 that India have won most matches in a calendar year, 22 wins from 31 matches.  In fact, even if the list is extended back to India’s introduction to ODI cricket, there is only one year, 1998, when India had won more matches in a calendar year than in 2013,  24 wins from 40 matches.

India in ODIs from 2000

India in ODIs from 2000

Even though, all the test match victories this year have  been in India, it is a significant step in the right direction as far as Indian cricket is concerned. After the much talked about overseas debacles in England and Australia and the home series defeat to England, the team really needed to get its act together in the test match arena.

Post the retirements of stalwarts like Dravid and Laxman, the young batsmen have shown no stage fear and lent stability to the batting order. People have already started calling out Dhawan, Pujara, Kohi and Rohit as the new Fab Four. Whether or not that’s fair, it must be acknowledged that they look every inch, the men to carry forward, India’s batting legacy in test cricket.

India in Tests from 2000

India in Tests from 2000

Apart from the blotch in 2011- 2012,  India have had a decent run in test match cricket too over the past decade. All the captains who skippered during this period valued overseas performance and the results were there to show for.

India had won test series in Pakistan, West Indies,England and New Zeland. Drawn series in Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa. At home, they have lost only three series during this period, one against South Africa in 2000, one against the mighty Australia in 2004 and the other against a resolute and clinical England in 2012.

If India manages to win both the test matches in South Africa, it will be a new record as it will be the first time in their cricket history, they win all the matches in a calendar year. That looks like a far cry considering they have to beat the world’s best test side at their own backyard.

All the fans will be hoping for is a decent fight from a young team, and if they can provide that, India can cap off this wonderful year of 2013, one that may well go on to be known as the year which saw a new a dawn in Indian cricket.

Stats Courtesy : ESPNCricinfo Statsguru

This post first appeared on Sportskeeda

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December 5, 2013 · 10:57 am

Tendulkar Time

Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. Nov 14, 2013, the first day of the second test match.  It’s the evening session. After West Indies were bundled out for a measly 182 in their first innings,  India begin their innings rather smoothly and briskly. The West Indies bowlers are delivering on a plate for the Indian openers and they are taking full toll of it. Murali Vijay drives one past the bowler, a picture perfect on drive. No, not quite though, everything is perfect except for the fact that it is played by the wrong batsman. We wish if it had been played by the number 4 batsman, the man who is assumed to have patented that shot.

We personally don’t want to see him coming out to bat today. What if  he gets out today itself ? We don’t want the main act to be finished, done and dusted, within the first day. There should be something to look forward to on day 2. We want to feel the anxiety and thrill over a Tendulkar-to-bat day overnight. We want to be a part of an early morning crowd thronging into the Wankhede stadium anticipating something special. 

Shikhar Dhawan pulls out his favourite sweep shot against Shillingford and top edges it. That is very much against the run of play, we think.  Chetheshwar Pujara joins Vijay, the duo which knows how to string together big partnerships. Surely they will play nightwatchmen to Tendulkar, we hope. But after two balls, Vijay gets an inside edge to backward short leg. He looks disappointed, rightly so because he has been batting beautifully. The umpire consults with the Third Umpire for the no-ball, but everyone knows that it’s only a formality.

Vijay walks back and we can now see ‘The Man’ coming down the stairs. It’s not clear from our end. We are at the North Stand exactly opposite to the players pavilion, but we can see it in our mind, Tendulkar putting on his gloves through the steps. We can hear the decibel levels going several notches up as he takes each step towards the middle. In fact we are contributing to the noise even though we are tensed. The guard of honour from the West Indies players is already in place. The umpires also join in. Tendulkar reaches the middle now. 

The grand entry

The grand entry

It’s 3.30 only now. The play can be extended to 5 pm if 20 more overs are not bowled within the scheduled close of play. That’s a lot of time and overs. I am trying to tell myself to concede the fact that I might have to leave the stadium disappointed today. The fun might well be over by stumps. But there’s Virat Kohli anyway. What a treat watching him has been of late. What about a swashbuckling knock from Dhoni tomorrow. It’s going to be entertaining in any case. But even then we badly want him to stay not out at the close of play.

What can be done to make sure that Sachin doesn’t get out. The first and the easiest step is not to sit. Nobody is sitting in the crowd anyway.  The first ball, he survives, bounces short of  the short -leg fielder. There is real tension in the air. You can cut it with a knife, but you can never make it subside. My friend is urging people to keep quiet and not to put the master under pressure with the Sachin- Sachin chants that have been resonating around  Wankhede. What an absurd request by him !

An over later, it’s Shillingford again to Tendulkar, his nemesis from Kolkata. In fact, off spinners have been fancying a bowl at Tendulkar for a while now. He needs to get off the mark. He plays an ugly hoick across the line and manages to pick up a single. It’s felt as if it is a release shot.  He won’t be emulating Bradman in his last test, after all.  I am trying to make sure that I stay in the perfect position. I don’t want to jinx him in anyway possible. If  Tendulkar’s quest at the crease is for balance, ours is also for balance of a different kind. A balanced state from where we can let him play without getting out, simple. If that means keeping even the tiniest piece of paper around us in the exact same position as it was for the previous delivery, then so be it. It’s an esoteric superstition that only cricket fans can understand.

Tendulkar is beginning to hit his stride. He has already hit Shillingford for a couple of boundaries. The crowd is beginning to loosen up. But I can’t do that just yet I feel. I am ready to stand up for the whole innings if needed, I am ready to repeat the routines if that keeps him going out there in the middle. Shillingford is the main danger, I feel. My friend is telling me that Shillingford hasn’t yet hit the right length to trouble Tendulkar. I understand that, but I reply to him saying that he will hit his length the very next ball. I often try this counter jinxing technique with Tendulkar, where I think or speak about all the possible harmful things that can happen to him while batting.  It can be a ball that keeps low all of a sudden, I picture him squatting and getting bowled. It can be a ripper of an off break going through the gates. It can be him trying to play a cute paddle and missing the ball and finding himself dead in front of the stumps or it can be an umpire trying to show his ability to not be swayed by emotions and thus giving a marginal decision against Tendulkar. I have gone through all such scenarios in my mind. Hopefully I have counter jinxed them all for Sachin.

Pujara is turning over the strike at will and Tendulkar is looking more and more assured at the crease. But all the setting up work could come to nothing in the next three overs. Darren Sammy bowls a loosener, or is that the best he offers. The straight bat meets the ball, not much of a  follow through. Mid on fielder can fetch the ball from the boundary. Now that is a perfect on-drive. Everyone around knows that this is special. We are high-fiving with people we don’t even know. There is a genuine sense of satisfaction on everyone’s face. We are no longer clapping and praying for a toothless old master, we are cheering on and witnessing the real master who has just produced his trademark shot. There are people who have spent the same X as us or less than X or more than X for their tickets. But everyone now feels as if whatever has been spent is well worth it.

The day is over. Sachin is batting on 38. The perfect scenario. Next day will turn out to be a full house. Pujara’s score and  India’s total score ? Most people don’t know and they don’t care about it too. To be fair, we too are not aware of the overall picture. We are walking by a maidan after play and someone asks us what the state of the match is. “Sachin not out on 38″ . He asks for nothing more too and goes away. Has he smiled hearing the news ? We want to tell it to everyone, spread smiles all around and just basically cherish those moments.

******

Day 2 arrives. The moving day of a test match these days, except that for this match, the game has moved forward a lot on the first day itself. We are sitting on seats that offer the best view from the North Stand, upper level. We know that today someone will come demanding our seats (theirs in fact) showing the seat number. We reach two hours prior to the game. But that is of no use now as more and people come saying “yeh, mera seat hai, please move”. 

Thus we are now sitting on our original seats. The view is not as perfect as it was before. But why bother about that, we never thought we would be able to get in and there were days when we might have had wished to become a fly on the walls of Wankhede for this match to get a piece of the action. So let’s settle and enjoy Sachin or get really nervous for him. Sachin looks relaxed today morning. This is not a fresh start for him it feels. He is trying to dazzle the crowd one last time.

He goes for that favourite upper cut despite a third man fielder is being stationed. For a moment, I think it’s over. No, the umpire hasn’t heard anything and he is safe for now. May be it’s time to become more careful now as a spectator. We shouldn’t be betraying him in this last hurray. I start to follow a pattern of pre-ball routines that will serve Tendulkar well in the middle. I look to the scoreboards to my right and left one after another before every delivery that Sachin faces.

It seems to be working wonders. Sachin drives Tino Best past mid off for a four to reach his half century. ‘Sachin, Sachin’  gets louder and more importantly happier by the minute. Our throats are working overtime, but not everyday they have to do this. We are talking among ourselves that Tendulkar seems to be in that zone. Moreover he is determined to show off. He is happy to go for shots and risk his wicket in the process. Tino Best has been following through on the pitch and coming very close to Tendulkar at the strikers end, trying to upset his concentration with some words and stern looks. After the end of an over, Sachin goes past Best who is on his haunches and seems to have gently tapped on his head. This is a master of 24 years of experience cherishing every moment of this grand finale.

First over after the drinks break, fifth ball. Has he caught it ? We know it’s over. Tendulkar is gone for 74. How did it happen ? Have I violated my balance ?  Have I been sitting when the ball was bowled ?  More importantly, what should we do now ? Stay silent and analyze that dismissal ?  But before that we have to  give that rousing applause for one last time for Sachin seems to be in no mood to hang around. He walks back pretty quickly and takes off his helmet within the field itself. That’s so rare, I’m thinking. He turns around and raises his bat acknowledging all sections of the crowd.

Not again!!!

Not again!!!

We are pretty sure that we have seen the last of  Tendulkar with a bat in hand and while it lasted,  those 2.5 hours in all, they epitomized our life thus far. It’s one big emotional roller-coaster that we are parting with, one that has been enjoyable all the way even through the tensions and the apprehensions, one that has made us do all sorts of weird things, and one that has made us look forward to another day in life.

Our message to Sachin!!!

Our message to Sachin!!!

*****

P.S : I miss those days, those days from two weeks back when we were on a massive mission, a challenge indeed where we had to be single minded and give all our attention to the task at hand to succeed. That was the biggest hunt for tickets for a cricket match we ever had to do and for sure will remain the biggest in the future too. The group we had created for conversation on the topic was buzzing always. In fact, it was the only group with so much activity that I have ever been a part of.

“Hey, I  found a guy on Twitter, he has tickets for North Stand”. “I got the number of a guy from Internet, who seems to be an MCA member or he seems to know someone from the MCA”.  “Good, keep in touch with him”, “I think  X  is a decent buy, but try to bring it down to X- Y “. It went on like that for two weeks and finally we got our tickets for an amount that we still thought was too high, but after all, this was no ordinary occasion. This was the curtains coming down to our childhood, or more clearly our life thus far. We just had to be there at Wankhede for the farewell and we managed it. Thank You Almighty for making it happen.

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That On-Drive

A report from the first day of the historic final test match of Sachin Tendulkar played at the Wankhede, Mumbai on Nov 14, 2013.

This post first appeared on Manorma Online on Nov 14, 2013.

*****

So much has happened over the course of the day. But in the end, what remains in my mind is only the deafening noise accompanying a short man to the field, the sacred turf where he was identified as a child prodigy. Since then he has gone on to conquer the world, moreover conquer our hearts. Our relationship with Sachin Tendulkar has always been about urging him to make us feel good, make us sleep better. It was no different today as well, when he came out to bat.

Mathew Hayden describes the Indian worship towards Sachin as a frantic appeal by a nation. Today, that frantic appeal had a demanding tone to it, a demand arisen purely out of the understanding of the fact that this would probably be the last chance for us to take solace in Tendulkar. Tendulkar came out to bat when India lost their second wicket, that of Murali Vijay with the score on 77. But the whole day, it has been about Tendulkar only.

The morning when I reached the Wankhede, an hour before the start of the match, there were long queues already in place with people wanting to get in and be a part of this historic occasion right from the very first ball. India won the toss and put West Indies into bat on a pitch which had good carry for the bowlers and a bit of sideways movement. Whether it’s his last match or not, whether he is actively involved in the play or not, one cannot escape the ‘Sachiiin Sachiiin’ chants in a ground in India. At once, Sachin himself gestured towards the crowd suggesting that it should not be all about him and that the bowler is the one in need of all the backing when he is charging into bowl.

West Indies lost Chris Gayle to a sharp and well directed short delivery from Mohammed Shami who seemed to be carrying his form from the Kolkata victory to here also. Darren Bravo played some attacking shots against Ashwin but fell prey to him just before lunch. West Indies finished the first session with the score on 93 for 2. Indian captain MS Dhoni must have thought about giving Tendulkar a bowl at some stage in the match, because the crowd was constantly in his hear with “We want Sachin, We want Sachin” .

Dhoni resisted that temptation and the main bowlers were more than par for the course as the second session saw a collapse from the West Indies team that has become a characteristic of their test performances in the recent years. The middle and late order batsmen were sorted out by the Indian spinners with sharp turn and bounce. Once Shivnarine Chanderpaul was caught behind off the bowling of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a procession of wickets ensued. Pragyan Ojha bagged a five wicket haul and Ashwin picked up three. West Indies were bowled out for 182 just on stroke of tea.

One interesting passage of play was when Sachin was employed to field at fine leg for a while. At first, there were only a couple of ball boys patrolling that area. They found a cute idea to get closer to the master. They picked up some bottles of water and went near him and offered that to him without him even asking for it. After a few minutes, when I looked towards the fine leg region, the ball boys multiplied in number there. Surely, the West Indies batsmen weren’t playing neat leg glances one after another for that area to be taken care of by so many kids. They were fulfilling their dreams, a dream most Indians would never be able to fulfill, be that close to their idol.

The third session started brightly for India with a solid and quick fire partnership between Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. they scored at nearly a run a ball before Dhawan was out caught at deep square leg trying to sweep. By then people realized that Tendulkar batting today itself was a strong possibility and the collective wish of the crowd undid Murali Vijay who had been playing beautifully till then. Both the openers were snapped by Shillingford.

So the moment arrived, the moment everyone had been waiting for, but not expecting to come that soon. But that didn’t mean the crowd were any less pumped up in their reception for their hero. We all bowed down saluting the master. Once, twice, thrice and many more. The West Indies team members arranged themselves to give Tendulkar a guard of honour. He nodded to all the appreciations he was getting and took strike, not in any haste. He wanted the noise to subside so that he could focus better. The noise never went meeker. But this was Sachin, he had been to all the rigorous examination by his loyal fans. He knew he couldn’t afford to disappoint his people, both the screaming ones in the crowd at the Wankhede and the millions tuning in from all over the world.

He brought out his A game in place for the biggest of farewells ever known in sporting history. There was a certainty in his footwork today. He went back and forward with clockwork precision and smothered the off spin of Shillingford who had troubled him at the Eden Gardens. He was adamant in punishing any loose delivery that came his way.  Then late in the day, when West Indies captain Darren Sammy brought himself to bowl, Tendulkar came up with his signature shot, that on drive, that head going towards the offside and that bat coming down in perfect perpendicular and meeting the ball dead center. The ball raced away to the boundary and that was relieving for everyone. All is well with the Tendulkar world. He finished on 38 not out at the end of the day. The fans can now have a good night’s sleep and come back hoping for more vintage mastery. But most will concede that that on-drive has already given them the value for their money.

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November 19, 2013 · 7:38 am

Grand Farewell – On the Eve

30 hours on a train. I have never been a complete a rail junkie to enjoy a trip like this without any boredom. What if at the other side of the journey awaits you the daily routines. That’s not something to look forward to. But one thing that  kept me going without any desperation was the fact that I had a lot to look forward. I reached Mumbai very late tonight, the city every cricket fan would want to be in at the moment. A cricket match is about to be played between India and West Indies. Yes, West Indies is playing in this series if anyone needs a reminder. But here, it has all been about one man and his farewell to the game he cherished more than anyone ever did.

The grand farewell party is upon us or it has been going on ever since Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement on October 10. I can remember the days when I used to wait and watch the post match analysis of matches in which Sachin had performed well  to hear all the praises showered on him by the experts. Every word on him or by him, said or written was a treasure. I somehow found them quite reassuring that my love for him is justified after all.

But these days, it has become very hard to keep track of all the Sachin articles and T.V. shows since there are too many. In fact we were too busy with our herculean efforts for getting tickets for the match so that there was simply no time to keep abreast of all the side shows accompanying this massive retirement celebration program. Finally we managed to get three tickets for prices that are undisclosed (Like they do in Football transfers). The mechanism of ticket purchasing itself is worth for a novel,  I believe.

We are staying at an Uncle’s place in Mumbai and he told us that in 1976, he purchased his flat for the same amount as the cost of our three tickets combined. The flat still serves him well. We only hope that the memories from here over the next five days will go on to serve us through out our lives.

Come on Day 1, enchant us.

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What Next for Kochi

The new cricket season in India started with a bang. There were matched being played across the length and breadth of the country. All professional players were playing at least one tournament or other. New Zeland A and West Indies A toured India for unofficial test matches and one-dayers. There was the season opening one day tournament, the Challenger Trophy, which itself has lost its gloss over the years. Then there was the Duleep Trophy, featuring zonal wise matches to kick off the domestic first class season.  A lot of discussions have been going around regarding the relevance of the Duleep Trophy in this crowded domestic calendar.

Regardless of that I was excited when the fixtures were announced for the Duleep Trophy. Kochi, in my home state was given the nod to host one semi final and the final for the tournament. It may be a low profile tournament, but still boasts the presence of some of the top level players trying to stake their claims ahead of a busy season. My idea was to see at least two days of the final match from the ground.

The semi final match held at Kochi between North Zone and West Zone produced a run fest and it was extended to a reserve day as the first innings were not completed within four days. Rain played spoilsport for most of the match and no play was possible on the fifth day as well. So in a bizarre way, a coin toss was used to decide the winner and it turned up to the delight of Harbhajan Singh and his North Zone team.

Within three days time, the final between North Zone and South Zone was to be played in the same ground and there were genuine concerns regarding the weather building up to the match. But I was hopeful thinking that two matches in succession won’t be affected by rain in Kochi. This time of the year in Kerala, we don’t get torrential rains. It rains every now and then, but definitely not enough to wash out cricket matches. But sadly, the rain gods had different ideas, or were they functioning as usual. There were some overnight rains leading up to the final. That was quite common and under normal circumstances the match should have started be a bit delayed in case of a wet outfield.  But the umpires confirmed by noon that no play was possible on the first day as they concluded that the outfield was not conducive for competitive cricket.

Second day, the day I planned to watch the match live had arrived. But by then I was somehow exhausted with the uncertainty over the game. A friend from Kochi told me that it was raining the night before the second day too.  So going by the trend, it could become another frustrating day, I thought.  I decided to cancel the idea of a going to the ground but I was regularly checking the score updates, more accurately the outfield updates. They were pretty gloomy too. But play did begin late afternoon that day with South Zone winning the toss and electing to bat. They finished on 33 for 2 at the close of play for the day. Sadly, that was to be that for the match.

No more play was possible on the third day as the outfield was dampened further by the overnight rain. By then, I had sort of given up on the match. The only real stat of interest left was the time at which the play would be called off on the remaining days. A 15 minutes early start for the fifth day was announced, but by the time, no one really cared.  Credit must go to the administrators for not extending the match into a reserve sixth day and saving the players and fans from more frustration as they had suffered enough over the past week. So the match was called off very early on the fifth day and the trophy was shared between the two teams.  Game, Set and Match for a future test venue.

Yes, Kochi has been actively pushing its case for test status. The Kerala Cricket Association thought that these two first class matches could pave way to hosting test matches in the future. But they were ill prepared to say the least. If the sun is beating down and you can’t play cricket, then it shows how deficient the drainage facilities at the ground are. Shashi Tharoor, the Union Minister from Kerala came down hard on KCA saying that they owe an explanation to the fans of the game on this matter. He said via a tweet that the KCA had brought disgrace to the state and that they had benefited from an amount to the tune of 8 crores spent on the drainage works. To this argument, the KCA president, T.C Mathews, who is now also the National Cricket Academy (NCA) chairman riposted by saying that no funding was received by the KCA for drainage from the government.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the heart of Kochi has a rich sporting history. But this stadium is not actually owned by the KCA, but by the GCDA (Greater Cochin Development Authority).  The stadium was initially constructed as a Football stadium but has hosted 8 ODI matches so far and has produced some enthralling cricket over the years.  In early 2013, I was fortunate enough to witness an ODI between India and England played at this venue. It was also the first day-night ODI played at Kochi. People flocked into the ground that day and provided an atmosphere befitting the cricket crazy nation that India is. As far as attendances go, there were reports of over 70,000 people attending that match and if those are true, then the  Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has left behind the Eden Gardens, Kolkata as the largest cricket stadium in India.

The GCDA has in fact opened an online referendum on its website (http://www.gcdaonline.com/)  to assess public opinion on leasing the Nehru Stadium owned by it to the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) for 30 years. It is one of the preconditions for considering the KCA’s claim to be allotted test match cricket. Depending on the public opinion, the authority will take a decision on the matter. If the love for the game that the people of Kerala have shown over the years, then the results of the voting could go only way.

Kerala cricket is going through a lot of radical changes. A lot of young players are coming into national recognition. Their domestic performances have been steadily improving all the time and the taste of test cricket in their own backyard can come at no better time. But before that they have to make sure that the issues with the drainage facilities at the ground are taken care of properly. A farce of the kind happened in the Duleep Trophy cannot be afforded at test level. The chance for redemption couldn’t have come any quicker for the KCA as Kochi is scheduled to host the first ODI between India and West Indies to be played on November 21st.  What makes the game unique is that it will be the first International match India plays after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. If Kochi can come up with a spectacle following the hang over of such a massive occasion, then that could help to go a long way in not only mitigating the damage in reputation as an International venue, but also to push their case as a future test centre.

 

This post first appeared on the website CricketCountry

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