Cricket fans in Lucknow will celebrate Diwali a day before the rest of India when it hosts its first ever Twenty20 International match on November 6. The breathtaking Ekana International Cricket Stadium will host an India-West Indies T20 encounter to become the third international venue of the Uttar Pradesh capital.
The magnificent 50,000-capacity stadium, equipped with all modern facilities for players and fans, has already hosted first-class matches, including Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy games. And now the icing on the cake will come in the form of the T20 International.
The BCCI announced the itinerary of the West Indies’ tour to India on September 4, and since then cricket fans in Lucknow are on a high, informs Uday Sinha, Managing Director of Ekana Sportz City, inside which the stadium is located in Gomti Nagar Extension area. “Since the announcement of Lucknow as venue of the second of the three T20 Internationals against the West Indies, we all are very excited here. It will be a big Diwali dhamaka as the match will be played a day before Diwali. The people of Lucknow will witness an international match live after a long time,” Sinha told Outlook from Lucknow.
The stadium would have hosted the play-off matches of the 2018 IPL and one or more league games of the Delhi Daredevils. But apparently Daredevils coach Ricky Ponting wanted all home matches of his team to be played in Delhi, and therefore Lucknow lost out on that opportunity. Sinha is now hoping to host a few matches of the 2019 IPL after successfully hosting the T20 encounter.
The ‘City of Nawabs’ had earlier staged a Test match each at the Lucknow University ground – also, often called Gomti ground – and at the KD Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium. The third venue will be added to the list after 24 years. The first Test was played between India and Pakistan in 1952, on the banks of Gomti river, while the second one, an India-Sri Lanka encounter, was played at the KD Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium in 1994. This stadium also hosted a One-day International, between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which was part of the Nehru Cup, in 1989.
Group Captain (Rtd) Shahid Ali Khan Durrani, a former Indian team manager, is perhaps the only living person who watched both the 1952 Test and 1994 Tests, the first one as part of the organising committee and the second as a spectator. However, the Lucknow-based 82-year-old former secretary of the Services Sports Control Board plans to watch the upcoming T20 International from the comfort of his drawing room. “It’s a good thing that Lucknow is getting to host a T20 match -- a good development. This time, however, I wouldn’t go to the stadium to watch it, though not because of age. I’m more comfortable watching cricket on TV at home. Instead, my grandson Shahnawaz would go to watch it,” Durrani told Outlook from Lucknow.
The Ekana International Stadium is completely a different world, easily one of India’s best cricket venues, if not the best. It has many unique features that combine to make it the envy of all other cricket venues of the country. From arched gates – a design that is associated with the traditional Lucknow architecture -- all around the stadium on the outside to pillar-less seating areas inside for spectators, it is sight to behold.
The Ekana Sportz City is spread over 71-acre land, and its blue print comprises many other sports facilities, like a football stadium, with athletic track surrounding it, tennis/squash/badminton/volleyball courts, swimming pool, jogging track, and cycling track. Besides, a couple of sports academies, with residential facility, is also part of the plan.
The pièce de résistance, however, is the floodlit cricket stadium. It has a large outfield, with the straight boundaries being at least 65 yards long and the side boundaries being 87 yards. There are nine pitches in the centre square, which has been prepared with red soil from Kalyan in Maharashtra and Orissa. BCCI’s pitch and grounds committee head Daljit Singh, a former Ranji Trophy record holder of maximum dismissals from Punjab, has overseen the pitch and outfield preparation. He has been involved since beginning of the project in March 2015.
The Ekana Sportz City Pvt Ltd is being built on the public private partnership model. It is a joint venture of Nagarjuna Construction Company, GC Construction & Development Industries Pvt Ltd, and the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA). The Uttar Pradesh government, which has provided the land, has entered into a 35-year lease agreement with the Ekana Sportz City, ending in July 2052. Additionally, the LDA has provided the consortium 66 acres land for real estate project on a 99-year lease. As per the agreement, the consortium will also build a five-star hotel, residential flats, a hospital, an educational institution, and a commercial complex. Once complete, the Ekana Sportz City is expected to become the sports hub of India.