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Field of Dreams

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Shivaji Park remains the heart of Mumbai cricket despite the availability of numerous other grounds
Besides Sachin Tendulkar, Shivaji Park has produced 22 Test cricketers, including Sunil Gavaskar, Vinod Kambli, Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri. Many of them first played club cricket under the aegis of the Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG). More than a hundred Ranji players are Shivaji Park alumni. But though the Mumbai Cricket Association now makes many grounds available for cricket training, Shivaji Park remains the field of Mumbai’s cricketing dreams. Besides SPG, eight clubs train cricketers at Shivaji Park, the most famous being Ramakant Achrekar’s Kamath Memorial Club.

Cricket coaching began at Shivaji Park in the late 1980s. Created in 1925 by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the ground’s relationship with cricket grew gradually with locals coming to play there. Coach Kiran Adhikari says, “Locals later became members of the SPG. I have heard stories of people playing cricket wearing a kurta and dhotar.”

After the SPG’s formation, many players represented it in club cricket, where they were spotted for Ranji and Test cricket. This is also why Tendulkar and Kambli are missing from the SPG honour roll of Test cricketers. “Sachin was so talented that within four or five years, he began to play international cricket,” says Adhikari. “He didn’t become a member, so he didn’t represent SPG. The same with Kambli.”

Former Ranji player Amol Rane remembers Shivaji Park as the only training ground available in Mumbai at one time. “Many players travelled hours to play there. I would come from Jogeshwari. Another reason for cricket to be associated with Shivaji Park was [its use by] Shardashram Vidyamandir school. It was the only school that promoted cricket and its students (including me) were trained at Shivaji Park.”

At one time, middle-class Maharashtrian parents were reluctant to let their boys pursue cricket. Former Ranji captain Prasad Desai says, “I was not allowed to play cricket by my family. I hid it from them, but was caught out when I was selected for a match.” Now, things are different with parents actively encouraging kids to be the next Tendulkar. “I feel funny when I see young boys arriving for practice with their mothers, while servants carry their kits,” says Desai.

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