“It’s very nice to play cricket here and I am sure, very soon this will be a great ground in world cricket. Once completed, it will be one of the greatest grounds for Test cricket.”

This was how the former England opener and Pakistan coach, late Bob Woolmer hailed the picturesque HPCA Stadium on March 2, 2005 when talking to The Hindu. The much-travelled cricketer was here with the Pakistan team that played a rain-hit three-day match against Board President’s XI.

Nearly eight years after Woolmer’s only visit this picturesque stadium is ready to host its first International fixture, the fifth One-Day International between India and England on January 27. On a bright Friday afternoon, the Indian cricketers played football at the ground while the Englishmen went shopping at nearby Mcleodganj.

With the dressing rooms facing the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountain ranges, any cricketer would agree that the captivating sight could be a great stress-buster.

What more, 12 pitches for outdoor ‘nets’ and six more in the indoor facility as part of the rehabilitation centre, the stadium is among the most modern in the country today. The 60-crore stadium has a seating-capacity of 19,500.

It all started with a group of men daring to dream big at the beginning of the past decade. Anurag Thakur, who heads Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, was one among those who dreamt of a world-class facility here. Thakur, now a Member of Parliament, says, “At that time, people thought we were insane. But today, we all stand vindicated.”

Paramjit Chauhan, one from that group of ‘dreamers’ sounds nostalgic as he looks back at those days of hard work, beginning from identifying the location for the stadium.

“We wasted almost two years, looking at the possibility of having a cricket stadium at Annadale (located in a deep wide valley in the suburban village of Kaithu, Shimla west). When we first came here, this was a rocky slope, then better known as “Lovers’ Point.” With people thronging this area all day, we were forced to take the measurements for the stadium at night. Initially, we were cursed by the locals but today, they are proud of this facility,” says Chauhan with pride.

“The most challenging job was to level the ground,” recalls Sanjay Sharma, a core member of Thakur’s team and continues, “the monumental task was accomplished by digging up the lower end of the slope and filling up the projected site of the ground. And finally, on 17 December 2003, the ground hosted its first Ranji Trophy match featuring Himachal Pradesh and Goa.”

In all, 29 first-class matches, including 24 Ranji fixtures have been hosted. Teams like Pakistan, Sialkot XI, South Africa ‘A’ and Australia under-19 have played here.

In 2010, the ground hosted its first Indian Premier League match between Kings XI Punjab and Deccan Chargers. Since then, six more matches have been held. Live telecast of these matches helped the players and spectators appreciate the novelty factors of this ground.

Initially, the pitch came under scrutiny when two Duleep Trophy matches were hosted in February 2004. The pitch lacked bounce and the criticism was well taken.

With time and lots of hard work of curator Sunil Chauhan and his team, the visiting teams appreciated the nature of pitch.

Ahead of Sunday’s clash, Chauhan is optimistic of a tall-scoring match. “It is a sporting wicket and should play true for all 100 overs. In the given conditions, the first 10 overs can be testing for the team batting first. Thereafter, it should be a good contest all the way.”

The last match played on this pitch, in March 2012, was the Deodhar Trophy final between West Zone and North Zone that produced 597 runs in 92.2 overs.

With the series already decided, but pride at stake for England, a high-scoring bonanza can be expected in this historic first ODI at this ground.

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