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Kotla: Not just cricket

Ferozshah Kotla is the ground where Anil Kumble wrote his name into the record books with a Perfect 10 against Pakistan. But the ground that used to be a part of Feroz Shah Tughlaq's Delhi has witnessed more illuminating moments. MADHUR TANKHA digs into a few facts... .

Ferozshah Kotla's Willingdon Pavilion... great nostalgia value.

EVER WONDERED about the historical background of the Ferozshah Kotla ground on Delhi's Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg? The name, as we all know, has been derived from the Emperor of Delhi, Feroz Shah Tughlaq, who ruled from 1351 to 1388. But not many know that he had a passion for building and during his lifetime, he went in for construction of mosques and palaces in such a big way that his name has been imbibed in history books as a builder. He also built hunting lodges, reservoirs for irrigation and embankments. He was the ruler during whose reign the medieval bastion along the banks of river Yamuna was built.

During the days of the British Raj, the Englishmen wanted to play cricket on the outskirts and they built Willingdon Pavilion. According to Sunil Khanna, Joint Secretary, Sports, Delhi District Cricket Association, "The name of the ground Feroz Shah has been derived from the emperor's name".

The ground, which has the distinction of hosting the first-ever Test match in post-independence India when the touring West Indian team under John Goddard played in November 1948, was a gift from the Vizzy of Vizianagar. This pavilion is also known as S. Prasad Mukherjee pavilion. Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagar, Nawab Moinuddaulah Bahadur, K.B. Raja Akbar Ali and His Highness and The Maharaja of Charkhari had donated it. His Excellency, The Right Honourable, The Earl of Willingdon, the viceroy and governor general of India, inaugurated it on February 10, 1933. An ordinary native was never allowed inside the ground. In the room, where the details have been inscribed, are hung pictures of one of the contemporary India's best willowers, Sachin Tendulkar and India's ace spinner, Anil Kumble who got the Perfect 10 against Pakistan in 1998-99 here.

Interestingly, the old scoreboard, which was used during the time of the British, still hangs. But, unfortunately, it would soon be removed as the DDCA is going in for a complete facelift. Also, where the English cricketers used to have their dressing room, has been converted into a bar now, called `Outswinger Inswinger bar' and a dining hall, `Allrounder'.

There is also an interesting historical fact as to why the name `district' has been added. Former cricketer Chetan Chauhan says, "In earlier times, there used to be the state of Punjab. There was no state of Patiala. To make those staying in Gurgaon and Faridabad avail the facilities of the cricket ground, the word district was added".

Anil Khanna, the club secretary, says, "Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who captained Delhi from 1962 to 1964, played numerous matches at the DDCA. Bishen Singh Bedi, Rajan Mehra, an international umpire, C.B.Mathur, Rajender Pal and Manmohan Sood have played for Delhi".

It was a happy hunting ground for India's former skipper, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi when he scored 203 not out against England in 1963-64 match. Sikander Bakht of Pakistan in 1979-80 match against India took eight wickets for 68 runs. Sachin's friend, Vinod Kambli scored a mammoth 227 on this ground against Zimbabwe. England's John Lever in his debut here took 10 wickets in a match. Sunil Gavaskar scored his 29th century to equal Don Bradman's record of highest number of hundreds here.

Despite the DDCA's plan for a facelift, the colonial legacy of Willingdon Pavilion would remain etched on its façade.

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