What are cricket grounds, really? Just a circular piece of land covered with grass and a bit of baldness in the centre? Piece of land where batsmen bat, bowlers bowl, umpires officiate and English celebrate by relieving themselves?
Put a bit of seating capacity around that very same piece of land and they become stadiums. But that's about it. That's what they are.
If you are an aficionado of the game, stadiums mean much more than a grassy piece of land surrounded by some seats.
They are the nuts and bolts of the vault dedicated to the game of cricket on your memory bank. They're the nails using which you hang the canvas of nostalgia related to the game.
In the three Ws, who, when and where, stadiums are where.
In the three Ws, who, when and where, stadiums are where.
Stadiums are the stages where you would have imagined yourself performing - in childhood when becoming a cricketer was a realistically achievable dream to a child's uncontrollable mind. You would surely have done it multiple times - each performance being inspired by the performance of your hero.Oh that upper cut by Tendulkar in Centurion or his handling of Warne in Chepauk. That's square cut of Dravid which won us Adelaide test. Dada's towering sixes in Taunton.
If not this, you surely remember the matches.
You don't? Really?
Does Eden ring a bell? 2001?
You surely remember Lords for variety of reasons - be it hype around it to Kapil lifting the world cup in 1983 to Ajit Agarkar's maiden century. No Indian ground has given us as many contrasting emotions of extremes as Chepauk has - Warne's demolition in 1998 to heartbreak against Pak in 1999 to Cricket's way of making people smile after horrendous 26/11 in 2008. Eden may challenge this though - we saw Kambli cry in despair 1996, we saw 100k people jumping in joy in 2001. Then, there is Barbados - 1997. There is Headingly - 2002. Oh yes, there is Wankhede - 2011.
List can go on and on. My point is, cricket stadiums are much more than what they look like. They surely are.
For that very reason, I wanted to visit Sydney Cricket Ground or SCG as it’s fondly known. While I had taken the tour of MCG earlier, SCG is something I couldn't have missed.
Right from the childhood, I've always liked SCG for no apparent reason. I had never been there, seen it only in papers, on TV yet I liked it.
I don't know when or why it happened.
Maybe it was in 1992 when I learned that SCG offered the only turning track in Australia hence India's best chances of winning - we nearly won too. Maybe I liked it because in that series, SCG was the only ground where our batsmen could score.
Maybe it was because India won in 1992 world cup against Pakistan.
Maybe it was the beautiful view of Member's stand while sun goes to lighten up the other part of hemisphere - oh it looks absolutely picturesque on TV.
I always liked Sydney. I always wanted to visit this ground.
"Walk till you reach the crossing of Martin Place and Elizabeth Street, take Bus number 373, ask the driver to drop you at the stop nearest to SCG. The tour begins at 11. Don't be late" is what the instructions I got from my friend. Since everyone else was busy, I had decided to visit the ground alone.
"Tickets please" are the words I heard as soon as I entered the Bus. Alas, driver wasn't Merv Hughes."I've to go to SCG. What tickets should I buy?" I asked.
"Sorry mate. You can't buy the tickets in the bus. You've got to buy them before boarding" was his reply.
"Oh. Okay. I will get down"
"Hold on. You're lucky that you can buy tickets in this bus. But be mindful of this thing next time. Things are getting modernized in this city"
"Thanks" I said and the journey started.
By the time I got down from the bus, it was ten minutes to eleven and stadium still looked at least 200 meters away. To add to my woes, I didn't know from which gate of the stadium I would get the tour tickets.
I brisk walked to one of the gates. I asked couple of staff members standing there, "Hi. I'm here for the SCG tour. Where can I buy the tickets?"
One of them responded, "Sorry mate, I think they've closed the tours now so that they can prepare the ground for the next match"
"You think or you know?" I asked back in a stern voice. I always wanted to see the stadium from inside and when my turn was there for the taking, I wasn't going to be turned down. At least not so easily.
"Check at the reception mate. Keep walking towards you left for 300 meters" was the reply.
I almost started to run. I was worried that if I reach too late, I might miss the tour. Next tour was at 2:00PM and I was supposed to leave Sydney for Melbourne by 3:00PM. Possibilities of missing my chance to see the ground were increasing with every second.
While I was searching for reception area, I kept passing different gates. Every gate I passed by, I expected it to THE gate I was looking for but it was all closed. I had to really resist the temptation of sneaking through inside the stadium through the only open gate I saw.
Finally I managed to locate the reception.
"You are late. They've left" I was told.
"Hand over me the ticket and tell me where to go. I will catch up" I sounded determined.
"Let me see. Here's your ticket. Follow me. Quick" she said.
We managed to catch the tour group. They had all assembled in a room.
"Don't worry. All you've missed is a video" the tour guide told me.
"I'm here to see it all live" I smiled back.
Although MCG looks to be a more modern stadium with better facilities as compared to SCG, MCG can't still match the beauty - look of the member's stand is just serene.
The dressing rooms still look like coming straight out of 70s. Then there is Bradman - his bat, his baggy green, his handwritten note. If one is visiting SCG in expectations of catching up with some history, he wouldn't be disappointed for sure.
SCG was worth a visit.
Finally, I was out of the ground. I looked back at the stadium. It didn't look as unfamiliar as it used to till now.
A long pending visit had been made. An item in the bucket list had been ticked.