4 December 2020 12:50 PM

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MANISH DUBEY | 20 APRIL, 2017

Memories of The Keenan


JAMSHEDPUR: So, Ranchi now has a new, swank cricket ground which, after serving as the Chennai Super Kings’ second home and hosting a T20 international and two one-day internationals (ODIs), has gone to on host a Test (the third of four in the recently-concluded Border-Gavaskar Trophy). That should delight cricket fans in Jharkhand, perceived a cricketing backwater till the advent of M S Dhoni.

Why then am I, Jharkhand born and schooled, feeling a little sad? Well, that’s because I am a Jamshedpuri and Ranchi’s Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) International Stadium Complex replaces my home town’s Keenan Stadium as Jharkhand’s premier cricketing venue. With that, I – and I suspect several others Jamshedpuris - have lost some of our bragging rights.

Back in the 1980s, our Tata Steel-managed town was Paradise. Leafy and well-kept. With wide roads, roomy housing, 24X7 water and electricity, a pleasant high street, several picturesque picnic spots, and a thriving sporting and quizzing scene. Net-net, there was plenty to thumb our noses at cousins from Patna and Ranchi.

And then international cricket came to us, to our Keenan Stadium, in the winter of 1983. We swelled some more with pride. It was confirmation, if any was needed, that no other town in (then undivided) Bihar, indeed all of eastern India barring Calcutta (and even Calcutta (now Kolkata) stank, we had heard), was as good as ours. Deemed worthy to host international sides, Jamshedpur, in our eyes at least, now stood at par with London, Melbourne and Sydney. The many charms of our town, we were convinced, would be talked about in homes across the globe soon.

For most locals so overwhelming was the joy of emerging on the world cricket map that the potential opportunity to actually see marquee names such as Ian Botham and Imran Khan seemed almost a perk. Personally, I longed for a chance to watch Malcolm Marshall and Zaheer Abbas. After all how good could Abbas be to be anointed the Asian Bradman ahead of Sunil Gavaskar, our own run-making, record-breaking machine? And was Marshall as dangerous as the neighborhood bhaiyyas said? Were batsmen from around the world really queuing up at expensive American mental clinics to get ‘brainwashed’? Literally get the name and dread of Marshall scrubbed off their brain cells?

It hasn’t quite unfolded the way we had imagined. Of course, the Keenan, probably the only international cricketing venue named after an American (Tata Steel General Manager John Lawrence Keenan), has gone on to host every major side, been commended for its wicket and outfield, and witnessed several thrilling encounters and sterling individual performances. But the memories and associations created aren’t always fond.

For one, Indian cricket fans are likely to consider the Keenan an unlucky ground. Of the ten ODIs (no tests or T-20 internationals) played here, India featured in nine, won one. The solitary win was curtsy Sourav Ganguly’s unbeaten hundred chasing a modest South African total (199) in March 2000. On other occasions they batted first, visiting sides posted large totals and choked the Indian chase. Gordon Greenidge (115 off 134) and Vivian Richards (149 off 99) literally and repeatedly sent the ball out of the park as they propelled West Indies to 333 (45 overs) in the first ever ODI at the Keenan and the Pakistanis amassed 319 in April 2005. The home side suffered 100-plus run defeats on both occasions.

And when batting first, the Indians either posted sub-par totals (236 versus New Zealand in November 1995 and 223 against the English in April 2006) or saw impressive totals being overhauled in tight contests. Javed Miandad’s unbeaten 78 off 71 saw Pakistan chase down 266 (44 overs) with four balls to spare in March 1987; Neil Fairbrother’s unbeaten 53 off 52 in a rain-truncated, 26 over match where no other individual crossed 25 got England over the line with just two balls left in April 1993; and, most memorably, only a last ball boundary concluded West Indies’ chase of India’s 283 in November 2002. That boundary, fittingly, came from the blade of the day’s hero, Ramnaresh Sarwan (83 off 89).

As if the losses aren’t enough, there have been grumbles about arrangements for mediapersons and overzealous local policemen and, blasphemous as this may sound to Jamshedpuri ears, some visitors even found our town depressingly industrial-grey. Worst, visitor’s memories of team wins and individual heroics are tainted with those of boorish crowd behavior.

West Indians, even if they have unjustly forgotten the commanding displays of Greenidge and Richards, will not have trouble recalling the more recent Sarwan-orchestrated win. Or the bottle-pelting crowd that nearly led to the latter match being called off. Englishmen may remember their two summer wins, particularly the former. Not only for Fairbrother’s knock but also the scare caused by a metal bolt that was hurled at Devon Malcolm.

The Australians complained about being coerced by local organizers wary of an increasingly restless crowd to settle for a shorter, 24 over encounter in October 1984. The shortening was because team kits - being transported by truck from Calcutta because the local Sonari airport couldn’t land a plane large enough to accommodate both players and kits - arrived late. The match was ultimately called off due to rain.

The locals have their defense. The Australians were being unnecessarily fussy, only exposing their bias against the sub-continent. Didn’t Indian sides adjust with worse when travelling abroad? As for the unkind words emanating from the stands, weren’t fans entitled to express their frustrations? Admittedly, a section of the crowd had taken things too far by throwing bottles and stuff but the majority was sporting and peaceful. Most matches, including the first ever home soil loss to then lowly New Zealand and not one but two versus Pakistan of all teams, had been ‘incident-free’. Claps for opponent’s efforts had been as unhesitating as they had been for Indians. Why, even Miandad, not exactly a favorite with Indian crowds, had been applauded.

The part about only a small section of the crowd being troublesome may be correct but for the world, even one incident is one too many, enough to taint a city. Any city. Jamshedpur included. Sadly, and I hope it turns out to be untrue even as I write this, chances to make amends are slim. The President’s message on the JSCA website thanks the Tatas twice. First, for their hospitality over the years. Next, and somewhat ominously, for providing the JSCA the ‘incentive’ to make its own stadium by denying access to the Keenan in recent times!

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