The city of Indore sleeps and sweeps, sweeps and sleeps and the story continues. Over the last few days, I have seen them sweep like there’s no tomorrow. Every particle of dust is taken care of and the condition of the roads and pavements continues to be spick and span.
Welcome to Indore – the “cleanest city of India”. It is on the signboard at the airport and the city leaves no stone unturned to back that claim.
About 25 minutes from that signboard is the Holkar Cricket Stadium. Located in the heart of the city, it is possible to miss the venue as it doesn’t really scream right into your face. Nestled between a sports club, EPFO building and a government school, the stadium has that lazy old world vibe to it.
Upon entering through the Satish Malhotra gate, one can spot the structure with a lot of signage. Some painted on the walls while some are getting an upgrade with uniform flex boards.
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The stands are named after former legendary cricketers and they continue to find mention on the various walls, staircases and passages.
The walls have that old-school texture under the paint, most likely to avoid the structure getting damp.
It doesn’t wear a gigantic sports complex look as the walkways between the stands are narrow on the sides but the meticulous labelling job ensures you don’t lose way while navigating between the numerous stands, staircases and walkways.
One of the beautifully placed walkways under the press box leads to the Amay Khurasiya Practice Area which is a state-of-the-art caged net facility with a lot of practice strips. Right next to that is the Sanjay Jagdale Academy and opposite it is a makeshift hut where star of the venue spends most of his time.
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Fondly referred to as Ashok ji, the warm worker has been part of the MPCA setup since 1979, as he likes to remind you repeatedly.
Just hearing the date, I pulled a chair and sat down with him to know all about the venue, the cleanliness and how things were back in the day. As we speak, an army of sweepers continue to sweep the passage and Ashok keeps a close watch.
“Jo aage ka hai sab saaf ho jaaega, hum khud hi ganda nahi rehne dete. Hume accha nahi lagta (Whatever we see, we clean. We don’t like the venue to be in a bad shape). Match ho ya na ho, kaam roz chalu hai. Mai 10-12 log ki team se pura stadium bahar se chakak karwata hu roz (whether match day or not, we clean it every day from the outside),” says Ashok.
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The veteran at the facility has seen the venue transform from a “jungle with wild bushes” to a proper cricketing facility. He has witnessed all the international fixtures in Indore – both at this venue and Nehru Stadium (the other cricket stadium in Indore) – and vividly remembers the fixtures and the exact dates they were played on.
“Sab dekha hu sir. Ye jungle tha. Aao dikhata hu (pointing towards a field with wild grass next to the stadium). Aisa tha ye. Bahut mehnat kiya sabne isko itna bada stadium banane mein. (I have seen everything. It was like a jungle. Let me show you. It was like this. Everyone has worked very hard to make it into a big venue),” Ashok adds.
For him, money was never a priority. “Daal aur roti chahiye bas,” he says. Ashok started working at Rs 60 a month and his biggest regret remains to not take MPCA membership which started out at just Rs 5.
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“Tab idea nahi tha bilkul. Bahut dukh hai ki us samay 5 rupay ka membership nahi liya. Aaj bahut mushkil hai member banna, aur tab mai 5 rupay mai ban jaata (Had no idea back then. Still feel sad that I didn’t become MPCA member when the subscription fee was just Rs 5),” says Ashok.
Just like the flashbacks Ashok was undergoing while recalling the old days, many parts of the ground continue to give the old-world aura and yet present a modern look. Some of the seating arrangements, the ones under the Sachin Tendulkar Stand in particular, continue to have benches. Not a common sight in cricket stadiums anymore but certainly very old school yet appealing, and very well maintained.
It was clearly a refreshing change from the chaos and mismanagement in Delhi as the staff worked relentlessly to get the stadium ready. There was constant cleaning of the stadium seats and pigeon poop was being cleared before the spectators start coming in on 1 March for the third India-Australia Test.
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“Everything is on contract right now. So people come on contract and clean everything inside, but outside it’s my job and responsibility. I arrange bai (maids) for outside cleaning from my locality and double the number for match days. Match waale din sab zyaada saaf rehna chahiye (things should be extra clean on matchdays),” says Ashok.
Moment after explaining everything in detail, Ashok heads to his little army of cleaning staff and explains the next steps very clearly and then goes back into the makeshift hut to oversee proceedings.
The spectators, players and broadcasters will start ferrying to-and-fro the venue starting Wednesday and Ashok is working to ensure they have the cleanest cricketing experience possible. The sweeping will continue even when the match is on but it remains to be seen whether it would be just restricted to the outside pathways and staircases or trickle down to the batters of the two teams too.
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