Mumbai’s most famous cricket stadium is named after the great cricketer, SK Wankhede; similarly, the best cricket stadium in Chennai is named after Muthiah Annamalai Chidambaram, another great cricketer, and Bengaluru’s lovely stadium on MG Road is named after another cricketing stalwart, Mangalam Chinnaswamy Mudaliar.
If you’re about the antecedents of these great cricketers, your doubts would be accurate — these men were not cricketers. They were politicians or businessmen who were officials in cricket associations. When stadiums in these three great metropolitan cities were constructed, they were named after administrators, not cricketers.
When the Wankhede Stadium was constructed in Mumbai back in the 1970s, Mumbai already had a great tradition of cricket, and numerous legends of the game — men such as Vijay Merchant, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte, to name a few. Yet, it was thought fit to name it after SK Wankhede, a Nagpur lawyer and president of the Mumbai Cricket Association when the stadium came up.
M Chidambaram, whose name adorns the stadium at Chepauk in Chennai, was no cricketer — he was an industrialist and cricketer administrator; and Mangalam Chinnaswamy Mudaliar, after whom the stadium in Bengaluru is named, was a lawyer. When the stadiums in Chennai and Bengaluru were to be named, these two cities did not lack cricketers of great achievement and repute — but the stadiums were named after administrators.
The old stadium in Mumbai, at the Cricket Club of India, was named after Lord Brabourne, the governor of the city. Mohali’s stadium is named after IS Bindra, a bureaucrat and cricket administrator, and the Feroze Shah Stadium in Delhi was renamed after Arun Jaitley, politician and sports administrator, last year.
Curiously, while stadiums were named after non-cricketers, stands inside the stadiums have been named after great cricketers, such as Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Merchant in Mumbai, and Bishan Singh Bedi, Mohinder Amarnath, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli in Delhi.
Our country has a history of naming stadiums after politicians, the favourites being Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Milkha Singh is the man after whom Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium should have been named when it came up in the early 1980s, but it was named after the country’s first prime minister — at a time when his daughter was the prime minister.
Bedi, the former India captain, has taken a stand against the installation of a statue of Arun Jaitley at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium, which had been famous as the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium until last year. “You go to the stadium at Melbourne, and you see statues of Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne,” Bedi says. “You have Sir Don Bradman’s statue in Adelaide and those of Riche Benaud and Steve Waugh in Sydney. At Lord’s, they have WG Grace’s statue. There is no reason to have a statue of a politician at a cricket ground.”
Bedi wants Delhi’s cricket association (DDCA) to remove his name from a stand which was named “Bishan Singh Bedi stand” in 2017. He has also given up DDCA’s membership — this he did with a heavy heart because he played for Delhi for 13 long years. “I started playing for Delhi in 1968 when I joined the State Bank of India there,” Bedi, who played for Punjab before that, said. “But I’m taking this decision because I don’t want to be part of DDCA when it installs a statue of a politician at the stadium.”
Bedi is not a man who likes to be memorialised in such a manner — back in 1983, the stadium in Jalandhar, famous as Burlton Park, was renamed BS Bedi Stadium. This was done without his permission, and he did not like it at all. “To name it after me in my lifetime, that too without asking me, was unacceptable to me,” says the former captain. “I strongly protested against this!”
A man opposing his own glorification is rare — as Ramachandra Guha noted in his recent book, Bedi is one of a kind in Indian cricket.