Cricket is known for two major things; driving it up the hill and swinging in the air and so does Dharamshala. The homeland of the Dalai Lama has the most beautiful cricket ground in India, among the most picturesque venues in the world.
Some even feel the beauty of the Dharamshala stadium is even more appealing than the Adelaide Oval or the Newlands in Cape Town.
The beauty of the Dharamshala stadium does not stay till the fact that it is based in the backdrop of the Himalayas with the mountains snowcapped all around the year. The stadium is much more than that.
Anurag Thakur, then the President of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association planned to construct a world-class stadium in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The journey of building a stadium in the hills was not is easy for the HPCA.
The 25-year-old President with his associates started wandering all over the state for their piece of land. The Himachal Pradesh government helped to zero down the location in the hills of Dhauladhar but it had a slope of 300 feet. The association just had only 40 Lakhs of funds.
It took them two years for convincing the state government to lend them money for building the masterpiece. The construction started in March 2002 and the stadium established a year and a half later in September.
The Dharamshala Stadium’s first assignment came in February of 2004 in a Duleep Trophy game between East Zone and West Zone but the major historical moments for the Stadium were still to occur.
Before the famous tour of 2005, Pakistan Cricket led by Inzamam ul Haq became the first International side to set their training camp in Dharamshala and the evergreen Shahid Afridi quoted “Janab, Ye Hindustan Ki Saazish Hai, Humme Aisi Jagah practice Ke Liye Laye Hain, Jahaan Nazaarein Dekho. Yahan Toh Chai Pio Aur Pahad Dekho”, about the Dharamshala Stadium.
Years went by and the picturesque Dharamshala Stadium was getting recognised as the centre of attraction. In 2009, Anurag Thakur decided to refurbish the stadium. The capacity was increased to a total of 23000 persons. The floodlights were installed and services like hotel rooms, media boxes, gyms, etc. were added for the IPL.
For the 2010 season of the Indian Premier League, Dharamshala was opted as the second home ground for the Kings XI Punjab. The first match of the IPL played at the picture-perfect stadium was between the hosts Kings XI and Deccan Chargers. Kings batted first to put a mammoth total of 174 runs. Mahela Jayawardene was the man of the hour in the first innings for his 93 not out.
The second half had a suspense in it. Deccan Chargers were 2 down in chase at the score 54 runs. Then, came a 23 years old boy who would achieve a lot in the next decade or so. He changed the game with his lazy elegance and caress stroke play. His name was Rohit Sharma.
5 years later, the boy has grown into a man and he changed everything about him. Now, he is one of the biggest names in Indian Cricket. South African team were touring India for the Freedom Trophy and the series kickstarts from the very ground of Dharmashala. Rohit who turned the game for Deccan in 2010 becomes the first batsman to score a t20 century at Dharamshala but the history repeats as JP Duminy turns the game with the bat in the chase.
After a few IPL matches later, the Dharamshala Stadium was getting his recognition all over the world. The stadium was in the hills and due to the Bermuda grass pitch. This was the first stadium in India that first offered assistance to the swing bowlers. Apart from that, it has Ryegrass around the outfield so that the grass does not die in the extreme cold conditions of the stadium.
In 2012, the International Cricket Stadium gave the HPCA Stadium, also commonly addressed as the Dharamshala stadium the status of an international. Hence, in 2013, the Indian team hosted the first-ever international game at the stadium. It was an ODI between England and India in the January winters.
The Indian team was tested in the swinging condition as the English bowlers got better off them. Suresh Raina became the lone warrior for the hosts in the first inning as the England team wind up India’s innings at 226 runs. Ian Bell became the first international batsman to score a century at the HPCA Stadium as he and his team chased down the target in challenging conditions.
In 2016, India got the opportunity to host their first ICC wt20 tournament. It was the first ICC event taking place in India since the 2011 World Cup. The HPCA Stadium in Dharmashala was one of the seven Stadiums for the event. Various First Round matches were played at Dharamshala but the highlight of the tournament, India versus Pakistan match was scheduled for the HPCA Stadium but due to security alerts. The match was shifted to Eden Gardens but the stadium had the arch rivals in Australia and New Zealand for a match.
A year later, the last test match of the Border-Gavaskar trophy took place in the beautiful stadium of Dharamshala. The series was better known as the Brain fade series. The series was tied 1-1 before the last test in Dharamshala. Whosoever, would have won the game would have taken the series but if the game gets to draw, Australia would have retained the trophy. The odds were in favour of the visitors as the Indian skipper was not 100 percent fit and he opted out of the match.
As the proceedings started, Australia scored reasonably well in the first innings. The visitors got all out on 300 after playing the first whole day. Steve Smith scored a century once again in the series and the Kohli-less Indian batting was under pressure but every Indian batter chipped in. KL Rahul, Pujara and Jadeja scored half-centuries in the innings and the skipper Rahane also scored a vital 46 runs. India scored 332 runs in their first innings and the game was in balance.
But, in the second innings, the Indian team got rid of the Aussies cheaply and the had the target of a mere 106 runs and the hosts chased down the total comfortably with 7 wickets in hand to take the series 2-1.
The last match at the Dharamshala got washed out due to the rain. The South Africans were visiting us for the ODIs before the coronavirus pandemic breakdown but after the first ODI, the series also got postponed. Nevertheless, the players must have sipped the coffees while watching the rain droplets sprinkle in the hills of Dhauladhar.