The newly built Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium with 50,000 capacity in Uttar Pradesh's capital could become one of the hubs for the sport in the country
Lucknow's Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium. PIC/AFP
When India take on New Zealand in the second T20I in Lucknow on Sunday, the serene Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium will host its tenth men’s international fixture. Surprisingly, fans in the city will witness the Men in Blue in action only for the fourth time. After the stadium was approved as Afghansitan’s adopted home ground in 2019, they played three T20Is, three ODIs and a solitary Test against the West Indies here.
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The first international match at this venue was when West Indies toured here on November 6, 2018. To the fan's disappointment, regular skipper Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni were rested for that T20I series. However, Rohit Sharma, standing in for Kohli, made up for it by producing a scintillating 111 not out off just 61 balls, his fourth T20I hundred. KL Rahul, batting at No. 4, landed some lusty blows to take India to a strong total of 195-2. West Indies, without their T20 superstars like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo, were just too timid in their batting innings. They limped to 124-9, losing by 71 runs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Khaleel Ahmed and Kuldeep Yadav, all chipped in with a couple of wickets.
India’s second fixture scheduled at this venue was a one-day international against South Africa on March 15, 2020. Unfortunately, the match was called off due to Covid-19 and the whole country went into lockdown a couple of weeks later.
Fans in Lucknow had to wait for three and a half years to see India in action again. Sri Lanka faced Rohit & Co in a T20I on February 24, 2020. Opener Ishan Kishan blasted his way to 89 off 56 balls. He was well supported by Shreyas Iyer who upped the ante in the end, scoring a 28-ball 57. Sri Lanka never really got going in the second innings, falling 62 runs short of the target of 200. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was the pick of the bowlers with figures of 2-9.
Fortunately, the action returned to the city in the same year. This time it was an ODI against South Africa on October 6. South Africa were full-strength but India fielded a second-stringed side led by Shikhar Dhawan with the main team in Australia preparing for the T20 World Cup. South Africa were on the back foot at 71-3 and then 110-4. However, Heinrich Klaasen (74 off 65 balls) and David Miller (75 off 63 balls) forged a 139-run stand to take the Proteas to a competitive 249-4. India were in dire straits at 51-4 before Shreyas Iyer’s counter-attacking 50 off 37 balls gave them some respite. After that, it just became a Sanju Samson show. He scored an unbeaten 63-ball 86 but couldn’t take India over the line, getting little strike in the death overs. India fell short by just nine runs.
Strangely, despite being the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow has never been the centre of cricket in the state. 90-km away from the capital, Kanpur’s Green Park stadium boasts a much richer history, having hosted 49 international games including 23 Tests, 15 ODIs and one T20I. But, that is likely to change in the upcoming years. Along with the international fixtures, IPL franchise Lucknow Super Giants are also slated to play their home games at the Ekana stadium. With Lucknow also getting a franchise in the Women’s Premier League, the city is likely to become one of the major cricketing hubs in the country