The Mumbai Indians were playing the Deccan Chargers on 27 April for the inaugural match of the new Dr DY Patil stadium in Nerul, Navi Mumbai. A crowd of 55,000 cricket fans was spread out across the enormous stadium and cheered every boundary, every catch and every wicket in the Indian Premier League (IPL) match. Robin Uthappa, who plays for the Indians, said he loved the stadium’s “electrifying atmosphere”.
But not everyone in the stadium was watching the action on the field. And, when the match ended, not everyone headed outside.
“I was timing it. It took about 7 minutes for the crowd to exit after the match,” Sanjiv Dongre, project architect for the stadium, told me later. Everything else, too, went according to plan. With a total of 12 gates, there weren’t any long queues or crowds of people elbowing each other. The 135 exit points from the stands ensured that the crowds dispersed quickly. Everyone in each of the four levels of the spectator area—all completely fitted with bucket seats—had an unobstructed view.
The home team did not win the match, but it was a complete victory for the team which designed and built the Patil stadium.
Navi Mumbai may not be very high on any list of hot properties in the city. While the international airport here remains a piece of legislation, international cricket has definitely arrived—and for the first time, I felt proud to be a resident of this far-flung Mumbai suburb. I no longer needed to hear my friends talk of carrying passports and visas to come all the way to Navi Mumbai. “So, where do they play first-class cricket in Bandra?” I now ask them.
Vijay Patil, president, Dr DY Patil Sports Academy, wanted to build sporting infrastructure in the city of Navi Mumbai comparable to facilities anywhere in the world. The work on the 25-acre plot acquired from the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd. started in 2004. Famous architect Hafeez Contractor was brought in to design the basic plan.
The standards had to be world-class. An unobstructed view from every point in the stands was a must. “The cantilevered roof did away with pillars, so there’s a clear view from any part of the stadium,” says Rajeev Trehan, a senior associate with Contractor. The soil for the pitch was flown in from South Africa and the outfield is sand-based to help drain out water rapidly and rule out long rain delays. As many as 420 lights of 2kw each supplied by General Electric illuminate the stadium and there are separate enclosures for the media and commentators. And, with an Olympic-sized pool, lawn tennis, badminton and squash courts, and a gymnasium, the Patil sports complex is more than just a cricket ground.
So, what does the cricketing fraternity think?
Mumbai Indians team ambassador Harsha Bhogle is impressed. “I don’t know how accessible it is in terms of location. But, it’s perfect for the T20 format because it combines hospitality with great playing conditions.”
“Amazing is the word I would use. It’s the best I’ve seen in India, so far. The facilities are outstanding and the buzz on the field is terrific. I felt like I was playing at home in Sydney,” says Australian Dominic Thornely, who is playing in the IPL for the Mumbai Indians.
Both Uthappa and Sanath Jayasuriya loved the atmosphere. “But the facilities can do with certain improvements. The changing rooms can be more personalized and we really don’t need glass doors,” Uthappa adds.
Despite the stellar reviews, though, two matches were shifted from here back to Mumbai’s premier cricketing facility, Wankhede Stadium. The reason cited was that the distance to Nerul would deter spectators from coming to the stadium.
“But the stadium was packed,” counters Patil. Ratnakar Shetty, chief operating officer of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), concedes that DY Patil is one of the best stadiums in India and its location makes it accessible to those from Thane district and even Pune. “But ideally, we would always like to hold the matches at Wankhede because that’s our own,” he says. BCCI is the force behind the IPL and they naturally want to host as many matches as possible at their facility at Wankhede down by Marine Drive.
Patil is hopeful: “Small cities come into focus because of sporting events held there. And, the same can happen with this stadium in Navi Mumbai.”
Patil and Navi Mumbaikars are doubtless very pleased that the final match of the inaugural IPL season will now take place at DY Patil on 1 June as Wankhede is undergoing renovation.
The Navi Mumbai page on Wikipedia now prominently displays a picture of the stadium, which has become an icon for the twin city.
Patil will feel vindicated. And, as a Navi Mumbaikar, I feel the same way, too.