OF CRICKET, RALLIES AND PROTESTS: Azad Maidan, Mumbai

Located in the historic Fort area of South Mumbai, Azad Maidan is a triangular shaped cricket ground with covers about 25 acres of land. Besides being a popular venue for cricket matches, the Azad (means liberty in Persian) Maidan is also known to host important political rallies, protest meetings and morchas and so on…

WORDS BY- AMOG

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FROM political rallies to protest meetings, the Azad Maidan has seen it all. This pizza slice shaped community space in downtown Mumbai has seen many great cricketers make their way to the top as well as landmark political and social rallies making steady headways. Let’s take a tour of this legendary piece of land in south Bombay.
Early in the morning, buses full of kids dressed in all white and carrying hefty cricket kits can be seen making their way to Azad Maidan in Mumbai. It is a simple triangular Maidan or sports ground. But like all things Mumbai, this ground has seen its fair share of historical events and milestones too.
Just a stroll away from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Train Station, Azad Maidan is an impressive 25 acres of land. It is so big that you could squeeze two-and-a-half Wankhede Stadiums into it. It can comfortably accommodate some six to seven cricket matches here that can be played here simultaneously. But like everything else in Mumbai, Azad Maidan too is also cramped for space. There are 22 cricket pitches in the whole ground. But one of these 22 pitches stands out with a perennially green and well-maintained turf. That portion belongs to the posh Bombay Gymkhana and is separated from the rest by a narrow walkway. The Bombay Gymkhana Clubhouse was built in 1875, at the southern end of the maidan. In the rest of the space, 21 pitches jostle for room with their imaginary boundary lines criss-crossing.
If you take a birds-eye view of the ground on a busy weekend, when nearly all the pitches are in use, you’d

think there was some elaborate, nonsensical game of dodge ball meets cricket being played.
Azad Maidan is a microcosm of Mumbai’s odd sense of order within chaos: on weekdays, in overcrowded trains, we pack in more people than they were made to hold. On weekends, at public grounds like Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan, Oval Maidan and Shivaji Park, we pack in more cricket matches than they were meant to ever accommodate.
Even with all this chaos, the cricket pitches at the ground have produced many international cricketers. On 20 November 2013, Prithvi Shaw created history by scoring a whopping 546 runs. Parsis used to come down here on Sundays to watch first class cricket. Somewhere in the 1960s, Polly Umrigar, who played first class and test matches, also played at the Azad Maidan for the Parsi Cyclists Club. And in 1987, youngsters Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli shared a huge 664 run record partnership during a Harris Shield school match held at Azad Maidan.
But walk around the periphery, and you still see garbage strewn about. In the rains, players hurt themselves on discarded bottles and other trash left loosely in the long unkempt grass. And that’s not how the nursery of Mumbai cricket should be.

But apart from fun and games, Azad Maidan has seen its share of violence as well. On August 11th 2012, it saw a protest that quickly turned into a riot. The protest was held to condemn the Rakhine and Assam riots.

The riot reportedly began when the crowd got angry after hearing an inflammatory speech and after seeing photographs of Assam violence and Rakhine state riots. The riot resulted in two deaths and injuries to 54 people including 45 policemen. Mumbai Police estimated that the riots caused a loss of ₹2.74 Crore in damages to public and private property.
Despite its shortcomings and non-existent facilities, this is still the biggest cricket ground in Mumbai. In a real-estate-hungry city, that’s still something worth holding on to. And on a crowded weekend, it does make Azad Maidan quite a spectacle, one that’s worth being a part of if you enjoy the game. And you could head over on a fine Sunday too for a game. Just remember to duck in time.

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