Following tussle over passes for matches at old stadium, former BCCI VP Mrugesh Jaikrishna got land from the then CM, constructed Motera stadium in 8 months 13 days.
Vishal Patadiya

It was his vision that made Motera stadium a reality. Today, as Ahmedabad prepares to welcome US President Donald Trump to the biggest public rally of his political life at Sardar Patel stadium, the man responsible for the stadium’s existence will not be present at the event. Mrugesh Jaikrishna, who got the original avatar of the stadium, constructed in just 8 months and 13 days in 1983 has not been invited to participate in Monday’s big show that has the world entranced.

“No, I have not been invited to the Namaste Trump event being held at Motera stadium on Monday,” asserted Jaikrishna, former vice-president of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as well as the former VP of Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA).

In its latest incarnation, the Sardar Patel stadium can host 1.10 lakh people and claim the title of the world’s largest sporting arena. Thirty-six years earlier, it was just 63 acres of ‘ubad-khaabad banjar’ land. Frequent tussles over passes for matches held at the old Sardar Patel stadium near Sports Club of Gujarat led Jaikrishna, the scion of one of the city’s wealthiest families, to toy with the idea of constructing a new cricket stadium.

The 76-year-old, an industrialist who has also served as president of Sports Club of Gujarat, recollected, “The stadium was managed by AMC and GCA used to rent it whenever we organised a match. In return, we had to give several complementary passes to various authorities. Pavilion passes were the main means through which GCA could earn money. However, officials would ask for these passes for free. Fed up of this, I floated the idea to construct a new stadium.”

Jaikrishna approached the then chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki for land. “He saw the merit in constructing another stadium and allotted us land in Motera. He stood by us despite staunch opposition from leaders of his own party. Acquiring the plot boosted our confidence. We knew we could achieve anything.”

The then president Gyani Zail Singh performed the ground-breaking ceremony. As the stadium needed to be built in a short span of time, the GCA created a kitchen for the labourers within the stadium to save on lunch and dinner time. An advisory committee of cricketing greats comprising Polly Umrigar, Sunil Gavaskar, Raj Singh Dungarpur, Bishan Singh Bedi, EAS Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar also helped in a big way in realising Jaikrishna’s dream.

Being a BCCI vice-president for six years and GCA vice-president for 12 years, Jaikrishna knew quite well the requirements of a stadium for Indian cricketing conditions as he had been to and studied the cricket stadia in several countries.

With money gathered from Indians, NRIs, and through cooperative banks, Jaikrishna worked day and night to get the stadium ready in just eight months and 13 days – just in time for the test match between West Indies and India in November 1983.

“As the date for the test match neared, we thought of selling tickets which was a tough task in Ahmedabad. Free passes was a big hindrance. However, when the chief minister, home minister and Congress president declared that they would buy tickets, things became smoother. I bought tickets for my children to ensure that no one would seek free passes any more. This was a turning point. We sold 50 per cent of the tickets and made a profit, too. We also set up air-conditioned boxes and sold tickets to corporates to shore up funds.”

Since then, the stadium has witnessed watershed moments like Sunil Gavaskar becoming the the first cricketer to score 10,000 runs against arch-rivals Pakistan in 1986-87 series; Kapil Dev Nikhanj claiming his 432nd Test wicket, overcoming New Zealand great Sir Richard Hadlee’s record; completion of Sachin Tendulkar’s 20 years of international cricket in a match against Sri Lanka in November 2009 as well as achievement of his 30,000 international runs.

After coming to power in Gujarat, the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was unanimously elected as the president of GCA in 2009, had also consulted him to learn more about cricket. “Narendra Modi likes to talk about cricket. He had many questions for me about the stadium and my thoughts on the betterment of cricket. I also suggested that Motera be converted as a hub of all other sports and make a new cricket stadium somewhere else. Now that it has been turned into the world’s biggest cricket stadium, it is a matter of great pride for me and all Gujaratis,” he said.

“Modi is a leader who believes in giving the best to the people. He never compromised on quality when it came to iconic projects, be it the Mahatma Mandir or Sabarmati riverfront,” he added.

Asked if he was invited to the event, Jaikrishna said, “No, I have not been invited. But the joy in my heart to see Motera become the world’s biggest stadium is 99.9% more than any other feeling. When such a big event is happening at Motera, whether or not I am invited is inconsequential.”

The former BCCI president and his wife Paru with Rajiv Gandhi

Jaikrishna with Sunil Gavaskar at underconstruction stadium site

President Gyani Zail Singh and the then CM Madhavsinh Solanki at the ground-breaking event