By Nadim Memon | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 15, 2016

All the gymkhanas facing the sea at Marine Drive in Mumbai have now become a haven for high-profile marriage functions. Gone are the days when passersby would line up along the various grounds to see cricketers in action. Today, instead of cricket and net practices, what one sees are props and décor; with heavy emphasis on fresh flowers with the entrance sometimes resembling a grand hotel.

Welcome to Police Gymkhana/GMC Gymkhana, Wilson College Gymkhana, Hindu Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana and Parsi Gymkhana. There was a time when cricketers of yore would hone their skills at these gymkhanas. Today, it’s mostly band, baaja and baraat!

Former Test cricketer Jayantilal Kenia is one of the many who is pained at the current state of affairs at these Gymkhanas. “In the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s these Gymkhanas were a nursery of cricket  for players like  Vijay Merchant, Vinoo Mankad,  Polly Kaka, Nari Contrator, Farokh Engineer, Eknath Solkar, Ajit Wadekar, Ramakant Desai, Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil and Sunil Gavaskar,” he says worried about how cricketers and the younger generation in particular are losing out on their open fields.

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“Even Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane all went to play Test cricket for India honing their skills on these grounds,” reveals a distraught Kenia.

Officials of these gymkhanas have a different tale to tell. They have a business to run! Sports be damned! As a matter of fact, Wilson College Gymkhana does not allow any cricket tournament to be played on its grounds till today.

All these gymkhanas are around 100 years old. In the good old days, members of these gymkhanas were focused on sports. Today’s generation of office-bearers seem to be after the moolah. Agreed, money is a necessity to maintain these grounds, but at what cost? Moreover, after the wedding is over, there is a lot of damage caused to the ground, which makes it unfit for play.

When asked as to why weddings outnumber cricket matches, officials at these gymkhanas have a simple reply: “We are getting funds from weddings to maintain the gymkhana premises.” Very little money is spent on the grounds!

Most of the wedding receptions that take place on these grounds are in the budget of Rs 50 lakh to Rs one crore. A point to note is that the Revenue Department of the State Government is a partner with these gymkhanas. Twenty-five percent of the revenue earned goes to the State Government.

In the past, only 30 weddings a year were allowed at these venues. Recently, that quota has been increased to 60. Knock off four months which are lost to rains, and another month to get the ground back in shape after the monsoons. That leaves us with seven months, which is roughly around 210 days. One wedding takes two days for set-up and a day to clear. [we will not even take into consideration the day of the wedding!]. That would make it 180 days. Simple calculation would tell us that we are now left with just 30 days!

So where is the scope to play cricket? MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) tournaments like the Times Shield, Police Shield, Comrades Shield, Purshottam Shield, besides school and college tournaments are not given any importance. There have been several instances of cancellation of these matches and even last minute shifting of venues.

Iqbal Shaikh, Ex-ACP and Ex-cricket secretary of Police Gymkhana is of the opinion that the Revenue Department of the Government of Maharashtra should stop all functions on sports ground. “The lease for these gymkhanas expired in the year 1999/2000. The Government should not renew the lease unless they give an undertaking stating that they will use the ground for sports only, and not for any commercial programmes like weddings and events,” he says.

“Over the years we have seen top cricketers playing at these Gymkhanas. It is the heart of Mumbai Cricket,” adds Shaikh.

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“It pains me every time I see a lavish wedding instead of youngsters playing cricket or sports at these grounds,” says former Test cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar.

And who should know better? Day after day, before and after his debut against West Indies for India in 1987, Manjrekar would be seen at the P J Hindu Gymkhana, all padded up, fine-tuning his drives.

With the Azad Maidan now also being out of bounds for sports for the next seven years with the construction of the New Metro, maidans are going to be beyond the reach of sports lovers.

(Nadim Memon is a man of the maidans. He is a curator, a sports lover, a cricketer, a footballer and more, importantly a fierce protector of maidans for the younger generation!)

Also read: D Y Patil Stadium gets an international call

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