Opening Doorz Editorial | May 24, 2017

Today, our columnist and the man cricketers all over the world love and respect, Nadim Memon, celebrates his birthday. Openingdoorz gives you a glimpse into his life, style and humble side…

For a young boy, whose family was not even remotely connected to sports, stealing out of the house to play football and cricket must have been very difficult. But for Nadim Memon, the maidans were a magnet. From dawn to dusk, he would stay at the maidans (his house in the Fort area of South Mumbai gave him easy access to these playing areas) and not just play but also observe the groundsmen at work. Needless to say, academics were not a priority. “I would participate in summer camps. I used to bunk school to be at the maidans. I even failed Std V three times and watched the Times Shield and Harris Shield matches,” chuckles Nadim Memon who is among India’s best pitch curators with over 27 grounds to his credit. Little wonder then that relatives and neighbours would comment that Nadim was born in the hospital but grew up at the maidans! “My parents began to think that when a young boy fails successively for three years and it is not for the love of movies, it’s got to be something even worse,” he laughs.


Humble beginnings
From indulging in the ‘Barefoot Tournament’ with hotel and canteen boys at the Oval and Cross maidans, playing ‘road side matches’ for the Cowasjee Public Street Cricket Team, to chasing Surat pacer Karsan Ghavri as a fan, this man has come a long way. After over 15 years of work, first as a restorer of maidans and gradually as a pitch curator, Nadim, fondly known as ‘Bulldozer’ or ‘Maharaja of Maidans’, is a name to reckon with in the world of cricket.

He is known for his groundbreaking work in restoring the three maidans of Mumbai— Oval, Azad and Cross—to their former glory, freeing them from the hutments, vagabonds and drug and prostitution rackets. As a curator, his work at the D Y Patil Stadium (Navi Mumbai), Wankhede Stadium (Mumbai), Poona Club, Motera Ground (Ahmedabad), Parsi Gymkhana (Mumbai), Shikarbadi Hotel (Udaipur), Andheri Sports Complex (Mumbai), Islam Gymkhana (Mumbai) and Police Gymkhana (Mumbai), among many others, has been noteworthy.

“I started out as an off spinner and fast bowler and I used to bat well in the opening and middle order. I thought I would make it to the national team. But life had other plans. I was not selected by the then Bombay Cricket Association and I was dejected,” says Nadim. But destiny never really wanted him to take another path.

In 1980, when he was 19, IDBI adopted him as a guest player and Nadim gave them, what he calls, the seven best years of his life. From there he moved on as the coach of Anjuman-I-Islam School and continued playing club cricket for the Karnataka ‘A’ Division. The turning point for him came in 1984. “That year, renowned sports journalist Sharad Kotnis introduced me to BCA. From then till date, I have been closely associated with it,” says Nadim.

Brush with politics
While this introduction was to bolster him in later life, for the next decade of his life it was of little use to his cricketing skills as Nadim decided to take a plunge in politics in 1986, campaigning and working alongside then Congress MP Murli Deora.


The 1993-94 Mumbai riots proved to be a tough time. “We worked a lot for peace in the area. During the riots, we used to prepare packets of puri-bhaji and supply to hospitals, risking life and limb as we passed [on my scooter] through under-curfew areas. We rehabilitated a lot of families even though we received death threats,” he reminisces. But soon, Nadim got disillusioned with the murkiness of politics and moved out of it.

Maidans— childhood companions
Nonetheless, the man had developed his social network, thanks to his brush with politics and decided to put it to good use. “I had observed that over the years, some 155-160 hutments had sprung up at the Cross Maidan. With the influx of migrants, the maidan was under attack. Since I had virtually grown up at the maidans, it was painful to quietly watch them being abused. With the help of ward officer Amaranth Dube, who gave me full support by way of machinery, I got the place cleaned of its ills,” he says.

Those were difficult days. “The grounds were covered with glass pieces, debris and infested with alcohol and drug gangs. I would get threats over the phone. Some people even came up to my home. But I had no vested interests,” explains Nadim. It took him one year and two bouts of malaria just to clear out the grounds!

The Cross, Azad and Oval maidans were next. He organized for the fencing of both maidans, got the grounds to be well lit, worked on removing druggies and prostitutes from the area and ensured adequate water supply. “I worked hard to get the fencing at Cross Maidan done. Occupants of the adjoining area with food stalls were stopped from encroaching on parts of the ground. Even the Press Club area of Azad Maidan was notorious for its nefarious activities. After my initiative, all such things were eliminated.”

Life as a pitch curator
Nadim is full of anecdotes, and narrating them in his inimitable style seems to be one of his favourite hobbies. He is quite proud of his track record at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai (India’s second largest cricket ground) and recalls with great happiness that after a clash with the home team in 2002, then England coach Duncan Fletcher remarked to him that Wankhede looked like Lord’s! “Even in 1999, just before the South Africa v/s India match, there was weeding on the ground. And this was merely 20 days before the match. I changed it dramatically,”  he recalls.


But his fondest memory is creating the wicket for Sachin Tendulkar’s 101st Test match to be played at Wankhede in 2002. “Sharad Pawar had insisted that it be played here and when England and India had clashed here previously, India had lost in the last over. It was more challenging as the Mumbai season starts only in mid-October and this historical match was to be held in the first week of the month. We managed and on a virgin wicket I got them playing the Test match,” he beams. India won that one in four days.

In 2002 itself, Nadim was called in to prepare the Motera ground in Ahmedabad, which was reported to have a low bounce. This was again just three weeks before a major Test match was to be played. Needless to say, the task was completed. He recalls that making the BARC grounds was dangerous as they would have huge snakes slithering out of the debris while the problem at the Parsi ground was loose soil that would spread everywhere during evenings.

Nadim is particularly known for pushing his ideas through. Not because it means more revenue for him but because of his love for the game. In 2007, he was invited by the Royal Mewar family of Udaipur to make two pitches on their ground measuring 55 yards. “I wouldn’t have any of it. I told them that I would make seven wickets for them. Thankfully, they agreed,” he says. By the end of the following fortnight, Nadim turned a pitch-black colour what with long hours of standing in the sun but ensured that the ground was worth playing professional matches on. The ground which had a distinct slope had to be filled with soil and Nadim brought in over 100 trucks of soil from Mumbai, a feat unheard of in Udaipur! He also got the outfield made in Bermuda grass used for international matches.

In 2008, he got an emergency call to rectify the the wicket at the D Y Patil Stadium. The pitches on which the IPL matches had been played hadn’t behaved in spite of crores being spent on them with the help of South African curators. The day after the final IPL match got over, Nadim was standing on the ground with his men. “I dug up the wicket in June and the 100×100 wicket was all green by the end of the following month. And all this rolling, leveling and growing greens was done during the monsoon,” he reveals.

Looking back at the journey
Nadim seems very satisfied with the kind of work he has done in his life. “I am happy with what I have done; the cricketing community has benefited. But the sad part is that nobody likes to spend on making pitches.,” he rues, adding, “even a country like Bangladesh ends up spending more than us.” Nadim feels that, as in the case of international grounds, Indian grounds should also be maintained throughout the year instead of sprucing them up just before a match. “We need curator accountability, professional payment, and efficient sprinkler and drainage systems,” he suggests. Nadim says that while any curator is paid about Rs 50,000 to maintain a ground throughout the year, around Rs 3 to 4 lakh get washed away easily if a rush job is done prior to a match.

Nadim wishes that BCCI and ex-cricketers would join hands to promulgate sincerity and seriousness in the profession. He feels that a change in attitude has to occur: “We have to do away with our crab-like mentality of pulling successful people down. I have never been a yes-man but most of this place functions in a non-democratic manner. If you have a godfather, you have work. I have worked only on one principle: No fear, no favour.”

By Harshikaa Udasi from the book Memon’s Midas Moments released on May 24, 2011

(Harshikaa Udasi has worked with top publications across the country for the last 15 years. When not busy with her journalistic pursuits, she runs a book reading club for children called Book Trotters Club. Besides these full-time pursuits, she enjoys observing the two main circuses of our country—Bollywood and politics.)

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