In cricket, the two ends from which bowlers bowl usually carry names. These, in the case of Lord’s Cricket Ground, are the Pavilion and Nursery Ends. One end in the other great ground in London, The Oval, is also named after the members’ Pavilion, while the other carries the name of the underground station, Vauxhall, closest to it. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, we have the Members End and the Great Southern Stand end, recently renamed after Shane Warne, respectively. At Calcutta’s Eden Gardens, one finds the Pavilion End and the High Court End.
The nicest such names may be in Old Trafford, whose ends honour two great fast bowlers whose home ground this was: namely, Brian Statham and Jimmy Anderson. Less appealing, but nonetheless comprehensible and perhaps acceptable in view of the fact that the game needs sponsors, are the names of the two ends at the Wankhede Stadium, which are Garware and Tata, respectively.
Having the two ends from which bowlers bowl assigned particular names serves at least three purposes. First, it aids spectators in getting to the ground and finding their seats in the particular stand in which they have got their tickets. Second, it lends more colour to the commentary broadcast to those fans not at the ground. Especially in the days before live television, it was wondrous to hear on the radio of a bowler “coming in from the Vauxhall End” during a Test match at the Oval. Third, it helps players, particularly team captains, who know from knowledge of local geology and microclimate which end is likely to favour what kind of bowler and at what stage of the match.
Charm and mystery
The names that the ends of a cricket stadium carry are not necessarily set in stone. They can and sometimes do change. Growing up 2,000 miles north of Chennai, I knew (from radio broadcasts and the evidence of print) that one end of the Chepauk Stadium was known as the “Walajah Road End”. The name evoked both charm and mystery; and I remember the special thrill I felt when, as a grown man of 35, I boarded an auto-rickshaw in Chennai that took me down the Walajah Road itself.
Some years ago, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association chose to rename the Walajah Road End after V Pattabhiraman, in memory of a former cricket administrator. However, because it is imprinted in folklore and popular consciousness, the old name has carried on being used.
When the Narendra Modi Stadium was opened to the public in 2021, and hosted its first Test match in February of that year, we found that the two ends had been named after Adani and Ambani. This discovery evoked in me a peculiar mixture of mirth, outrage, and resignation. True, there had been precedents of corporates paying for ends at cricket grounds named after themselves – as with the case of Tata and Garware at the Wankhede Stadium – but that those who renamed what was once the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium after Modi had in addition now promoted Adani and Ambani showed a conspicuous lack of self-awareness. For the spectacular gains that these two businessmen have made in recent years had already attracted a fair amount of critical commentary.
The former chief economic adviser to the government of India, Arvind Subramanian, had gone so far as to refer to “the 2A model of stigmatised capitalism” that prevailed in the country. The Opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, had in a clever riff on an old family planning slogan spoken of the government’s policies as being “Hum Do, Hamare Do”, the implication being that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-hand man, the Union home minister, Amit Shah, were helping these two businessmen in particular.
Watching that first Test in the new Ahmedabad stadium on television, I found that the identities of its sponsors were visible, one at each end, on the concrete just above the scoreboard. A level above them, and in much larger type, ran the legend: “NARENDRA MODI STADIUM”. In this manner, the names of these two businessmen were publicly linked with the name of the prime minister. It was a visible demonstration of their symbolic and perhaps substantive proximity.
I am a partisan of Test cricket who does not watch the Indian Premier League. I thus cannot vouch for what the two ends were called during IPL 2022, when the Narendra Modi Stadium was the home ground of the Gujarat Titans and hosted the tournament’s final as well. However, when a Test match was next held in Ahmedabad, against Australia in the second week of March 2023, I found that while the Adani End was still intact, the Ambani End had now been renamed. It was now called the Jio End. This was an artful act of rebranding, which placed a commercial product front and centre while distancing the family which promoted and benefited from it. It seemed this Ambani no longer wanted to be so directly associated with that Modi. Adani, however, seemed content with keeping the connection public, though whether as a mark of loyalty or hubris one cannot say.
Though I disdain the IPL, I do occasionally watch limited-overs matches between countries. I missed the inaugural match of this World Cup, but caught some hours of play when India played Pakistan on Saturday, October 14. I noticed with interest that the two ends of the Ahmedabad stadium no longer carried any names at all. The concrete bars behind the sight screens, which once had “Adani End” and “Ambani/Jio End”, respectively, were all white with no lettering. On the other hand, the concrete on the level above had “NARENDRA MODI STADIUM” still resplendently displayed.
There are many questions about this sudden erasure that a cricket lover who is also a truth seeker might wish to ask. How much did Adani and Ambani pay for the initial privilege of having these ends named after themselves? Were they compensated when their names were later removed? Were they even consulted about this? Who or what was responsible for this complete erasure of the connections among cricket, business, and politics once so boldly displayed in the Ahmedabad stadium?
Cult of personality
Narendra Modi is the most secretive prime minister India has ever had. There is no reliable information on many aspects of his past and his present, on his personal life or his political life. (The comprehensively gutting of the Right to Information Act is entirely in keeping with the nature of the man and his regime.) However, when reliable knowledge is impossible, intelligent speculation may be in order. It is very likely the idea of annihilating the Adani and Ambani Ends emanated from the Prime Minister’s Office, not from the businessmen in question. It may be that the now fairly widespread accusations of crony capitalism have got to Narendra Modi. He knows that if these accusations persist, and gain further credence, then there could be political costs to pay.
Hence perhaps the decision to end this public association of the prime minister with two individual businessmen. However, the personality cult of the prime minister must remain intact and continue to use all possible means – not least the hugely popular game of cricket – to further itself. Thus the hosting of the two marquee matches of this World Cup at the Narendra Modi Stadium – that between India and Pakistan and the final of the tournament itself.
Like Lord’s, Old Trafford, Eden Gardens and Chepauk, the major cricket stadium in Ahmedabad once had two ends carrying specific names. It no longer does. Will this situation continue? Or will those who run cricket in Gujarat and India find other substitutes for the businessmen they were once happy to link their own reputations to? A cricket-loving friend thinks that the ends in Ahmedabad should now carry the names of Vinoo Mankad and KS Ranjitsinhji, perhaps the two greatest cricketers of Gujarati origin. Another (and more politically alert) friend thinks that for vote-catching reasons the Modi regime may choose to name them after Ambedkar and Savarkar instead.
The first suggestion is noble; the second, cynical. Neither, however, addresses the root cause of what should be every democrat’s disgust – the naming of the stadium itself. Such displays of public sycophancy were previously restricted to authoritarian regimes, such as Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Kim II Sung’s North Korea, where sporting venues were made to carry the names of the dictator in power. Never before was this even remotely possible in a country claiming to be a democracy. The existence of the Narendra Modi Stadium while Narendra Modi is alive and in power both cheapens the game of cricket and shames our country.
This article first appeared in The Telegraph.
The updated edition of Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi is now in stores. His email address is email@example.com.