In sports, an old champion fades away and is replaced by another who becomes the new hero. The old star is forgotten. The same can be said of sports grounds. There was a time when the Lal Bahadur stadium was the centre of sports activity in Hyderabad and many memorable battles were fought on this ground. The field now bears a pleasant lush appearance due to the monsoon rains. It is as if the old Queen is dressed in all her finery and waiting to be called upon to host a big event. Sadly that may not happen because the new starlets are hogging the limelight. They are the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Uppal and the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Gachibowli. The LB stadium once reverberated to the cheering of thousands of spectators but today the crowds are missing.
During the rule of the Asaf Jahis (especially Nizam 6th and 7th) Fateh Maidan, as it was known then, was a famous polo ground, one of the 17 such grounds that existed around Hyderabad. The stadium built on this ground was called Fateh Maidan stadium but later renamed after former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1967. The first international cricket match to be played on the Fateh Maidan ground was in 1951 when a team of Commonwealth XI defeated Hyderabad state XI by an innings and 76 runs.
It is on this ground that we saw a blitzkrieg launched by Clive Lloyd and Gordon Greenidge when the West Indies played against South Zone in the 1970s. On the evening of the last day, South zone captain, off spinner S. Venkataraghavan, declared the innings leaving what he thought was an impossible victory target for the Windies. But when the unusual pair of Lloyd and Greenidge walked out to open the innings, it was clear that fireworks were going to be lit !!
And we were not disappointed !!!
Lloyd and Greenidge smashed the attack to smithereens and after Greenidge was out, Alvin Kallicharan came in and the slaughter continued. West Indies won with miles to spare.
Then years later, we saw another example of hammering. That was when Alan Border made mincemeat of England’s seam bowler Gladstone Small. Square cuts, pulls, hooks and drives – all followed in rapid succession. “Captain Grumpy” was in his grumpiest mood that day.
Then this was the ground on which Hyderabad fans saw Andy Roberts bowling at his fiery best. And Vivian Richards on his debut series in India. Imran Khan and Wasim Akram have also shown their skills here.
In another match Martin Crowe ran 30 yards to latch on to a breathtaking catch to dismiss centurion Dave Houghton of Zimbabwe. It was unforgettable !!
Two of Hyderabad’s favourite English cricketers were the tall and lanky Tony Greig and fleet footed Derek Randall. Whenever they fielded near the boundary, they would interact with the crowd by using gestures and friendly conversation.
The crowds loved it.
On one occasion EAS Prasanna appealed for an LBW decision against Greig and the batsman promptly tucked his bat under his arm and began to walk away. The spectators roared because they thought a wicket had fallen. But it was only Greig playing a joke. After walking for five or six yards, he turned back and returned to the crease. The spectators broke into peals of laughter when they realised that Greig had played a trick on them.
Moving away from cricket, it was at LBS that India scored six goals against Pakistan in a hockey Test match in the 1980s. India’s Mohammad Shahid was at his best. His tricks with the ball were a new kind of magic for the hockey lovers of Hyderabad. Even the famed Pakistani star Hassan Sardar was baffled by Shahid’s stickwork.
In the late 1980s during the volleyball nationals, on this ground Hyderabad’s ace volleyball player Abdul Basith, Punjab’s Balwinder Singh (Ballu) and Tamil Nadu’s incomparable G.E. Sridharan showed us what power and deception were all about.
Let us not forget the LB indoor stadium. One of the most memorable matches was Prakash Padukone’s epic battle against the untiring Icuk Sugiarto in a badminton tournament in 1983. In 2005, Sania Mirza won her first WTA title in front of the adoring Hyderabad crowds in the tennis courts of the LBS.
In football we saw Shabbir Ali, Victor Amalraj, Jamsheed Nassiri, Emeka Ezeugo and many other star footballers display their superb skills in the course of the Nizam Gold Cup tournaments. Top teams of the past like Mohammedan Sporting, JCT Mills, Dempo, Vasco and Punjab Police packed with their stars, all played here.
The blue riband events like the Moin-ud- Dowla cricket tournament and the Nizam Gold Cup football tournament which were regularly played on this ground have sadly become defunct. Today the Lal Bahadur Stadium has lost the pride of place that it once enjoyed in Hyderabad’s sports. Only the memories remain.