Common people, including cricket lovers, in Siliguri believe that the fast-growing urban tourist hub, which connects three countries with ease, needs an international standard cricket ground, so that it can bring in more development in the town as well as in the entire north Bengal region.
Sports lovers here have always discussed this, even as they watch football matches, especially between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal at the Siliguri Kanchenjungha Stadium, and express their unhappiness over a lack of a cricket stadium, where one-day international cricket matches and the Indian Premier League can be played.
However, as the town and even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee discuss the possibility of such a stadium, Siliguri lad and Indian cricket team member Wriddhiman Saha too voices support for such a plan, but he says the town should also have five star hotels to hold international matches.
It may be mentioned here that an area was once marked in the southern part of Siliguri for such a cricket ground to be built on the lines of a cricket stadium in New Zeeland.
“Once, several cricket leagues were organized there on an experimental basis, but of late, organisers are allegedly facing problems in using the field, given the private nature of that property. The owners do not allow organizers to use the field anymore,” sources said.
Cricket lovers, including coaches, have taken the matter to state tourism minister Gautam Deb’s court, and have demanded a separate and dedicated cricket stadium for Siliguri, a place usually known as the ‘City of TT’ (Table Tennis).
According to a senior administrative official here, chief minister Mamata Banerjee recently discussed the matter with a group of “interested entrepreneurs.”
The matter was discussed during the Hill Business Summit in Darjeeling recently too, sources said. “The idea of a Sports City at Uttarayon township has been conceived. The matter was discussed with chief minister Mamata Banerjee during the Hill industrial summit in Darjeeling. Rudra Chatterjee and his associates are the architects of the project,” sources said, adding, “Fifty acres of land (SNS photo) is still available at Uttarayon, and 10 acres of it has been marked for the Sports City. The remaining part has been marked for a Medical City there. But the entire discussion is at an initial stage.”
Notably, during his speech at the Hill Business Summit, Rudra Chatterjee, associated with Laxmi Township at Uttarayan, expressed interest in developing the health sector in Darjeeling, given the place’s favourable climate.
A Siliguri-based cricket coach, Jayanta Bhowmik, said a cricket stadium is an “urgent need” in Siliguri. “It is important for its development. People have recognized Siliguri as the ‘city of table tennis’, but the town has also been producing many talented cricketers,” he said.
It may be noted that Wriddhiman Saha of Siliguri, a member of the Indian cricket team, played here under the guidance of Mr Bhowmik. “The Kanchenjungha Stadium was built quickly to serve the sports needs of the town during that period. It was a multipurpose stadium, but now the stadium is good only for football,” Mr Bhowmik added.
“We have a ready cricket ground at Uttarayan. The area there is bigger than Eden Gardens. Besides, it has an extra field for practice. The scenic beauty too is excellent there, with the Himalayan range at the backdrops. But, unfortunately, due to unknown reasons, we cannot use that cricket field,” he said.
“We face problems organizing cricket league matches in Siliguri, and we have to depend on either Uttarayan, Railways or some school authorities for the ground. We have discussed the matter with minister Gautam Deb, and he has agreed that it is always easy to develop a cricket ground that is ready,” Mr Bhowmik added.
Siliguri Mayor Asok Bhattacharya said that a stadium, especially for cricket, would give Siliguri a boost. “Authorities of Laxmi Township Project had planned to prepare a cricket ground at the international level, but it hit snag midway as the area fell under a tea plantation. I don’t have any more information about it since 2011,” he said.
Indian cricketer Wriddhiman Saha said he too wants a a quality cricket stadium in his hometown. “But before that, the town must be ready with other infrastructure like five star hotels. An international match cannot be organised without a five star hotel,” he said.
“Once, Ranji Trophy matches used to be played at the Kanchenjungha Stadium. I took part in the Ranji there. But unfortunately, they have been discontinued,” he added.
“Those who are looking after games and sports have no noble desire to develop cricket and produce quality cricketers from Siliguri. This is a matter of regret. Had they thought of it correctly, they would have not shifted cricket from the (Kanchanjungha) stadium to Chandmoni (Uttarayon), where there are no spectators,” Mr Saha said.
On the other hand, tourism experts have also spoken in favour of showcasing Siliguri as a ‘Sports City,’ on the basis of its contribution to Table Tennis.
“We need to ready infrastructure so that we can arrange for international TT tournaments by involving China, Korea and other countries. Many people will come here from different countries to cheer their competitors. This would help establish Siliguri as a Sports City, and this could be the first step towards development in other sectors,” convener of Association of Conservation and Tourism (ACT), Raj Basu, said.