Inside Australia’s first look at world’s biggest ground

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It is a rite of passage for every young Australian cricketer to grow up dreaming of one day playing in front of 100,000 screaming fans.

What Todd Murphy could never have envisaged was that he would fulfil that boyhood wish not at the MCG, but instead on the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, where the world’s largest cricket stadium will host Australia for the first time this week since its colossal expansion.

It says much about Murphy’s staggering rise that he will play a Test at the saffron-hued 132,000-capacity ground in western India before he has even played a first-class match at the MCG.

Murphy chats to reporters on Tuesday // Getty

“I haven’t dealt with heaps of big crowds back home, so I’ve come over here with the mindset of just enjoying it and embracing what comes with India,” the three-Test off-spinner told reporters at the cavernous arena.

“I didn’t really know what opportunities I’d get at the start of this tour – so I’ve had the mindset of whatever comes of it, comes of it.

“It’s going to be noisy. It’s exciting though – I think everyone looks forward to opportunities to play in front of those sort of crowds. It will be great atmosphere.”

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India who was the driving force behind the AUD$145m stadium redevelopment and after whom the ground is now named after, will be in attendance on day one to welcome his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese.

The huge sign featuring Anthony Albanese and Narendra Modi // Getty

If the spectacle of a Border Gavaskar Trophy series climax was not enough, Modi’s presence in the state he was chief minister of (and President of the Gujarat Cricket Association before ascending to the top job in Indian politics) is expected to ensure a deafening crowd is in place.

There is a sense cricket, at the start of the Test at least, may be a secondary consideration.

Murphy’s press conference on Tuesday morning was interrupted by a small golden vehicle circling the ground in what appeared to be a dress rehearsal of a day-one lap involving Modi. 

A large platform currently occupying the space where the sightscreen will need to be when the match begins was also being prepared for a pre-match ceremony at the Adani End of the ground, named after the Indian conglomerate.

There has however been confirmation that Australian fans would be able to purchase tickets at the venue after many had difficulties buying them online in recent days.

Even the most experienced members of the Australian team are bracing for what could be the biggest crowd they have ever played in front of.

“If those rumours come through, it’s going to be bloody loud,” 118-Test veteran Nathan Lyon told the Unplayable Podcast.

“It’s exciting. The biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of is 92,500 at the Ashes in 2013-14.

“We’ve got the chance to blow that. I don’t think there’ll be many other people who can say they would have played in front of a bigger crowd than that.”

Those among the Australian group who had been to the Ahmedabad venue before Tuesday could not have recognised it upon getting their first glimpse of the towering orange and blue grandstands.

Fill-in captain Steve Smith is the only player among the visitors’ squad to have turned out in an international match at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium (as it was formerly known) before it was demolished and had its capacity more than doubled.

The wide expanses of Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad // Getty

A 21-year-old Smith faced Zimbabwe at the 2011 World Cup in Ahmedabad, but had been omitted from the XI by the time the reigning ODI champions returned to the venue the following week for their quarter final defeat to eventual champions India.

The Australian team analyst, Dene Hills, still uses a cloth given to him at the venue during the 2011 campaign to clean his computer screen.

Carey calls on Aussie greats for India advice

The rebuild was completed in early 2020 and the ground hosted two Tests against England the following year. One of those was over inside just two days on a sharp-turning pitch.

Australia never played a Test at the ground in its initial iteration.

Josh Hazlewood did however play in front of more than 100,000 fans at the ground during an Indian Premier League playoff match last year and warned teammates, before departing this tour due to injury, that the venue had been deafening.

There are practical implications on that front, especially given Australia did not hear Rohit Sharma edge the first ball of the third Test due to noise from an Indore crowd about a quarter the size of what they may be playing in front of this week.

“The talk has been excitement around actually playing a Test in front of that,” assistant coach Daniel Vettori said. “Then actually just the logistics of it on the field – how you deal with reviews, referrals, all that sort of stuff because the noise will play a huge part in that.”

There will be reminders of the sheer enormity of the venue even for the Australians who are not playing.

Players walking from the changerooms must descend 90 steps to reach the playing arena, meaning reserves taking refreshments and equipment to those in the middle will work up a sweat in temperatures forecast to reach as high as 38 degrees Celsius during the Test.

“The guys who unfortunately run the drinks aren’t looking forward to the 100 steps and ‘Smithy’ changing gloves every 15 minutes,” said Lyon. “Fingers crossed he bats for a while and they have to do a few stair runs.”

Border-Gavaskar Qantas Tour of India 2023

February 9-13: India won by an innings and 132 runs

February 17-21: India won by six wickets

March 1-5: Australia won by nine wickets

March 9-13: Fourth Test, Ahmedabad, 3pm AEDT

All matches broadcast live and exclusive on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson

India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul (vc), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat

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