Workers install a hoarding renaming the world's largest cricket stadium as fans wait to enter before the start of the third Test match in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. Reuters
Gulf Today Report
The world's biggest cricket stadium was renamed after India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a surprise move that drew immediate praise and criticism on Wednesday hours before its inaugural international match between India and England.
The name change to the Narendra Modi Stadium was unveiled at the 132,000-seat venue formerly known as Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, where India are playing England in the third match of a four-game test series.
The new name was announced by President Ramnath Kovind during a ceremony ahead of the third Test between India and England.
"This stadium was the dream of the prime minister and he had during his stint as chief minister here floated the idea of building the world's largest stadium," Home Minister Amit Shah said at the event.
The $100-million, perfectly round venue, with seats in the blue and saffron of the Indian team, promises unobstructed views from every angle.
It eclipses the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia, which dates back to 1853.
Fogging underway as a precautionary measure on the eve of the third Test match. AFP
A gifted orator and consummate populist, Modi is by far the most popular and recognisable politician in India, and won a second term in power with an increased majority for the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019. But Modi has also been accused of centralising power in the world's biggest democracy.
"World's largest stadium dedicated to the world's largest personality!," Priti Gandhi, a BJP spokeswoman, said in a tweet. Others said the decision reflected a cult of personality surrounding Modi.
"The people of Gujarat will not bear this insult to Sardar Patel," said Hardik Patel, president of the opposition Congress party in the state.
Patel was India's first interior minister, long revered for his tough approach on national issues. Authorities have named the larger complex surrounding the stadium after him.
Dedicating sports stadiums to former prime ministers is common in India, but renaming such a high-profile venue for a sitting leader is rare.
Many of India's public institutions and projects have been named after members of the Congress' Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that governed India for decades and which Modi's party long criticised as the dominance of one family.
"Both the BJP and Congress are busy perpetuating political branding," Sanjay Jha, a former Congress official and political commentator, said.
Archit Khare, a 29-year-old student at the game, said: "I don't know why it has been changed. Sardar Patel is more iconic. Sardar Patel was the iron man of India, it should have remained."
India, leading 2-1 in the series, struggled to make runs and lost crucial wickets early in the day, including skipper Virat Kohli who failed to score. But Pant put on 113 for the seventh wicket with Sundar to hit back after the England bowlers reduced India to 146 for six at one stage.
Match referee Chris Broad, however, has a special dispensation to extend this final into a sixth day — men's Tests usually only last a maximum of five days — if he feels that will compensate for time lost in the game.
New Zealand enjoyed the greatest triumph in their cricket history as they beat India by eight wickets in the inaugural World Test Championship final at Southampton on Wednesday.
Victories from Lakshya Sen, the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty and former World No 1 Kidambi Srikanth guided India to the coveted trophy, the most prestigious title in men's team badminton.
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah invited his compatriot Moamen Zakaria to attend the match, as he is currently in Britain for treatment of a rare disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Police said the accident took place at Hervey Range, west of Townsville on Queensland's east coast.