You can learn a lot about a country and its people from the sports they enjoy and the way the showpiece events are presented. Take a look at some of the biggest events around the world and you can see it in action. Could anything be more American than the larger-than-life spectacle of the Super bowl? Or how about the understated mix of formality and drama that accompanies the first day of a Lord’s test match in the UK?
From the Tifosi lining the track at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix to the 100,000 football fans who crowd in to Camp Nou in Barcelona, there are numerous other examples. But what about India? Here, we look at some of the nation’s most iconic sporting events and the venues that host them.
The Eden Gardens Test Match
Cricket is by far the most popular sport in India, and there are more than 40 cricket grounds
across the country that host professional matches, along with hundreds of others where club cricket is played every week. However, Eden Gardens in Kolkata ranks among the most iconic venues, not just in India but the entire world, and is right up there with Lord’s in England or the MCG in Australia.
The Eden Gardens test is always something special, and here, some of the great matches of all time have played out in front of a capacity 90,000 cricket-obsessed fans. It was here that VVS Laxman scored 281 in one of the most incredible turn arounds in test match history back in 2001 against the Australians, to help India snatch a seemingly impossible victory.
Most recently, Eden Gardens has been the scene of a new innovation in cricket, hosting the first ever pink ball test match between India and Bangladesh. Despite its long history, the Eden Gardens test is an event that is not afraid to try new things and move with the times.
The Derby at Mahalaxmi Racecourse
Horse racing has a history in India that goes back even further than cricket, and the first recorded race took place more than 200 years ago. Today’s racing calendar follows a similar format to that of the UK, with five “classic” races. Also like the UK, this is a sport that is immensely popular with those who like to place a bet. The online age has brought betting on horse races in India out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Online platforms provide guides for beginners on the different types of bet they can place, the form of the horses and so on. As a consequence, horse racing on the whole has surged in popularity over the past decade.
The biggest race of them all, and the one that tempts even those who are not usually gamblers to place a small bet, is the Indian Derby. It takes place on the first Sunday of February at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Racecourse, and offers the biggest single prize of any sporting event that takes place in India.
The first Indian Derby was run in 1943, and it has taken place without fail every year since. Last year’s race was won by Star Superior, an outsider thought to have little chance before the race. But that’s par for the course in the Indian Derby, and part of the reason for the event’s unique appeal. Even Star Superior’s win is not as dramatic as the most famous Derby performance of them all, however. Back in 1947, a horse called Her Majesty fell at the start. Both she and her Australian jockey, Billy Evans, picked themselves up, continued the race and finished second, losing only by a nose to winner Bucephalus.
The Beighton Cup in Kolkata
Did you know that in 2018, hockey was officially declared the official sport of India? It might not have the popularity or media coverage of cricket, but it is a sport with a long and established history in the nation. It is also one at which India’s national team usually excels in the Olympic Games.
So where should you go to see a hockey game in India? The domestic game has been through numerous changes over the past decade in terms of the leagues, teams and formats, and this has proved frustrating for fans and has done little to help the sport’s popularity. However, one event has remained in place through all the turbulence. The Beighton Cup was first contested in 1895. Unlike the Indian Derby, there have been years when it has disappeared from the calendar, most recently in 2017. However, the tournament was played again this year, with IOCL emerging victorious over Punjab National Bank in the final.
The first Beighton Cup was held at Mohun Bagan sports ground, which happens to be right opposite Eden Gardens in Kolkata. There it remained throughout the 20 th century, but in recent years it has moved a short distance away to SAI East, where it is now played on artificial turf.
Motor racing at Buddh International Circuit
This racetrack outside New Delhi is a testament to the ambition and determination of sports fans in India. It was created from scratch over the course of 2010 at a cost of almost $300 million. It opened the following year and hosted the inaugural Indian Grand Prix that October. This was the first of three Formula 1 races to be staged, and all were won by Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull that dominated F1 at the time.
Sadly, India dropped off the F1 calendar in 2014 and it seems unlikely that it will return to the circuit in the foreseeable future. The track was praised by the top drivers, including Lewis Hamilton, who likened its mixture of challenging curves, changes in gradient and long straights to the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
The good news for motorsport enthusiasts is that a range of other events still takes place at the circuit. Just last month, former F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan was among the stars to feature in the JK Tyre Festival of Speed. Formula One might be on sabbatical, but motor racing is still well and truly alive at this incredible Indian sporting venue.