By Vishal Gulati
Dharamsala, Apr 5 (IANS): This picturesque town in Himachal Pradesh is all set to welcome the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season. The stadium here will be the highest cricket ground to host IPL matches and among those expected to watch is Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Organisers believe the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) stadium's popularity will soar with the two IPL matches scheduled this month.
"We are racing against time to complete the formalities for hosting two IPL matches April 16 and 18. This is the first time that IPL matches are being held in the Dharamsala stadium that has been constructed at a cost of Rs.50 crore," HPCA president Anurag Thakur told IANS.
The HPCA stadium, one of the newest venues in the country, is situated nearly 4,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by the majestic Dhauladhar ranges that make it one of the most beautiful grounds in the world.
"This stadium is going to make its presence felt in the international cricket arena in a big way. It has been constructed as per international standards and it's the highest cricket ground to host IPL matches," said Thakur, an MP from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh.
The stadium, some 250 km from state capital Shimla, has a seating capacity of 20,000, besides separate practice areas, a club lounge, restaurant, bar and banquet hall.
The first match between Kings XI Punjab and Deccan Chargers on April 16 would be a day and night affair, while the second match between Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab on April 18 would be played in the day.
The HPCA stadium had lost the opportunity to hold the IPL matches last year because of a last-minute change in the venue of matches by organisers.
"Had IPL not shifted to South Africa, Dharamsala would have hosted the matches last year. We are now gearing up to host IPL. We are leaving no stone unturned and hoping to leave an indelible impression on players and spectators," HPCA spokesperson Sanjay Sharma said.
He said most of the hotels have been booked well in advance for players, officials, the media and other guests.
According to him, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal would be chief guest on the opening day whereas the Dalai Lama would be chief guest for the second match.
"His Holiness has accepted our invitation. His presence is, of course, not only a blessing for the organisers but also gives international mileage to the stadium," he said.
Sharma said an IPL technical committee, consisting of head of hospitality management P. Patel and tournament director Tony Garvin, has expressed satisfaction over the preparations.
Dhumal said the state government is extending all possible help to the HPCA.
"We have allocated Rs.3 crore for the beautification of the town. This grand event would bring Himachal Pradesh on the world map."
The HPCA stadium became a part of the international cricket map in 2005, when it hosted a warm-up tie between the touring Pakistan team and the Indian Board President's XI. Since then, the stadium hosted a few of Himachal Pradesh's home matches in the Ranji Trophy, apart from hosting zonal one-day matches.