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By Suresh Menon
The previous World Cup in the West Indies had already established just how little cricket’s administrators care for the fan. It is now all about TV rights, sponsorships, and complimentary passes to the high and mighty. World Cups in other sports have them too, but there is room literally as well as in the plan, for the paying public.
The International Cricket Council’s demand added to the number that had to be earmarked in Bangalore for those who had bought their tickets for the India-England match in Kolkata (the venue was later shifted) took away half the space in the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Add to that the demands from the legislators, the corporators, the policemen, the utilities department who are happy to get their tickets with a judicious spot of blackmail (“Give us passes or we will cut off your water supply”) and it is a wonder that the Karnataka State Cricket Association managed to keep 7,000 tickets for the paying public. For the final at the Wankhede Stadium, only 4,000 tickets are available for the public in a stadium holding 38,000.
Other ways to discourage the fan include not allowing him to carry water or food into the stadium. Geoffrey Boycott, a cancer survivor, who carries his own was asked to chuck it into a nearby dustbin at the New Delhi match before wiser counsels prevailed. In some places, reserve players earn the public’s gratitude by distributing water to those seated behind them!
On the day of the India-England tie, touts were operating freely outside the stadium. The blackmailers had found a way to make quick money, selling their allotted free tickets for ten times the cover price. The touts were often policemen. “We can handle the public,” a committee member had told me on the eve of the match, “But we don’t know what to do with the cops.”
No surprise, therefore, when on my way to the stadium, I heard the sellers of Indian flags to jingoistic Indian fans cry out, “Flags, flags, flags, black, black, flags.” The ‘black’ slipped in ingeniously, was a subtle message that they had tickets to sell “in black”, or illegally.
If there was an important lesson from the match, it was that England were not as bad as they thought they were and India not as good as they fancied themselves to be. A tie is always exciting, but when nearly 700 runs are scored in a day, it can mean only one thing. The track was so well-behaved it could have been a model for a book on etiquette. Eighteen wickets fell, but most of these were thrown away in the chase.
Of course, not everyone finds a tie exciting. “What a waste of eight hours,” someone complained as we were leaving. “So much effort, and no result!” He probably had bought his ticket from a tout. When you fork out huge money, you assume the ticket comes with a guarantee of victory.
In the first ten days of the World Cup, there have been – the tie apart – few surprises. The debate over the decline in the standards in the non-Test countries continues despite the brilliant century by Netherlands’ Doeschate against England.
Pakistan beat Sri Lanka, and their captain Shahid Afridi has begun to sound confident, almost cocky. He has said his team are no longer merely ‘dangerous’, but deserve to be known as the ‘favourites.’
But the most interesting admission has come from the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Reacting to criticism over his team’s bowling and fielding, both of which were exposed in the England game, he said, “There’s nothing we can do about the fielders. They are a slow-moving lot. But our bowling can improve.”