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By Sunil Gavaskar
Whoever said that one-day cricket was on its last legs should have seen the crowds at Rajkot, Kochi and Ranchi. They would have had to eat their words for the excitement and the enthusiasm was mind boggling to say the least. The grounds were packed to the gills more than an hour before the first ball was bowled and the noise was deafening. It was hard to hear a fellow commentator and one had to strain oneself to follow what was being said. The new stadiums at Rajkot and Ranchi are spectacular and as the Indian captain observed they are not only player friendly in terms of facilities but also spectator friendly which is so important for the man who pays a fair bit of money to come and watch the match.
When you look at what it cost to build these two magnificent stadiums and then compare it with what the Wankhede Stadium cost for just refurbishing it makes you raise your eyebrows. Yes the cost in a metro will definitely be more than in other cities, so maybe that’s the answer. The only drawback if one may call it that is that there is no roof cover for the majority of the crowd who will have to bear the elements be it the harsh sun in the summer and the dry cold winter. We are a naturally tanned people so we don’t need to get the extra tan that crowds in cooler climes may want and since most of us are not used to the cold we also need a bit more protection when the wind freezes us and doesn’t allow us to take our hands out of our pockets to applaud a good shot, a good ball or an outstanding piece of fielding. Some stadiums like the Pune stadium which also is a terrific one will be covering the stands in the second phase of construction and that will then make the crowds more comfortable especially during the IPL which is played in the hard summer weather of April and May.
The other observation is that many of these new stadiums could do with better approach roads to the ground itself. The roads are to put it mildly a major hazard. If you are nursing a bad back then it is guaranteed that it will get worse even if you sit in the poshest and most expensive of cars with the best of suspension. If you are suffering from asthma it will get terrible with the dust that all the cars and the two and three wheelers generate as they traverse the part that masquerades as a road. The explanation is that it is outside the ground and so does not belong to the Association but to the municipal or state authorities. These are matters that can be easily sorted out and expense should be the least of the concerns looking at the crores spent to erect a stadium but for some strange reason there is no will nor desire to help complete a good viewing experience for the spectator.
Local politics is always just round the corner and it is simply amazing how so many expect a free ticket or pass to the ground. The so-called and self-appointed VIP want nothing less than a free entry to the President’s box or near the players enclosure and if they don’t get the invite then they sulk and want all the cricket association officials prosecuted for something or the other. Cricket is a huge game in India and most of the crowds come to be seen and to be able to tell that they were at the cricket match. Those who come to watch the cricket and know about the nuances are generally a minority and may turn their noses up at those who make noise and shout and scream but it takes all kinds to make for the kind of crowd that players want and the administrators love. It is these people who keep the game alive in India and not the TV audiences who switch on and off and watch the game in spells. Those at the ground are the ones that make the game exciting with their participation and so they need to be given an enjoyable watching day.
The crowds at the first three venues which are non-metros has made it amply clear that it is these centres where the crowds will come in big numbers and it is a good move by the BCCI to give these centres a one-day international. It has been seen that India’s cricket team today consists mainly of players from the non metros and by taking the game to distant parts it is being spread far and wide and with it also comes the benefit of some future star emerging like Mahendra Singh Dhoni has from Ranchi.
The one-day game is well and alive in India indeed.