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Pity the poor spectator
by Gulu Ezekiel
Jul 21, 2007
It’s been a topsy-turvy Test at Lord’s. But for me the highlight was that play was possible at all on the second day. The phenomenal amount of rain that fell at Lord’s on Friday morning forced many to stay away, thinking no play would be possible—in fact I got three mails from English friends informing me they were sure it would be a waste of time to go to the ground!

The fact that an hour after the downpour ended the mini-lake that had formed in the middle of the ground miraculously disappeared is a tribute to the MCC, the custodians of the venue.

Two years ago they had dug up the square and re-laid it in order to improve the drainage. It cost $3 million, but boy, was it worth it.

The other day at the Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket lecture delivered at the same venue by cricket writer Christopher Martin-Jenkins a broadside was delivered at the richest board in the world, the BCCI.

It is true that the venerable C. M-J is among the forefront of the crusty old types that are still part-and-parcel of English cricket. This bunch cannot stomach the fact that MCC and Lord’s are no longer cricket’s ‘headquarters’.

However when he called the Wankhede Stadium at Mumbai as ‘dilapidated’, even the most dyed-in-wool Indian cricket lover would not have been able to find fault with the description.

And mind you, this is one of Indian cricket’s newest stadiums having hosted its first Test match in 1975. Remember too, that Mumbai is considered the spiritual home of Indian cricket. First-time Indian visitors to Lord’s (and most other venues outside of India) cannot but express their delight at the facilities available to spectators.

In India on the other hand, the BCCI treats those fans that bother to turn up at its grounds as mere interlopers. Why should they bother with keeping them comfortable when it is not the ‘bums on the seats’ in the stadiums that count towards enriching their coffers, but the ‘sticky eye-balls’ in front of the TV sets at home?

Most of us in the media enjoy much better facilities of course. But we can remember our fan-dom days of struggling to get in and out of the venues and trying to keep discomfort out of our minds while enjoying the game.

Spectators will tell you that nothing has changed—in fact it has got worse. Stringent security concerns have made the life of the average spectator a real hell. That is because our police have yet to learn the skill of keeping a venue safe without harassing those who want to enjoy a day’s cricket in peace.

Cricket in most of the Test playing nations is like a day out and a picnic for whole families. In India it is akin to a form of masochism.

Now that all food and water containers are banned, one would expect in-house catering to be tip-top. After all, there is a killing to be made in quality food and drink. But in my experience possibly the only two venues where catering and toilet facilities are civilized are at Chepauk in Chennai and Mohali near Chandigarh.

It is no coincidence that dressing room and on-field facilities here are also world-class.

One wonders when the likes of the nation’s capital will have a cricket ground it can be proud of. Currently the Feroze Shah Kotla is one of the world’s worst and the renovation has been dragging on for years.

The BCCI loves to shout from the rooftops that it is the first billion-dollar cricket board in the world. Where all the money is being spent is the million-dollar question!

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