My favourite cricketing moment involving myself came when I was in the eleventh standard. It had nothing to do with batting or bowling. It happened at the District Stadium in Bellary
The opposition’s best batsman, a south paw, was tearing our moderate bowling attack to shreds. Captain of our team thought that it would be better to get an off spinner into the attack and restrict him. Bad idea, as the bowler bowled a line that he would have done to a right hander. Easy pickings for the south paw then as he picked three boundaries, all of which sailed over my head at square leg. There was some tension attached to the final delivery as the captain had a prolonged discussion with the bowler. None of it seemed to work as the bowler bowled the same line. The batsman though erred in making room for himself and trying to slog it. He seemingly adjusted at the last moment and proceeded to force what seemed a fourth boundary of the over
There were two differences though, in the way it actually panned out. The ball flew higher, threatening to touch Troposphere. And because it went so high, I felt obliged to run for it. On its descent, I felt it would be a two bounce four. Nevertheless I ran a few yards, without ever getting under the ball and outstretched my hands for what it was worth. What I did do intentionally in the entire exercise was to cup my hands around the ball once it landed. All this happened in front of a sparse crowd, which immediately rose to applaud the effort. At that instant I felt I had my own Kapil Dev moment
I relived this experience years later when Dravid talked about the thrill of performing in front of a packed stadium. He said that the very feeling of, forty thousand people chanting your name would push you towards giving something extra
The question in front of the authorities would be: How to pack the stadiums?
A general feeling amongst the paying public ( with an extra stress on the word paying) is, they would throng the grounds if they were made to feel at home. In the recently conducted Delhi Test, a paying spectator narrated his experiences thus
So we set off early for the 90 minute drive to the stadium. There were more policemen than spectators outside the stadium, and we played a little game of pointing out the paunchiest among them (we found at least a dozen officers of Gatting-esque proportions). When we politely asked where we could park, we were asked if we have “parking accreditation”. Since we were unfamiliar with the term, we were pointed to a location approximately 5km away, where a “park and ride” service was available.
20 minutes and much Google-Maps-fiddling later, we were parked and ready to ride. The organisers unfortunately were unclear about the “ride” part of the arrangement – we were expected to find our own rides back to the stadium, a fact that was complicated by the traffic restrictions around the parking area. But the day was still good for walking and sharing rickshaws with strangers and we had missed only an hour of play when we reached the stadium (again)
How many people would venture making a trip to the stadium if they have to face all these hassles? This is not a problem unique to Delhi, but to all the major cities in India. The very few stadiums that don’t have these problems are located far away from the city centre
We needn’t look past the Kolkata Test against South Africa in 2010 to know how crowd can impact a Test. On the fifth day they waited patiently when Amla and Parnell almost took South Africa to a draw and cheered wildly when the batsmen in the middle played a false stroke. Parnell finally succumbed to the pressure and chipped one to mid-on. That kind of atmosphere is missing in most Indian grounds and BCCI is oblivious to all of this
About half of the tickets are distributed to the corporate sponsors who wouldn’t even bother to come to the ground. Instead they can always distribute them among the eager school kids who would flock the stadium given a chance. To make sure that the contractual obligations are fulfilled they can always make the beneficiary know who the donator was
If the crowd is buying tickets to watch the game it is to watch the players in the middle. They wouldn’t mind a few hours of discomfort in a day. How long will they forego comfort? The Indian stadiums ask a lot of the spectator. For instance, most of the stands are open. The spectator ends up paying equal attention to the match as he does to his personal safety. Except for a T20 game, the spectator is expected to spend a minimum of three hours under the sun, if he wants to watch a full game that is. Most of the grounds have the facility to build that protection. It would be a happy thing for the spectators if the associations go ahead and construct them
BCCI also needs to be judicious in picking venues as people from second tier cities would fill the stadiums more easily than they would in major venues. The same thing needs to boil down to Ranji Trophy as well. Taking the example of Tamil Nadu team, am sure that they would attract more crowd in a city like Madurai, Salem or Coimbatore than they would in Chennai
Once BCCI figures out a way to bring the crowd back in, they would find that players will have a lot of moments to savour