Samir Chopra July 20, 2008

Stadium blues

I worry about the influence the IPL will have in the years to come; if its corporate franchises can make the fan more comfortable, they will have my gratitude.

I have attended just one day of Test cricket in India: the third day's play in the second Test of the 1983/84 West Indies tour. I left India some 21 years ago, and since then all the Test cricket I've seen has been in Australia, the West Indies and South Africa (well, not really, because the 2001 Pretoria India-RSA 'Test' was demoted thanks to the Mike Denness controversy). I bring this up because my experiences of watching cricket in India have become distinctly second-hand. Thus, I do not have a first-hand take on how well spectators are treated in India at cricket stadiums. But if the reports I've read in a variety of fora over the years are any indication of the state of affairs at the grounds, things are not good for the entity singularly responsible for the untold wealth that has become associated with Indian cricket: the Indian cricket-watching fan.

Lines are long outside stadiums as entry points are scarce (when things get crowded, hectic and tense, there is invariably pushing and shoving and then, voila, police heavy-handedness); plenty of stands are still uncovered (the mind boggles at the thought of folks sitting there in the sun in the later parts of the ever-lengthening season); food and drink are either of poor quality or expensive or hard to get; public restrooms are not numerous or clean enough; the list goes on. Some grounds are better than others, of course. Mohali has worked hard to make sure its attendees are well taken care of (beer is sold at the ground; not surprising for a Punjabi locale), and the Sawai Mansingh Stadium at Jaipur is quite comfortable. (As always, I welcome empirical data from readers to confirm or disconfirm my impressions.)

But overall, it seems that spending a long day at the cricket in India does not count as the most pleasant experience that one could put oneself through. Yet they still come, in droves. Perhaps they don't fill the stands at Test matches any more like they used to in the past but the one-day internationals are still at full capacity. The Indian fan continues to show tremendous patience in the light of this not-so-benign neglect by those who could, and should, be in charge of improving his cricket experience. There is a small hint here at why Test attendance might have dropped; if you are going to spend a long day in the sun without a result at the end of it, you damn well want your experience to be comfortable. Blame can be assigned primarily to the association that runs the cricket ground in question, and secondarily to the BCCI (or is it the other way around?) With the huge sums of money that are now in the Indian cricketing equation is it so unreasonable to expect that cricket grounds in India be renovated, made comfortable, modernized? The current state of affairs spreads a disproportionate percentage of joy to those to at the top, with little regard for those that underwrite their wealth.

When the ICL kicked off last year, one commonly expressed hope was that they would take better care of the spectators that thronged to their few grounds. When the IPL showed up with its bags and bags of gold ducats, this hope might have surged even stronger in the hearts of those worried about the Indian fan. It's not clear to me how much improvement has followed in its wake. I worry about the influence the IPL will have in the years to come; if its corporate franchises can make the fan more comfortable, they will have my gratitude. While their influence on the longer form of the game yet remains to be determined, this would be an undeniably positive fallout, hopefully applauded by fans of all nationalities the world over.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here