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July 20, 2008

Samir Chopra

Stadium blues

Samir Chopra
A few spectators watch the action at Green Park, India v South Africa, 3rd Test, Kanpur, 1st day, April 11, 2008
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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

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Posted by Vivek on (July 23, 2008, 19:57 GMT)

Stadiums in India are pretty similar to pens. Most of the stands(whether its a IPL or a Test match) have no seat numbers assigned. Its a FCFS basis. So you end up going to the stadia much ahead of start time as you want the best of the views. Food is costly, treatment is shabby and there is no orderly way in which tickets are sold.

Posted by Samir Chopra on (July 21, 2008, 16:51 GMT)

Folks thanks for your comments. It seems that think covered stands, a decent supply of water, adequate entry/exit points, comfortable restroom and seats would make for a very good starting point. Thanks too for pointers on stadiums are slightly better (mainly Bangalore it seems).

Posted by Balaji on (July 21, 2008, 15:06 GMT)

Samir, lets assume a pig getting roasted over a spit fire. The pig is given a solitary stuffing with a small marination and kept in a preheated oven before being hauled over the coals. He is also taken off the coals twice a day, jostles with others of his kind to walk through a sty stinking of ammonia to add to the stench and return to his place over the fire. replace a pig with the average indian cricket stadium visitor, the baking tray with the uncovered stands, the stuffing with an overpriced sandwich and the marination with a sachet of warm water. I hope that answers your question! any self respecting individual, however staunch a cricket lover, will not put himself through this. If they do, they dont respect their own self. The people who watch in person, watch it despite the BCCI, not because of it. Also, there should be a detailed analysis by one of your experts into how many matches Australia & Pakistan have played at A centres and the other teams at B centres.

Posted by AJAX on (July 21, 2008, 15:01 GMT)

Don't worry Indians, your Cricket King Lalit Modi has promised to make India's International stadiums "state-of-the-art" facilities with the enormous wealth your board is making. But will he ever be able to 1) remove the nets that are tied from the roof to the 12 foot steel gratings that cage the general public? 2) stop the guy sitting next to you from spitting on the floor every time he chews that gawdawful red leaf? 3) remove the guards who will "upgrade" your ticket after you introduce him to a "common friend"? 4) stop the folks from smashing seats, burning fires or setting off fireworks in the stands? I could go on and on... but I guess my point is infrastructure can provide only so much. As for the droves of fans who will endure inhuman conditions to watch a match, from my brief experiences, mediocrity is not only well accepted in India, it is expected.

Posted by John on (July 21, 2008, 14:00 GMT)

Samir, Jaipur is fantastic. Bangalore ain't horrible.

Posted by parameshwaran on (July 21, 2008, 10:39 GMT)

The experience of watching cricket in India is a mixed experience. The spectator comfort is certainly not comparable to grounds elsewhere around the world. I have been to only Wankhede Brabourne, D.Y Patil and I must admit Wankhede is possibly the worst in terms of spectator comfort.

As Mr.Sanket Gadkari pointed in his post the seats are non existent.

1.There is only wooden benches even in VVIP stands though with cushion (I went for IPL at the Garware Pavilion) 2. The space for sitting is as much as a IInd class compartment in a Mumbai local 3. The crowd behavior is atrocious, it even boos Sachin Tendulkar at times.

Any one who has been to D.Y Patil would agree that it is one of the best grounds in India in terms of 1. Seating comfort and view 2. Entry and exit points. It took me only 10 minutes to exit almost a packed stand

BCCI is more interested in big bucks. If it could invest 25% of its money earned through IPL on improving the stadiums it would be great..

Posted by Navin on (July 21, 2008, 5:58 GMT)

One Mr.Samee has posted comments and I tkink he lives in another world or watches matches in stadium in his dreams. I first watched a match in the year 1984-85 (Azharuddin's debut test) at Eden. And one things for sure everything except the seating capacity has gone down since. I last watched a match at Eden in the year 2004. I dont foresee myself going to stadium in the future again. (unless my kids want to see a match). Yes the spectators still cherish Indian victories and ladnmarks but what can you expect from a partisan crowd. There was once a incident where I clapped for opposition boundary and was rebuked by fellow spectators for doing so. The Indian spectators still flock to the stadiums because they have more passion towards the sport and they dont care for a hard day at stadium. But this will not go for long enough. Already we are seeing the downfall and if they dont improve the facilities all they will have is the television spectator.

Posted by Sohrab on (July 21, 2008, 5:37 GMT)

I find there are mixed comments here but my experience has not been good. I have watched two test matches in Green Park (Kanpur) and I must admit that the facilities were horrible. No shade, nothing to drink or eat and the seating was uncomfortable. If India had not won those matches I would have never wanted to go back there.

Posted by Sanket Gadkari on (July 21, 2008, 0:50 GMT)

I have been to numerous test matches at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, and I always thought it was the worst ground for the spectators. Precisely for the following reasons, 1. Uncomfortable seats. If you leave your seat to go to the loo, it will be immediately occupied by somebody else, forget any reservations. 2. Toilets stink in the morning, by afternoon they are overflowing. But then there is no alternative, but to step in the overflowing piss and add some to it ! 3. Overpriced food and water, which is contracted to one food and beverage multinational, so that you have no choice of food or beverage and its extremely expensive. 4. Long queues outside the stadium, the security virtually strips you off everything, except your clothes. No food, newspaper, books etc allowed in. There was one instance, my friend had to hide hihs small binoculars in his underwear to take them inside. For the love of the game, I hope the Indian board makes the stadiums friendly for the specatators.

Posted by Avid Reader on (July 20, 2008, 19:55 GMT)

This is good article and the comments are good too, because these are honest comments. Ok, so what constructive can come out of this comments. Seems like there have been positive views of Chinnaswamy and Brabourne. How about this - This blog (or Cricinfo fans) can make "Stadium Experience" a number one issue. For this to succeed, readers provide their unique views.....which over time leads to "our own" rating of various stadiums in India. Would it be just fun to see some stadium rated high on various amenities and some stadium getting a real low rating. Ultimately, the market forces and accountability of the administrators in charge of stadiums will get a transparent and a forceful report of the people views of the facilities. Will it not be great if Brabourne was scoring heavy points over Wankhede. Or Baroda stadium making Motera in Ahmedabad look bad. What I am suggesting here is not much different than the concept of "Consumer Reports" which catalogs goods based on user response.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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