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The Baroda-UP match in Ghaziabad had a sizeable crowd at the ground. The same scenes were repeated during our game against UP in Lucknow. While it’s great for the local public to get the opportunity to see their stars from close quarters without spending money, the players also feel good to finally have an audience. After all, cricket is played for a couple of core reasons and one of them is to entertain people.
Personally, I prefer having all the first-class matches at Test centers because that’s where players will eventually be playing international cricket once they graduate from the domestic level. But we have seen that, at Test centers, regardless of the players involved in the match, people don’t turn up. Perhaps it’s because they get ample opportunities to see international stars on a regular basis in both international and IPL games and hence they don’t feel the need to watch them again in the non-glamorous domestic matches. But for the people in smaller towns, it seems like a God-sent opportunity and that is made clear through their actions.
They come in big numbers and create enough noise throughout the day to make their presence felt. I remember one such game in Rohtak. There were at least 5000 people in the ground and the buzz around the stadium was unbelievable.
The only drawback of playing at smaller venues is the quality of facilities provided to the players. In Rohtak and now in Lucknow, the practice surfaces were way below par. No one in their right minds would have toyed with the idea of having a hit in the nets were a first-class game not looming large the following day. Bowlers do not bowl at full throttle and are asked not to bowl short because they could hurt the batsmen.
While the outfield in Rohtak was pretty good, the ground in Lucknow was quite uneven. On such outfields, safety is at the top of the priority list when the ball is hit in your direction, and making a good stop or affecting a run-out become secondary concerns. Let’s not forget the importance of a good playing strip, which is also an area of concern in smaller venues due to the lack of first-class games played on the strip.
Another thing that goes unnoticed is the standard of the dressing rooms. The dressing rooms and the toilets at most of the smaller venues are not good enough to host a first-class game. Also what about the basic civic amenities for the people who come to watch? These things need to be kept in mind to ensure that players are not hesitant to play at smaller centers and the spectators get value for time spent watching our matches. It’s only when all these things are taken care of that the game can reach out to more grounds and cities.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.