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By Aamod Desai, India
A Saturday evening game, ambient weather, a hyped match-up (Dada vs KKR) is what Pune Warriors v Kolkata Knight Riders had to offer, come game No. 70 of the IPL. But as things turned out, the match was merely for academic interest as the result wouldn’t have affected the standing of either side. Eight consecutive losses isn’t the proposition you want as you venture out to support your home team.
Yet there were 45000 seats that were occupied at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium; an indicator that team form and results are invariant of crowd support at ‘smaller’ venues. Pune doesn’t have an identity on the cricket globe as of now – there is no big player from the city who has represented India for a long time nor does it have any national academy or a famous cricket centre. But what it surely has are hordes of ‘live-action-hungry’ people.
The day Sahara bought the Pune franchise, Facebook statuses and tweets from ‘Punekars’ conveyed the sentiment of anticipation of being a part of competitive cricket and the joy of being able to watch its glamorous avatar in their backyard. The IPL, as a product, attracts families to the stadiums and Pune was no exception. Witnessing a 60-year old playing the bugle joyously or a 20-member family enjoying the 3-hour package, you could safely conclude that the IPL as a product has succeeded on this front, hands-down. The new stadium has provided a new lease of life for cricket in and around Pune. Exquisitely designed, carefully sculpted, inclusive of all the modern amenities, the picturesque venue has a lot to love. Built on the outskirts of the city, the organisers have land on their side; thereby ‘potentially’ hosting thousands of people without much hassle. This being the first year of the stadium the organisers would have learnt lessons from the experience of hosting eight matches; with regard to ‘crowded’ parking bays, tiny and few entry and exit points (for vehicles) and a sluggish walking path towards the stadium. Barring these few glitches, which hopefully the organisers will rectify as soon as possible, the stadium boasts of most ‘spectator-friendly’ facilities, which have been a shortcoming with most old-fashioned venues across the country.
After crossing all the security levels you find a couple of policemen stationed at the ‘first-aid’ table. The washrooms were easily accessible, berth location was a user-friendly exercise, drinking water was available nearby, and the stands had a few ‘active’ volunteers and security guards keeping things in check. These are minor things that don’t generally make it to the discussion forums or advertisement brochures but form an integral part of the overall outlook and appeal of any public centre.
So, if you are willing to be patient while coming in and going out of the stadium (which at the moment is a very time-consuming activity), then a visit to the Sahara Stadium is a recommended exercise; even if you are not an ardent cricket follower. The attendance at Warriors’ home games add to the growing feeling that cricket needs to decentralise itself to the smaller centres. The growing concern of sustaining crowd interest for international cricket in India could have a solution, with centres like Ranchi and Pune coming up. A couple of ODI series’ and a IPL season may not be the ideal illustrations to prove the above point, for plenty of people come to watch ‘heroes’ rather than teams, or who like to spot ‘celebrities’ rather than being interested in the game. Observing an IPL season without Ganguly or an ODI series against a smaller team at these venues would be sufficient to prove or disprove the growing sentiment.
Akhila Ranganna is assistant editor (Audio) at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Akhila Ranganna
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Assistant editor (Audio) Having a father who played in the Ranji Trophy against the likes of the legendary Pankaj Roy, cricket was in Akhila's blood. When a bachelor's degree in Literature was augmented by a master's in Mass Communication, she should have known that a career in journalism beckoned. But it took a joyless stint in public relations to push her to ESPN Star Sports, where she worked with the Sportscenter team and covered countless preparatory camps at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. As a happy coincidence this ran concurrently with a hobby stint as a radio jockey for a station playing old Hindi film music. She then joined ESPNcricinfo's audio team, where she has worked since October 2006.