January 17, 2013

Ranji Trophy, 2012-13

Searching for civilians in Palam

Sharda Ugra
A crowd gathers outside the Palam ground to catch a glimpse of Sachin Tendulkar, Services v Mumbai, Ranji Trophy semi-final, Delhi, 1st day, January 16, 2013
Spectators gather outside the ground to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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The Palam A Ground is a bit old-fashioned, one Mumbai man saying it reminded him of an English league venue. It is open on all sides, its proximity to the Delhi's domestic airport means there is no high-rise interference to the weather. Traffic tootles around the ground, Delhi's horn concerto sounding intermittently and aircrafts routinely take off at either end of the wicket. In the morning session, flights of all sizes fly over the single-storey pavilion. In the afternoon, the larger commercial aircrafts take off from the old domestic terminal and soar over the far end of the ground.

On day one, a brass band sounded as the teams warmed-up at the start of play. The Air Force men said it was the army band practicing for the Republic Day parade. On day two, they were not to be heard, they could have headed out to a dress rehearsal in other parts of the city's vast cantonment. The frisky rain and miserable light conditions on Thursday meant there were no aircrafts to be sighted over Palam in the morning, as Ajit Agarkar and Aditya Tare tried to give the Mumbai innings any lift-off in the semi-final.

Palam's open elements are diametrically opposite to the ground's other rules: as it is a part of the Air Force cantonement, it is shut off for civilians. The only manner of civilians allowed inside the compound where Services and Mumbai are playing their Ranji Trophy semi-finals are the players, their support staff, match officials, and journalists. Whenever foreigners turn up at the gates, like South African 'exchange' umpire Adrian Holdstock for this game, the BCCI must get approvals and permissions sorted out in advance. The last time the Indian team trained here, the BCCI had to supply the paperwork, scanned passport copies etc, for all its overseas support staff well in time.

When news filtered out that Services were to play Mumbai in the semi-final in Palam, another unexpected factor had to be taken into account: spectators. Who would all be civilians.

It is the first time that the Air Force personnel at Palam had to get used to the sight of "civilian" spectators, climbing up on one side of the fence that separates the ground and the road. They watched most of the day's play, without anywhere to sit, without access to food or water or toilets, unless they left their vantage spots.

When Tendulkar began his innings on Thursday, in no time, six cars were parked on the outside, its occupants were happy to climb and cling to the fence to watch. When he went past his fifty, he raised his bat towards the dressing room in acknowledgement, the non-civilian spectators seated on the ground around the boundary and then, to the fifty-odd civilians clinging to the fence. To the first two groups, it may have been acknowledgement, to the third, it can fancifully be hoped, admiration and appreciation.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by kish on (January 18, 2013, 11:17 GMT)

Just bcoz Tendulkar is playing,it's creating a buzz otherwise who loves 2 c ranji cricket leaving their work behind .. Love u sachin :)

Posted by Ramnath on (January 17, 2013, 14:01 GMT)

Frankly, this is a bit sad. Surely the adminstrators of the Services Ground can put up spme facilities for "general" spectators and allow entry at least during Ranji matches. I mean, whats the point of holding a match for a national level first class championship - that too the semi finals no less - and then practically banning spectators? How is this good for the First Class game?

Posted by Rajiv on (January 17, 2013, 13:18 GMT)

Its really sad that semi final of the country's most premiere tournament is not accessible to the larger public. I was planning to take my 8 year son to let me watch a living legend bat and this was an exceptional opportunity for him to see Mr. Tendulakr bat. But this weird rule of not allowing civilians inside the ground has deprived us, being Indian nationals, to watch a game we all love.

I wish BCCI will be careful ( can they ever be) in future. Watching T 20 is no fun - really excitment is in watching test cricket and my son was really looking forward to it.

May be I will take him and willl make him watch from outside - but waht will he learn - that you dont have right to watch a match in your own country.

Posted by Prashun Dutt on (January 17, 2013, 9:40 GMT)

Sharad, One simple question arises. Why did BCCI schedule such an important match (Ranji Semi-Final) at a venue where substantial Public Attendance will be impossible.

By bandying excuses like venue rotation policy (i.e. actually offering "politically correct Pedas" to Services and other member Associations), BCCI are themselves devaluing the importance and allure of the Ranji Trophy Serious cricket fans, especially youngsters, club and district level players would have benefited from watching senior, more talented players perform in this critical match...had it been scheduled in a more accessible and comfortable venue. As a schoolboy, I remember 15,000+/20,000+ fans turning up to watch critical Ranji Matches in venues like Eden Gardens, Brabourne and Green Park. But that was another era - when cricket had not become a political agenda.

Posted by Ankur Lathwal on (January 17, 2013, 8:48 GMT)

I was there among these spectators yesterday when Sachin was batting. Me along with two friends,we bunked college to watch Sachin bat.We initially thought Palam Sports Complex would be having stands to accomodate spectators,but when we reached,it was entirely different.We weren't allowed to enter despite showing our ID cards due to security concerns by Air Force. Despite that we climbed the fence and cheered Sachin as he reached his fifty and then hit a massive six after that.It was an amazing experience really. One more thing,I think if important matches like Ranji Semi-Finals should be played in stadiums rather than such grounds.Then they complain people don't come to see ranji matches.

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