Power to the people lets Delhi thrive
Whatever happens in the Delhi Test, whoever wins or loses, it is already a historic success. The common man has taken over the most exclusive of clubs, thanks to an outsider, retired Delhi High Court judge Mukul Mudgal.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, and Mudgal will be the first person to scoff at such a comparison, day one witnessed scenes similar to the Bollywood movie Nayak, where an average Joe is given reins of the government for a day. An entire stand full of happy school kids had the time of their lives, for free, and had snacks and meals too. Schools will keep changing, but buses full of children will be brought in to watch the cricket on every day of the Test.
Then breached were the best seats in the house - South Club House - right behind the bowler's arm and right above the sight screen. These seats have never been sold by Delhi & Districts Cricket Association. Only guests invited by DDCA are allowed there, and everybody knows who DDCA's guests are: influential people, proxies and others who are not always interested in the cricket. As these movers and shakers grit their teeth somewhere else - they tend not to queue up to buy tickets - the common man got to watch exciting Test cricket live for only Rs 800 ($12) a day.
This is also the first time in recent memory that DDCA is going to register a profit for hosting a Test. It is shocking, yes, but for years they have been losing money on paper for hosting Test matches. Mudgal's team discovered that almost all the tenders for various services at the ground used to go at around three times the price.
Mudgal has been appointed by the High Court to oversee things but it became, literally, a clean-up operation. The seats in the Club House were still dirty, which isn't altogether unusual. Indeed, it was only three-day dirty as opposed to three-month dirty. Turns out the housekeeping had cleaned up the seats on Monday, but when they tried to come in at 5.30 am this morning, the police stopped them because they didn't have the DDCA clearance. Ditto with caterers.
It was the middle session of the day and Mudgal looked worried. He was trying to fight potential embarrassment. He had just spotted a huge white cloth covering the first nine rows of seats, acting as an extended sight screen. The groundstaff had installed it this morning, seconds before the first ball was bowled. The DDCA officials, though, had led Mudgal to believe only three rows would be covered so he had gone ahead and sold the rest.
With a ticket in hand - he had bought his own for Rs 800 - Mudgal sat in a dirty seat wondering what to do with ticketholders for those six rows. His team pointed to the many empty seats in the stand and suggested the people coming in could be accommodated there. Suddenly a voice rang out, "Sir, if there are so many empty seats, why did the website last night say this stand has been sold out?"
Mudgal ordered for a representative to appear and as the agency man offered his explanation, Mudgal produced the inconvenienced patron, who now had to buy a season pass for a match that is unlikely to go into the fifth day. The ticket agency had to promise this would not be repeated.
Even though Mudgal knew the sightscreen covering the extra seats wouldn't result in a big disappointment, you could see he still didn't look happy. He and his team discussed how, at Lord's, they don't cover so much of the premium stand off. They want more and more people in. He wanted to take it up with the DDCA groundstaff and see if some more seats could be uncovered - a couple here, a couple there. He wanted to accommodate as many people as possible, but he looked hassled by the hurdles posed at every step when it should have been a smooth process.
Simply looking at his face reminded you of his recent quote: I feel like the bride's father. And just then Virat Kohli took a single to square leg, and behind him the kids let out the loudest roar a Test in Delhi has seen in recent memory, and Mudgal smiled. Right there you knew this Test was already a success.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo