India v Australia, 2nd Test, Mohali, 4th day October 20, 2008

'Empty stands a challenge' - Bindra

Cricinfo staff

Crowds stayed away from the Test in Mohali even with Sachin Tendulkar breaking Brian Lara's record for most Test runs © Getty Images

In a week of surprising, distressing events - turbulence in the airline industry, the crash of the stock market and the collapse of a flyover in Delhi - the one foreseeable positive was Sachin Tendulkar becoming the world's leading run-getter in Tests. Yet when he got it the response at the ground was underwhelming - because the stands were largely empty.

There are various reasons put forward but IS Bindra, the Punjab Cricket Association chief, conceded the paying public has been "short-changed" in most Indian grounds and he promised to improve conditions in Mohali.

The poor turnout had people wondering if Test cricket still retains its popularity, for the same venue was sold out for the IPL and last year's one-dayer between India and Pakistan. IS Bindra, the Punjab Cricket Association president, said one of the reasons for the disappointing numbers could be the number of matches Mohali hosted last year. "We had 13 matches last year... Mohali, with a population of 1 million, cannot sustain in terms of crowd response," Bindra said. "That's what our research says." Chandigarh, the big city where the teams stay during matches in Mohali, may have a fraction more.

Another reason for the poor turnout could be the mental demands of watching Test cricket, which is different to watching ODIs and Twenty20s, offering fewer moments of obvious excitement and requiring far more concentration.

Perhaps the most significant factor, and one which Bindra himself conceded, is the poor spectator facilities - ironic, because Mohali's facilities are unmatched in India - and the stringent security measures. Getting to the ground is hard enough - the police don't allow anyone other than VIPs to bring their cars within a kilometre of the stadium. One of the most ridiculous security procedures was to force people down a 200-metre path when there was another, more direct route a quarter of the length. "That route is meant only for VIPs," a security official said.

Having reached the ground, the spectator is faced with restrictions on carrying water bottles and umbrellas. The only covered stands are those for members; non-members sit through the day under the sun, on plastic chairs that can get very uncomfortable in temperatures touching 30 degrees Celsius. Why walk a kilometre, then spend seven hours under the sun when you can watch it all on TV?

It's a point Bindra readily concedes. "If you can watch Test-match cricket for five days in the air-conditioned comfort of your own home, here you spend two hours getting into the stadium, going through the police," Bindra said. "The TRP ratings [for Tests] are very high, but it is essential to have people at the ground. We have to make our grounds spectator-friendly. We have been short-changing the public [in most Indian grounds] so far, the public will start short-changing us unless we improve."

Bindra said the association was "badly affected" by the lack of spectators for the Test. "It's the pride of the ground, and we take it very seriously. It's a challenge we must accept, and take it very seriously." He said the PCA planned two new international centres, in Bathinda and Jalandhar. "So if we rotate the matches, the novelty will still be there. Money is not everything, money is not an end in itself. It's good so far as it goes into the game. There's no atmosphere without the people."

There is a photograph of the stadium during the 2004-05 Ranji Trophy final between Railways and Punjab. The wide shot takes in the empty stands, where only two people sit watching the championship match. If the PCA doesn't want similar photos taken during Tests, it must act fast. Otherwise, as Bindra said, the public will short-change it.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Preshant on October 21, 2008, 4:16 GMT

    The main reason for the low turn out at Mohali for test matches,could be the absence of a roof to cover the stands.You dont expect a person to sit in the sun the whole day and risk a sunstroke.By contrast grounds like Chennai,Bangalore,Bombay etc.attract more crowd as they are fully covered and the spectators are more comfortable.Mohali has the perfect setting for a T-20 match with its unmatchable ambiance but i dont think its spectators are test worthy.The Bcci sould stick to the Metros for Tests.I am utterly disappointed that Chennai cant host its traditional Pongal Day tests anymore.When Melbourne can have a Boxing Day why not the same here.In fact this tradition is much older than the one at Melbourne.

  • John on October 21, 2008, 1:07 GMT

    With the security measures described in this article, it's a wonder anyone goes to watch a match in Mohali.

    During the broadcast, Mark Nicholas goes on and on about how people aren't coming because of the IPL. I really believe the two formats attract very different audiences. Besides, the IPL isn't until April, I don't think it has much of an effect.

    Honestly, sitting outside in the heat after going through a gauntlet of security measures doesn't sound like much fun. I'd watch at home too!

  • S on October 20, 2008, 22:22 GMT

    there should be a TV blackout in host city and surrounding areas, coupled with good spectator facilities and reasonable ticket price

  • Abhishek on October 20, 2008, 17:16 GMT

    I think PCA should allow free entry for last day's play, they should advertise in Newspapers about this free entry. Atleast there will be some decent crowd to cheer Indian Victory.

  • anmn on October 20, 2008, 17:14 GMT

    I dont see any cause for concern. Mohali is not the premier most ground in India. TV viewership is still very good. Just because its India-Aus, you cant expect the entire city will load into the stadium. Its still a Test Match. Remember ICL is also going on. So, there is no cause to concern. The facilities may not be world-class in Mohali, but relatively its getting better every year.

    However, Cricket will loose its shine in India (but probably not money). But, thats a concern a few years from now.

  • Peter on October 20, 2008, 17:09 GMT

    It may take a tragedy like Hillsborough to force BCCI officials and politicians to get grounds up to world standards. However, a tragedy like Hillsborough only occurs when the stadium is packed, which is only possible for ODI or 20/20 crowds. As long as the stadium is empty, there is no threat to fan safety and they can be exploited in the ways that are listed in the other comments.

  • Rahat on October 20, 2008, 17:00 GMT

    Hi From my person experience, I went to India last year to watch India vs Pakistan one day, Security would not even allow me to take my cell phone or camera to the ground, so why should i bother going to the ground, I traveled all the way from Canada to see one game and i wanted to take some Pics. Seating was ok, but no order other than VIP seating, Also access to more expensive tickets are only available to high end or so called VIP people. Normal People should be given access to buy better seats. They should setup a website where people can buy tickets online and i do agree with Ashwin, being the richest board india should be spending more money on comfort of fans being that they got the largest number of Fans in the world

  • Kalyanaraman on October 20, 2008, 16:29 GMT

    While spectator comfort is an important point, I believe that the BCCI must respect the test centres where the fans love test cricket. Why isn't Chennai given more test matches when it is proven over and over that they have the most knowledgable fans? Can you imagine the turn out in the Eden Gardens for Ganguly's last series? What happened to the Brabourne Stadium im Mumbai where people love their test cricket? What about Green Park Kanpur or Vidharba stadium in Nagpur? Why does Bangalore with such an ordinary pitch or Mohali which has historically had ordinary turnouts for test cricket always seem to have preferential treatment?

  • sreeroop on October 20, 2008, 16:20 GMT

    As i had been to CHINNASWAMY stadium(Bangalore) this time for the IN-AUS clash i found the facilities extremely good...the gadgets were allowed, the security for known reasons were tight which cant be blamed, the food was just perfect even appreciated by some foriegners, toilet facilities were tidy, the stands had roof for shade and most importantly the qoulity of cricket was near perfect..oh i just forgot to tell u that i went for the cheapest stand!! and i found the facilities were impressive... We cannot simply argue without going to the stadium and blabber about facilities, be there support test cricket especially Indian team for this high profile series...

  • jay on October 20, 2008, 14:36 GMT

    I have not been to a match in India but have heard that the grounds are simply appalling everywhere, far inferior to even lower league baseball and football in the west. Food and beverages are not even sold, in fact one is lucky to even be able to obtain water, and bathrooms are intolerable. Combined with this it is prohibited to bring one's own food. And all-seater stadiums seem to be an impossible dream. On the other hand the high security requirements are understandable given the terrorism situation, but most people I know would never agree to go eight hours without a mobile phone. Even on American airplanes one can use a mobile phone! This requirement is simply unreasonable. The number of people willing to dedicate a whole day to watching an event that lasts five and ends in a draw 40% of the time is always going to be limited, but these are the kind of things that keep even the true fans from coming back.

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