India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 1st day November 6, 2008

Spectator-friendly minus the spectators

Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president, has built a fabulous stadium in his home town that should serve as a model for the rest of the country. But he is now left to ponder the task of filling it. Empty grounds are no fun. They are soul-breaking

Sachin Tendulkar scored his 40th Test century in a virtually empty stadium © Getty Images

I had two new experiences today. I watched a day of Test match cricket as a spectator at an Indian ground in comforts that, in the context of what an Indian cricket fan has learnt to endure, bordered on the luxurious. And then I also watched Sachin Tendulkar score a Test hundred in front of a crowd so small that, with a bit of perseverance, you could have counted them manually.

It was both tragic and ironic. The most spectator-friendly ground in the world's most cricket-obsessed country was also the barest.

There were good reasons to expect a healthy turnout. It is Sourav Ganguly¹s final Test and VVS Laxman's 100th, and most of all, it is the Test that will decide the fate of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy which has, over four hard-fought and enthralling series in the last seven years, emerged as the top contest in Test cricket. Yet nothing, not even the news that India's openers were galloping away at over five, could persuade locals to make the journey.

Of course, the journey might have been the problem. To get to the new ground is a challenge. It is 18 kilometers from the town centre, off the highway to Hyderabad, and there is no public transport. An autorickshaw ride costs upward of Rs 200, and taxis more than double that - and even these options are not available for the return trip.

And the local organisers have done nothing to encourage spontaneous urges. Only season tickets are being sold and, though the organisers argue that prices are more than reasonable - 30,000 seats in the 45,000-capacity ground are priced between Rs 750 and Rs 1000 - it is staggering that a daily ticket is simply not available.

It is a pity because considerable planning and money has gone into building this gleaming and well-designed stadium. Ricky Ponting gushed about the comforts in the changing rooms; Sachin Tendulkar said the facilities exceeded all expectations. The fans could not hope for better seating - the entire stadium has bucket seats, some of which are cushioned - and care has been taken ensure there are no columns obstructing the view. There are plenty of toilets and exits and you can even walk from one block to another. Though the stands are tall - the South Wing has four levels - there are gaps for air and light. The security measures are ideal: adequate, but not oppressive.

But what use if only 4000 people turn up for the first day of a series decider?

More worryingly, it points to a larger trend of declining audiences at India's smaller Test match centres. The story was the same at the second Test in Mohali, which is similar to the new stadium in Nagpur. It is comfortable once you get in, but the tough part is getting there.

Equally, there is a discernible indifference towards the culture of Test cricket at the smaller venues. Mohali recorded a huge turnout for almost all of the home matches of Kings XI, Punjab during the IPL and, despite a disastrous run by the Deccan Chargers, the new stadium in Hyderabad - which is a fair distance away from the city - drew in larger numbers than those seen at Test matches in Mohali and Nagpur. And the turnout at ICL matches in Hyderadad and Ahmedabad has been huge, though it can be argued that there have been plenty of free tickets going.

Is there a lesson here for the Indian board? Bangalore has been the best attended Test in the series so far and, though comparatively thin, the numbers in Delhi far exceeded Mohali and what was seen in the first day in Nagpur. Eden Gardens never draws less than 40,000 and the Test-match attendance at Chennai and Mumbai has always been healthy.

Restrict Test matches to centres that have a culture of and a connect with the longer version. Smaller centres will be only too happy to host one-day matches, still a big draw, and whatever Twenty20 matches the BCCI may conjure up. A rotation system for match allotment is understandable in a huge country like India, but it must also be sensible

Prima facie, there is a case to be considered, if not immediately implemented, to restrict Test matches to centres that have a culture of and a connect with the longer version. Smaller centres will be only too happy to host one-day matches, still a big draw, and whatever Twenty20 matches the BCCI may conjure up. A rotation system for match allotment is understandable in a huge country like India, but it must also be sensible.

I forgot to mention my third new experience of the day. Midway through the first session, they started belting out Hindi songs during the over breaks. It felt incongruous at a Test match. Worse, it felt hollow and artificial. There was no one to dance in the aisles.

Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president, has built a fabulous stadium in his home town that should serve as a model for the rest of the country. But he is now left to ponder the task of filling it. Empty grounds are no fun. They are soul-breaking.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohan on November 7, 2008, 10:21 GMT

    isn't denial wonderful? blame the people, blame bcci, blame lack of daily tickets, lack of transportation, anything but accept the reality - that people are simply not interested in Test cricket.

    It is not like Bangalore had capacity crowd on any day. The opening day was a holiday and still only 1/4th full. Only Saturday when India was batting had a decent crowd.

    Even the TRP ratings for Tests are pathetic. Just 3 sessions of this series so far have had ratings above 1. Rest have all been below 0.7. For comparison, all 60 matches of IPL had average ratings of 4.7!

  • Pratyush on November 7, 2008, 7:27 GMT

    The author has correctly pointed out to the fans issues as well. Why would someone travel outskirts of a city which has no public transport, where tickets are not available daily hence it almost is paying 750 for 1 or 2 days of cricket, which is quite expensive. Clearly, Shashank Manohar has been caught on the wrong foot here. BCCI and VCA need to get it act together and offer daily tickets even now, or even give them at a discounted rate for the remaining 3 days of the test.

    Also centres like Mohali, Nagpur, Ahmedabad should not be test venues, even though they are the best in terms of facility, this will kill test cricket ! Have tests at Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. Save Test Cricket please !

  • Ashok on November 7, 2008, 7:08 GMT

    I think none of these grounds want to host a test match because it is five days of work for not a lot of money. Which is why they'd rather play to empty galleries and thus convince BCCI to be alloted one-day and 20-20 matches. Yes test matches should be kept to big cities with more of a population so that atleast a few are there to support the test match culture. The big cities should be given more one-day matches to compensate for hosting the test matches. Nobody may like watching test matches anymore but we all follow it with great earnestness and they are the foundation on which rest of cricket is built. How many hits does a cricinfo scorecard get for a test match and how many does it get for a one day match? This will be an interesting statistic and my guess is it will prove that test matches are still *popular* just that nobody wants to *watch* them.

  • Kumar on November 7, 2008, 6:59 GMT

    Sambit - Nice article.Yes it's a pity to see the decider and a milestone test match with empty stand.BCCI, please think before fixing the venues.I am just imagining how good a crowd it would have been if this decider is held in Chennai or Calcutta (for dada's last test mind blowing crowd).Chennai ppl always love test cricket and they are knowledgeable as well(memories of indo-pak test 1999).I think they should restrcit test matches to bglr,chennai,mumbai,kolkata .

  • Saif on November 7, 2008, 6:52 GMT

    I live in Delhi and always eager to go to watch a test match, never got successfull till date because of bad managed entries to the stadium and realtively high prices of the tickets.I strongly feel that ticket prices in India are far too high for a common man, these should be compareable to a movie ticket in an average theatre.Spending Rs 250 and then fighting your way in with shirt torn apart and losing a Rs 500 head gear doesn't make sense to me. The tickets should start from Rs 50 and higher volumes would definitely fill up the gap.Watching a one-day match between Zimbabwe and Australia in 2004 at the Harare Sports Club was so easy for me, just went to the venue bought a ticket from the window right then and got into the roaring crowd,it was fun!!

  • kiran on November 7, 2008, 6:49 GMT

    I am from Hyderabad. Its ridiculous that we doesnt host a test match even though there is a new stadium built. Its one of the larger cities in India with large number of cricket fans. We never get an oppurtunity to watch Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly or our VVS Laksman in his home ground in a test match. about the ticket fee, India is not a country where people can afford spend 1000 rupees for a cricket match. rather than pricing high and having empty stands why dont they bring down the price a bit and encourage more people to come :-( BCCI is making lot of easy money by televison rights cashing from India's larger number of cricket fans, but doing nothing for the development of cricket.

  • Satya on November 7, 2008, 6:25 GMT

    The answer lies in one thing. Reduce the no. of Test matches being played. Australia with their weakest ever bowling in two decades, Indians scoring runs in a heave, except Dravid. In such a scenario, playing 4 Tests surely took the audiences away. One more thing, as Gavaskar pointed out, India & Australia Tests are too frequent nowadays. Nagpur is the 7th Test this year. Such ill-adviced itineraries by boards will surely take all interest in spectators.

    Next, watch the boring Test series in World Cricket nowadays. Ind-Pak series. All talk of result oriented pitches will go in smoke. Hope that series in January will bring back some crowds and also sustain interest.

  • Sumit on November 7, 2008, 6:22 GMT

    It shows the knowledge and appreciation of the Indian audience. The average Indian spectator can appreciate only masala cricket like 20-20 and will jump up and down like an excited monkey shouting "chakka chouka" "kya shot mara!" He is incapable of appreciating the fine nuances of test match cricket and that every delivery is a tight battle between batsman and bowlers. So like a child easily distracted, he cant sit through a 5 day match, even if he has nothing to do all day.

  • s on November 7, 2008, 5:11 GMT

    Can't they digitally place people on the empty seats? And then have artificial sound in the background for cheers, boos and chants. I mean in today's high tech computer world anything is possible.

    Someone please come up with a software and give it to the BCCI for free. :)

  • Rajesh on November 7, 2008, 4:41 GMT

    The author has hit the nail on its head when he said that Rotation policy does not make sense for Test Matches. Test Should be restricted only to Bangalore, Kolkatta, Chennai and Mumbai. Thats what the Australians do. They do not rotate Tests to lesser known venues like Hobart unless the opposition is weakling. Keep 3-4 standard test venues. However that alone wont help fill the staduim.For GOD's sake give basic facilities for spectators there. I went to attend the last day of the Bangalore test and the toilets were awful. What do you think I would do next time a test is played in Bangalore-pay up and get the treatment of awful toilets or sit in the comfort of my home and watch the match?

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