Sri Lanka in India 2005-06 December 5, 2005

The fans deserve better

The real objects of ire and ridicule should be those who drew up such a mindless itinerary in the first place



This photo from the first day of the Test against Sri Lanka tells the story of the last four international fixtures at Chennai © Getty Images

The rousing reception that greeted Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, and the blaring klaxons that greeted every shot to the mud-coated rope spoke volumes about the Chennai crowd's love of the game, and the patience with which they had waited for their icons to strut their stuff. With no local hero involved - both Lakshmipathy Balaji and Dinesh Karthik find themselves out in the cold - it was also a gentle reminder to supporters elsewhere of how the true fan behaves.

Frankly, the few hundred who kept the faith and their good humour throughout an interminable morning and afternoon deserved a lot better. Barring the sort of bowling displays that made George Lohmann and Frederick Spofforth legends in the 19th century, there isn't even a remote chance of a result in this game. The best way to reward those who turned up, despite parts of the city needing boats to get from point A to point B, would have been to abandon the match and have a Twenty20 hit-about instead, with provision made for something similar on the last scheduled day tomorrow.

Neither Sri Lanka nor India - who need just a series win to displace England from No.2 in the ICC Test table - will gain or lose rankings points from this brief skirmish on an uneven pitch. But for batting and bowling averages, there was absolutely nothing to play for, and the flexible and wise option would have been to try and entertain an audience that has seen rain decimate two ODIs and an enthralling Test match over the past two years.

The local association has come in for much criticism over the staging of matches during the retreating monsoon. But they can only host the games allotted to them, and the real objects of ire and ridicule should be those who drew up such a mindless itinerary in the first place.

When the three venues were announced without anyone being told which stadium would host which Test, those with even a smidgen of common sense assumed that Chennai, the closest port to Colombo, would stage the last game. With there being no threat of rain in northern India in early December, and the Chennai weather bound to clear by the third week, it also made perfect sense from a meteorological point of view.

Sadly, common sense is not a quality that the former board - which actually tried to convince people that Sourav Ganguly was an allrounder - was renowned for. And the cricket fans of Chennai, more knowledgeable and sporting than most in India, have paid a heavy price.

Fortunately, the new administration has started on a positive note, taking away a Test from a dilapidated and unprepared venue (Kanpur) and cancelling the Asia Cup to ensure that India's players get the best possible preparation for a make-or-break series against England. While the Asia Cup's stated aim of promoting cricket on the continent is laudable, it's certainly not important enough to compromise India's chances of winning a series against the team competing with them for second place. A tour of Pakistan comprising three Tests and five ODIs, against a rejuvenated side that have just trounced England, will be nerve-wracking and strenuous enough without bringing in ludicrous mismatches against the likes of Oman and Hong Kong.

If lessons are learnt from this Chennai debacle, and more attention is paid to the wishes of the players and fans - the only two constituencies that matter - Indian cricket may yet progress. Else, it'll just be stuck in the same old rut of administrators with dubious agendas, clownish selectors and itineraries seemingly thought up by someone talking to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo