The Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) has decided to shift the November 1 ODI between India and West Indies from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram with the issue gaining a political dimension. The decision was taken after the southern Indian state's sports minister intervened in the matter and asked the KCA to shift the venue.
Last week the BCCI's tours, programmes and fixtures committee finalised the itinerary for West Indies' tour of India, which comprises two Tests, five ODIs and three T20Is. One of the ODIs, scheduled for November 1, was to be hosted at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi.
The Kochi ground has predominantly become a venue for football in recent years. It was one of the six venues for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October 2017 and is also home base for the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL). The last cricket match played at the venue, in 2014, was also against West Indies, a big win for the visitors.
Since then, only one other international match has been played in Kerala, a T20I against New Zealand last November at the Greenfield International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram, which India won. Critics of the KCA asked why the association was so keen to host the ODI in Kochi when another ICC-certified cricket ground was available in Thiruvananthapuram.
As soon as the BCCI announced Kochi as the venue for the West Indies ODI, a number of leading voices in football including Sachin Tendulkar - a co-owner of the Kerala Blasters franchise - raised the red flag. On Tuesday, Tendulkar posted a message on his Twitter feed, saying he had "urged" Vinod Rai, chairman of the Supreme-Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) that is supervising the BCCI, to look into the matter.
"Worried about the potential damage to the FIFA approved World class Football turf in Kochi. Urge the KCA to take the right decision where cricket (Thiruvananthapuram) and Football (Kochi) can happily coexist," Tendulkar tweeted.
Worried about the potential damage to the FIFA approved World class Football turf in Kochi. Urge the KCA to take the right decision where cricket (Thiruvananthapuram) and Football (Kochi) can happily coexist. pic.twitter.com/rs5eZmhFDP— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 20, 2018
Rai had already been made aware of the issue by another prominent voice, Shashi Tharoor, the Minister of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, who called the KCA move to play the match in Kochi a "suspect" and "bizarre" decision. Tharoor told Rai to review the decision only because the Kochi turf would need to be dug up to get the venue ready for the ODI, which would would prove detrimental to its footballing use.
Since both the grounds in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are owned by the state government, the Kerala sports minister AC Moideen held a meeting with the KCA top brass on Thursday to chalk out a solution.
According to Jayesh George, the KCA secretary, the state cricket body has signed a MoU with the government to get both the grounds on lease. Accordingly the KCA has invested money in uplifting the infrastructure at both venues and felt it has the right to choose the ground for cricket matches.
However the MoU also states that both grounds, being multi-purpose venues, can host football too. "Till today we planned to host the ODI in Kochi," George told ESPNcricinfo. "Since 2011 we had maintained the stadium in Kochi. But the government took possession of the ground last year for the Under-17 World Cup."
George said Moideen assured the KCA that the government would grant land to develop a cricket-only stadium to avoid such issues in future. "Since the government has intervened and advised us to conduct the match in Thiruvananthapuram, we are doing that."