<
>

The Chinnaswamy Stadium sets the benchmark

For too long spectators at stadiums in India have had to endure long queues, poor basic facilities and sheer harassment for the simple pleasure of watching cricket. The IPL, when it started, promised to change all that - and finally seems to have started work on it. Tuesday's game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore was a template of how, finally, the Indian cricket fan's experience could match up to the best.

A smooth entry: "Quite long queues, don't wait too long [to leave for the stadium]" warned a colleague already at the Chinnaswamy. Entering a stadium in India can be an unforgettably unpleasant experience because of aforementioned queues, bottleneck entry points and the slow processing of tickets and security checks by officious policemen.

The security was tight today but unobtrusive - spectators got in quickly, past the impressive electronic turnstiles, were frisked smoothly and reached their seats without constantly thinking it would have been easier to watch the game on television. All along the way there were enough volunteers to help with directions and in easing the rush.

Don't bring your own, we'll give you some: The list of items spectators are forbidden to bring with them is long and all encompassing. You wouldn't get in with a large flag, or something to create a din with. But the organisers were handing it all out. 'Cheer kits', Royal Challenger flags, inflatable noisemakers and more. The props were everywhere and the fans used them. The result was a sea of waving flags and an awful din.

F&B: The last time around, even expensive seats at IPL games witnessed an unseemly rush for food, a shortage of water and fights at the wine and beer counters. There's no liquor on sale this time but plenty of food and beverages - even pizzas delivered to your seat, fairly warm and tempting - and, crucially, lots of free bottled water. That may seem trivial to cricket fans elsewhere but a huge step up from the regular in-stadia food and drink in India.

Play the funky music : A clever compere knows how to work the crowd, and picks the right moments to rouse them. Today's DJ had his moments. In the ninth over Anil Kumble stopped two powerful drives from Ravi Bopara off his own bowling. The second one hurt him and he walked away, calling for the physio to come and attend to his hand. The compere urged the crowd to get behind their captain, beginning the chant of "Jumbo, Jumbo". It caught on quickly and soon "R-C-B, R-C-B" became the rallying call as Punjab's openers forged a threatening partnership.

He then played his music - theme songs for both Bangalore and Punjab - and repeatedly urged the crowd to cheer whenever the cricket stopped: in between balls, between overs, during time-outs. It was incessant and an assault on the senses of the more sedate cricket fan who'd also want to pay attention to field placements, bowling changes and other minutiae. But if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, there was dancing in the aisles, on chairs, and on some walls too.

The local connection: Pick your players with care. Bangalore have made a concerted effort to build domestic talent within their team. They bought Manish Pandey and Robin Uthappa, Karnataka players who were Mumbai Indians in 2008, and when they batted today, the crowd responded magnificently.

Admittedly they didn't have much to cheer for while Punjab were stacking up 203, but there was a terrific atmosphere when Pandey began to tee off. The noise built to a crescendo when Uthappa, at No. 3, overtook Kallis during a game-changing half-century. He felt it too. "It's a great feeling when you get that sort of backing in front of your home crowd," Uthappa said. "I feel very much an integral part of the side now [after shifting from Mumbai]."

It's not just television: The IPL's big bucks come from selling television rights. Ticket sales make up only a tiny percentage of the revenue. However, to achieve their goal of building a fan base for each of franchises, and filling stadiums, the organisers would do well to follow Bangalore's example. Kolkata already had a faithful following. Not all of the others do.

Location, location, location: The modern trend of building stadiums in the middle of nowhere, as in Nagpur and Hyderabad, has its advantages but the Chinnaswamy's location in the heart of Bangalore puts it right at the top of the pile. Where else in India can you come out of a cricket ground and, within a five-minute walk, be in the city centre? Where else, indeed, is the weather pleasant enough to walk around the square mile of pubs and restaurants?

The complaints: It'd also be nice if none of the seats were broken, especially if the ticket costs Rs. 2750.