Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo
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After half-empty grounds in Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata during the India-England ODIs, the venues in Cuttack and Visakhapatnam had strong crowds for the one-dayers between India and West Indies. According to local cricket association officials, the contrasting crowd response was because of the surfeit of major matches in the bigger cities, while smaller centres were starved of games featuring India.
"In a big city a World Cup happens, the IPL happens. In Orissa, in two or three years, we get one [international] match," Ashirbad Behera, the Orissa Cricket Association (OCA) secretary told ESPNcricinfo. "Our Orissa Premier League happened and the stadiums were jam packed. We are asking the BCCI to change the schedule, to switch matches from big cities to smaller cities."
The Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, which seats 45,000, was full for the first ODI against West Indies, whereas Eden Gardens was half-empty in October.
The stadium in Visakhapatnam, which has a capacity of 20,000, also had a full house for the ODI between India and West Indies. It was the second ODI held there in just over 12 months. Before the Australia ODI in October 2010, Visakhapatnam had to wait nearly four years for an India game. It has had only four international matches since the new stadium staged its first ODI in April 2005.
Indore, the venue for India's fourth ODI against West Indies, will stage its first day-night match at the Holkar Cricket Stadium, where only two one-dayers have been held so far, in 2005 and in 2008. Before 2005, ODIs were played at the local government owned Nehru Stadium, which staged nine matches between 1983 and 2001.
Narendra Menon, the secretary of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, said that all tickets available online for the Indore game - about 30% of the total - had been sold out. The association began selling the remaining 70% through local banks this morning. The capacity of the stadium is 26,000.
"This match is [taking place] after three years. The last [international] match was in 2008. People are naturally waiting to have one-day match," Menon said. "[In the bigger venues], if you include IPL matches, they have 25 matches like this. How can you expect all the time, houseful? You can't."
Since December 2008 the Feroz Shah Kotla hosted eight ODIs and two Tests (it was also banned for a year by the ICC for a poor pitch); the Wankhede in Mumbai held the 2011 World Cup final, three other ODIs and a Test, while the Brabourne Stadium also hosted a Test; and Eden Gardens staged five ODIs, two Tests and a Twenty20 game. All three cities also have IPL teams, which play seven home games each season.
Orissa has written to the BCCI asking to host Test matches and Menon said they would like to hold Test matches in Indore as well. "Definitely. Our ground and wicket is absolutely as good as all other grounds in India." Unlike Orissa though, MP has not yet officially asked to host a Test but the plan on doing so in the near future. "We are going to have Duleep Trophy final this year, so I am just waiting for that match to be organised properly. We have never had any five-day match at this ground. If the Dileep Trophy match goes up to five days, we will see the behaviour of then wicket, and then we will ask."
When the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack was renovated to add 6000 seats to its previously existing 39,000, organisers said they improved facilities for spectators by adding more toilets and drinking water outlets, and arranged to have local music played in the stadium. And when they were unable to accomodate the demand for tickets, the OCA put up 10 giant screens outside the ground. Behara said, "Outside the stadium 25,000 people were standing."
At a time when a jaded audience and an overdose of cricket is emptying grounds in major urban centres, Indian cricket's smaller, less glamourous venues are making a strong case to stage the big games.