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India vs England: Currency crunch leaves Rajkot fans in the lurch

The government move to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes and the resultant scramble for notes has forced a large number of Rajkot fans to stay away from the India-England Test.

cricket Updated: Nov 12, 2016 21:18 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Thousands of fans kept away due to the cash crunch caused by government’s demonetisation.
Thousands of fans kept away due to the cash crunch caused by government’s demonetisation.( BCCI/ SPORTZPICS)

Rajkot

A new Test venue, India batting and skipper Virat Kohli going strong overnight, a perfect reason for the cricket-mad crowd of this business town to come flocking into the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Saturday.

But many stands were still empty on thefourth day of the first Test against England as people in Rajkot, like elsewhere in the country, have been left short of cash following the government move to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

With restrictions on the amounts that can be withdrawn from the ATMs or banks, and mile-long queues to even access the services, spending the sparse cash in hand is considered a luxury. These are times to hold on to your cash tightly.

For Test cricket, this government move has come at the worst time. Already struggling for relevance, this five-match series is likely to be hit by the cash crunch in the country with banks grappling to streamline the switch to fresh notes and denominations.

The SCA secretary, Niranjan Shah, bemoaned the government announcement on the eve of the Test. “I didn’t expect the stadium to be houseful because people have gone out for Diwali holidays, but I was expecting around 20,000 per day.

“There is hardly any (ticket) sale; people don’t have cash in hand to spend. We can see long queues outside banks,” added Shah, looking at a newspaper photograph capturing the chaos outside a local bank.

Read more | Virat Kohli’s hit wicket dismissal in Rajkot Test a rare occasion

The average attendance on the first four days of the Test was between 8,000 and 9000, of which 3,000 were shoolchildren allowed in free, Shah said.

“Tickets are available online, but there are not many credit-card holders in our city. Even in ODIs and T20s, the main ticket sale was through cash counters,” he said.

The banks are only disbursing small sums as of now. In Rajkot, ATMs were shut for two days, leading to serpentine queues outside banks on Friday, and from early Saturday.

SLASHED PRICES

To lure people on Sunday, the final day of the game, SCA has slashed the price of tickets to the East Stand from Rs 150 to 50.

“We have reduced the price for Sunday and I expect a turnout of 12,000 to 13,000,” the former BCCI secretary said.

From a projected ticket sale of Rs 1.2 crore for the match, SCA has made only Rs 40 lakh so far. “We are expecting to touch Rs 45 lakh on Sunday.”

In the two ODIs and one T20 International staged here, SCA made Rs 3 crore each.

DRAWING FANS

The idea behind taking Test cricket to smaller centres was in the hope that larger crowds will turn up. Shah is disappointed the Test hasn’t created a buzz like the India versus New Zealand game at Indore.

“The profit may have dipped, but I am not losing money. My biggest satisfaction is to successfully host a Test at Rajkot.”

The travelling England fans have also been affected. They have missed part of the day’s play lining up before banks to get local currency.

As for the England team, players have stuck to their rooms in Rajkot. “We have been fine, it’s all paid for room service. May be when we go to centres like Mumbai and Mohali, we will have to look out for Indian currency since there will be an opportunity to venture out,” the England team spokesperson said.

When he took over as BCCI president, Anurag Thakur had declared reviving Test cricket as one of his primary goals. The India-England matches was to be the highlight of the biggest home season. However, until things settle down, the buzz will be missing at all the five centres.