A swarm of blue shirts, darker than that of Mumbai Indians, would engulf the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. It would cheer and yell, and ensure that Rajasthan Royals were the toughest team to get past. Thousands of such passionate fans had turned the venue into a Royals fortress for the first six years.
However, since last season, these fans have been robbed of the opportunity to be present for the team’s ride through glory and despair.
A legal battle between Rajasthan Cricket Association and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) meant Royals played their home games at Ahmedabad. They will play four of their seven ‘home’ games at the Motera this season too, but Mumbai’s Cricket Club of India (CCI) will host the remaining three.
Gujarat, Rajasthan’s neighbouring state, appears a logical replacement in terms of proximity. But the puzzle pieces don’t fit when you think of ‘home’ games at the Brabourne stadium, next door to Wankhede, home to Mumbai Indians. How can a city play host to two franchises representing different cities?
The concept of ‘home’ and ‘away’ games in the IPL was aimed at building fan loyalty and giving teams the advantage of playing in familiar conditions.
When Kings XI Punjab played a couple of home games in Cuttack last year, the crowd was hardly loyal. Skipper George Bailey bemoaned the fact that they enjoyed little advantage playing in Barabati as they had neither played nor trained there.
Dharamsala has regularly hosted Kings XI Punjab games, the venue in adjoining Himachal Pradesh which has connect and is a few hours drive from the team base of Mohali. But this season, the Dharamsala will not be used as Kings XI have decided to adopt Pune as their second ‘home’.
It can’t strike a chord with the KXIP fan, or the team, as the home advantage goes up in smoke.
The BCCI claims it’s not its call. “The franchises are allowed to choose where they wish to play their second set of home games. The BCCI does not interfere,” Ranjib Biswal, 2014 IPL chairman, says. Another BCCI official, however, says financial issues too influence the decision of the franchises.
If any team should know, it should be Kings XI, after their Cuttack experience. But the franchise either haven’t learnt or chose to ignore the experience as Pune offers a better financial proposition.
“They chose us as their second home keeping the financial factor in mind. Apart from our top-class stadium, we offer them a host of corporate boxes. Out of the 37, only 17 are for our stakeholders. The rest they can offer whoever they want to. We also have a 100-seater box,” Ajay Shirke, Maharastra Cricket Association president, explains. “And unlike other associations, we only ask for 7 per cent of the tickets. The rest usually ask for 8 per cent.”
Ness Wadia, KXIP co-owner, reveals: “There are various reasons. We want to tap the Punjabi fan base in Pune and Navi Mumbai. Pune is also more financially viable than the other options we have.”
Even when Chennai Super Kings played four of their home games in Ranchi last year, they were sure the pull of local boy MS Dhoni would bring profits. It did, but the majority of those who flocked in were Dhoni fans, not CSK loyalists.
Great teams such as Manchester United or New York Yankees have a following that goes beyond the confines of their city. The IPL is only in its eighth year, and if the concept of ‘home’ games is abused, fan loyalty may fade away. Besides depriving teams of home advantage, it may also reduce the sporting logic of the concept to a farce.
What further dilutes the purpose of the league is that teams don’t treat selecting uncapped players from their catchment areas as a priority. Teams have been allocated states next to their base for this.
Delhi Daredevils for example (their designated states are UP and Uttarakhand) go as far as Kerala to find players but don’t have one from Delhi or their catchment areas.
“The teams don’t look for players from catchment areas nowadays. They look at which player they like, what suits them and who can bring that style to the team,” explains Madan Lal, former India all-rounder. “Also, youngsters will learn nothing through T20 cricket. They should play first-class cricket.”Because the IPL could have only limited teams, the franchises were supposed to hand worthy players from their neighbouring area an opportunity to showcase their abilities. But clearly the rule has been bent out of shape by teams while cricket authorities look the other way.