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Playing to the gallery, an SA experience

cricket Updated: May 11, 2009 03:16 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times
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Ending before an Eden Gardens forcibly emptied, the India-Pakistan Test at the Eden Gardens in 1999 started the era of a blanket ban on carrying food and drinks to cricket grounds. Squeezed into concrete stands, often in searing heat and under suffocating security, it made watching cricket a test of fortitude for the paying spectator.

To say South Africa is a different experience would be an understatement. At most grounds hosting IPL II matches, there is no restriction on movement which means you can go anywhere except areas marked for VIPs or players. Of course, there are security checks but once that's out of the way, it's time to have fun and get your money's worth.

There is an abundance of food and beverage including beer and there are many outlets selling them meaning queues aren't serpentine. You can eat, drink and be merry without the fear of being ejected by khaki and lathi. And it doesn't cost you a packet either.

Tickets for Saturday's doubleheader here were worth 60 rand (approximately Rs 360) for an adult and half that for those below 18. A 500ml mug of beer came for 10 rand and none of the edibles cost more than 25 rand.

“I didn't think twice about coming to the ground,” said Marius, a South African working in a private firm here. “Tickets don't cost much…the food you get is fine and cheap. Don't have to bother about the beer either.”

To keep fans in good spirits there is South African music live and exotic, jugglers, clowns and stilt walkers. This means that even if you come with children who don't follow the intricacies of power play or free hits, there is enough to keep them occupied.

Compare this with India where, apart from strict restrictions on movement, there are barbed fences separating the ground from the stands. To be fair to the authorities back home though, anything else would mean inviting chaos. That's something Philip Ergasto couldn't understand.

Ergasto is from Nigeria and lives in Bloemfontein, about 150 kms from Kimberley. He was at the ground on Saturday with his two sons and a group of friends. Irfan Pathan came close to where they were sitting to collect the ball that was hit out of the ground and a good round of cheering was all he got. Pathan wasn't mobbed, his shirt wasn't tugged at and no one sought an autograph.

“Why should you do that?” exclaimed Philip when told that things would have been totally different at any ground in India. “They frisk us at the gates but after that it's up to us. We do what we want so long as we are not crossing limits. I'm surprised to know that in India you can't move from one place to another inside the stadium or buy beer.”

The bigwigs of BCCI are in South Africa and there is no reason to think that they have not noticed how different crowd management here is. Hopefully, once they are done with counting the millions, they would spare a thought on how to make things better for the common fan. Because even in the time of TRP ratings, those in the stands matter.