The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided last season that all knockout matches would be played in neutral venues. This year however, they have gone a step further by awarding some matches to lesser used venues. Mysore, Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium, Vizianagram and Valsad host the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals, starting Wednesday, this time.
While Mysore was venue of the Ranji Trophy final in 2010, Brabourne Stadium last hosted a Ranji Trophy match in 2012. More new are Vizianagram and Valsad, both located quite far from the nearest respective cities in Andhra and Gujarat. In fact, this season the BCCI has completely done away with allotting matches to big centres. The semi-finals will be held in Vadodara’s Moti Bagh stadium and the DRIEMS ground in Cuttack while Pune, recently accorded Test status, will host the final.
Opportunity for new centres
According to G Gangaraju, chairman of BCCI’s Tour, Programme and Fixture committee, it’s time other venues get matches too. “Major centres are already hosting Tests, ODIs and T20s in India. Add to that so many IPL matches that are happening every year. It’s about time we spread out matches to venues that don’t get enough exposure,” Gangaraju told HT.
Centres like Valsad and Vizianagram have been waiting for this chance. “We were expecting a knockout match last season but it didn’t happen somehow. This is an opportunity for us,” Janak Desai, secretary of Bulsar District Cricket Association, told HT. Located around 70km south of Surat, the stadium is a complex with gymnasium and swimming pool and a seating a capacity of around 3,000. “The pitch is sporting and even Sachin Tendulkar had appreciated it during a visit,” said Desai.
Opened in 2013, the Dr PVG Raju ACA Sports Complex in Vizianagram is located around 45km from Visakhapatnam. “We have hosted five matches so far but the reports so far have been really good. Medium pacers will get good assistance but batsmen with good technique can score well,” said G Raju, chairman of the ACA U-19 academy in Vizianagram.
Neutrality a dampener
“Places like Vizianagram and Mysore are steeped in cricket history so giving matches to such venues is a noble idea but neutrality might not be good for Ranji Trophy,” said former ICC and BCCI match referee Raju Mukherji. “Even though neutral venues will ensure fairness you can’t expect the same level of commitment in terms of arrangement and hospitality that you might get at a venue belonging to one of the competing teams,” said Mukherji.
“The home and away basis of competition is followed everywhere because of a reason. Given the resources the BCCI has, it can easily ensure a sporting pitch at a venue of a home team in the knockouts. And if neutrality is so necessary then I think the BCCI should look at having neutral venues for group league matches too. More importantly, very few people show up at matches in neutral venues,” said Mukherji.
The spectator factor
Attendance is an area where Ranji Trophy may not score much, especially at neutral venues. Two years ago when Bengal played Railways in the quarterfinals at Eden Gardens, almost 5,000 people turned up to support the home team. It created a charged up atmosphere that’s rarely seen in Ranji Trophy where stadium entry is free. With Test attendance in India dwindling and more people flocking to watch T20 matches, there is little incentive for people to come to the grounds for Ranji Trophy matches.
Gangaraju though feels top flight matches like Ranji Trophy quarterfinals will spark interest among locals. Raju however gave a different impression about the ground reality in Vizianagram. “It would be an achievement if 500 people turn up for the match. Unless there is a star player very few people might turn up for the match,” said Xavier. “If there is no connect between the playing teams and the locals, it is unwise to assume they will come to watch the match,” said Mukherji.
The television success of IPL has been such that the BCCI doesn’t need to market it anymore to the people. The Ranji Trophy, considered India’s top first-class tournament, though desperately needs some. The broadcast schedule of BCCI too defies logic. By choosing to show the quarterfinal at Brabourne Stadium on TV, the BCCI has let go of an opportunity to showcase an upcoming venue. “If the Valsad match had been shown on TV it would have created a lot of local buzz,” said Desai. Every move points to the fact that the BCCI is solely banking on the local interest to keep the public relevance of Ranji Trophy alive. Only time will tell whether that’s enough.