When Rajasthan take on Haryana at Lahli village, a 20-minute drive from Rohtak, it will be a rare occasion when a high-profile game, like the Ranji Trophy semifinal, will take place at a small venue. But knowing the crowd response in bigger cities, picking small towns could be a way out for the BCCI and state associations.
Earlier this year, Karnataka had experimented with a game against UP at Shimoga, 275 km from Bangalore. "We had about 15,000 people coming to watch the Ranji match there," said K Muralidhar, media manager, Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA).
While people flocked to Shimoga, the closely fought Ranji quarterfinal at Bangalore was played to empty stands. No wonder, the KSCA is taking even the Karnataka Premier League to smaller places as the crowd response in Bangalore and Mysore was disappointing.
Gujarat, another state to experiment with smaller cities, has also found the move positive. Vijay Patel, the Gujarat head coach, said, "During the game against Tamil Nadu at Ahmedabad, there was no one, barring players' acquaintances. But in places like Surat and Valsad, we had between 2000-5000 people."
Saurashtra is developing a turf-wicket ground at Surendranagar, 100km from Rajkot. Says Madhukar Worah, the Saurashtra Cricket Association joint secretary, "We're hoping to hold games there to attract people."
But crowd response isn't the only gain. Holding games at smaller venues can also attract local talent. Anirudh Chaudhry, the Haryana Cricket Association secretary, said, "A lot of kids turned up for trials at Lahli."
KSCA secretary Javagal Srinath told HT about plans to move cricket to smaller centres. "Along with matches, we are setting up district academies to take cricket to the grassroots."
Riaz Bagwan, the Maharashtra Cricket Association tournament manager, said, "We have been holding games in Nasik and Ratnagiri for 4-5 years. Apart from the crowd, the idea is to generate interest and unearth talent."
But there are logistical problems. The supply of electricity at Lahli is irregular. Also, teams have to stay in Rohtak. "But there are plans for an airport about 25km from here. Who knows, there can be an international game here," said Chaudhry.