In 2009, Sachin Tendulkar had objected to neutral venues for Ranji Trophy knockouts. His view was that fans, sans loyalty, wouldn't attend matches. To vindicate his take, that year's semifinal between Mumbai and Saurashtra in Chennai, where he hit a century, saw poor crowd response.
Over the past week at the Palam grounds, however, he witnessed problems even at a non-neutral venue. The Services home ground and conditions apparently upset him and his team. Besides, a crowd desperate to see him in action, wasn't allowed to enter as it is a sanitised area belonging to the Indian Air Force and has no seating facilities.
Unless you flashed your Air Force ID, you weren’t allowed to enter. Ajit Singh, a labourer from Davla (Rajasthan), who featured in the Limca Book of Records for remembering each of Tendulkar's 194 Tests in detail, was lucky to get in. After spending three nights, which saw him cope with cold and rain, Ajit was given a place to sleep inside the campus on the fourth night and finally managed to get himself clicked with the master. Others, who clung to railings, weren’t as lucky.
While the BCCI is taking measures to instill interest in domestic cricket by telecasting Ranji games and ensuring top players, this game, which featured the greatest of them, ensured that the public was kept away.
“Earlier, gate money was compulsory for first-class games. But the policy has been discontinued,” Niranjan Shah, BCCI vice-president, told HT.
It made sense to discontinue gate money with falling attendances. But like in Ghaziabad, where the star-studded UP-Delhi game in November drew a crowd of over 10000, people want to see top players. The local association there turned it into a festival even publicising it.
A BCCI official said on condition of anonymity, “You only have a few games in which stars play. Although Palam is good for practice and lesser games, the Board should be flexible with its rotation policy and hand over star-studded games to venues where crowds can sit.”
Mumbai took the remaining seven wickets in the extended first session to win on the first innings lead and cruise to the Ranji final. After overnight batsman Yashpal Singh fell early on Monday, fishing outside off and was followed by Soumya Swain, who edged a delivery that jumped on him to slips, Services caved in as Dhawal Kulkarni took five for 33.
Dhawal, extracting bounce, whipped off the weak tail by picking four of the last five wickets to put Mumbai into their 44th Ranji Trophy final.
Brief scores Mumbai 454/8; Services 240 (S Swain 74, Yashpal 58, D Kulkarni 5/33).