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Dull response blamed on festivals

For all the matches around the country during the ICC Trophy, the empty stands made for a depressing sight, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2006 13:54 IST

It is impossible, or has been till now, to imagine an India One-day International not playing to a packed house.

But that is exactly what happened during the India vs West Indies clash at Motera on Thursday - where rows of empty seats stood out amidst the crowd. And this was an India game, for other matches around the country, the mostly empty stands have made for a depressing sight.

While some Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) officials put the sales at around 70 per cent, GCA president Narhari Amin said it was about 85 per cent. But still not a full house - something he and other officials attributed to the timing.

"The 15-day Diwali school holidays are on and this game has also coincided with the five-day business vacation between Dhanteras and Labh Paacham," said Hitesh Patel, the GCA's media officer.

ICC spokesman Brian Murgatroyd, when asked if the ticket sales had been disappointing, said from Mohali that it was not unexpected.

"There are things we have to bear in mind, especially with it being around Diwali and Eid," he said. "A person would have to be discerning and wonder, 'Should I spend my money on Diwali gifts for the family or spend it on some match or save up for an India game?'"

He said a couple of games had been well attended, especially in Jaipur. "Mr (Lalit) Modi has done a very good job in providing a combined ticket package for three games and that has brought in people for non-India games there."

Murgatroyd said there was a need to be "realistic" about the issue. "The lack of spectators isn't just confined to this event. Kuala Lumpur saw empty stands, other events have too.

During the u-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka in February, we had made it free entry. And the only time people turned up was a smallish crowd of 5000 or so for the (India-Pakistan) final."

Asked if he thought the tickets were priced too high, Murgatroyd said the prices had been fixed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), with the local association.

"All we did was ask the questions, 'Is it too high, is it sustainable?' If they say it is, then we have to go by what they say. They are the experts. It is up to others to assess whether they are alright or not."

Interestingly, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, while admitting that there seemed to be little interest in the non-India games, also said this game probably had a crowd of 40,000 (the capacity is 53,000, Amin had said 46,000). He said that local associations had put a premium on these games as it was the Champions Trophy. He said the problem might be attributable in part to the prices.

"Not here (in Motera) really, these are okay but in the other centres, they are quite high and people might not want to pay so much if India are not playing. Even if India are playing, they would be somewhat steep."

Both he and Murgatroyd said that a combination of factors, plus the fact that all the games were on TV,  probably had people preferring to stay home.

But Murgatroyd insisted that cricket in India was alive and kicking and even if India did not make the last four stage, the tournament would not be buried, as many people believe.

"If India go out, they would have been beaten by a very good team and the semi-finals would have four great teams there," Murgatroyd said. "People know that. Sport anywhere can only die when people stop caring. And here, they care. There is so much interest in cricket that it is incredible. It might not be reflected in the stadiums, but you can see it in the media.”