The cash-rich Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) is doing little to attract crowd to its premier domestic competition —the Ranji Trophy.
There are no matches on weekends till the quarterfinals and the majority of venues are either inhospitable or inaccessible to common people.
This season, all Elite and Plate Division matches are scheduled for a Tuesday start — the time of the week when working people are busy in offices and youngsters in schools or colleges. The quarterfinals end on Sunday, the semifinals on Saturday and the final will be played over five weekdays.
Has the BCCI given a thought to the fact that more people are likely to turn out for matches on weekends? “No. We have to fit in all the matches within a short time,” explained Ratnakar Shetty, the Board’s Chief Administrative Officer.
It is true that the Ranji Trophy this season involves 80-odd matches played over a two-and-a-half month period with three days’ gap between games. However, starting the tournament calendar three days later, on November 6 instead of November 3, would have ensured that all matches started on Friday with the second and third day falling on the weekends. Most ground also lack the basic amenities — a place to sit, toilets, drinking water and food, for a price if necessary — required to watch a match for seven hours straight. Even a Test centre like Eden Gardens does not have clean toilets. People climbed on trees to watch a recent Ranji match at Ghaziabad; there was no shade from the blazing sun at the Railway Stadium in Dhanbad.
The organisers in Mysore, for example, set up mobile toilets outside the Gangothri Glades Cricket Ground for spectators during the Bengal-Karnataka match. A shamiana covered more than 80 percent of the galleries and about 2000 chairs were placed under it. Drinking water was available.
“If it was a weekend, the match would have attracted at least 7,000-8,000 people,” one of the organisers said. Since that was not the case, there were only a few hundred spectators.
Ranji matches are also often held on venues that are not accessible to common people, for example the ground of a private establishment like the Roshanara Club in Delhi or the Palam ground, which is located within a cantonment area.
Beyond the Test and ODI centres, there are a lot of smaller cities and towns in India where people don’t get to watch their heroes from close quarters and are ready to spend a day or two at the cricket ground. But the BCCI needs to make them feel a little more welcome.
On top of this is the fact that NEO sports, who broadcast one live match from each round, choose their games more on the basis of “financial reasons” and easy availability of camera units at a venue, than on which game was likely to be most interesting . For example, they last telecast the Saurashtra-Maharashtra match, ignoring more popular ties like those involving Mumbai or UP, in which many current and former India cricketers took part.