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HindustanTimes Sun,31 Aug 2014

Cricket

Blame BCCI for lack of interest in domestic ties
Amrit Mathur, Hindustan Times
March 08, 2014
First Published: 00:32 IST(8/3/2014)
Last Updated: 00:42 IST(8/3/2014)

There was no buzz around the Vijay Hazare in Delhi. At Jamia, the stands were empty and matches at Kotla looked no different from a dull league game featuring Diamond Club and Young Guns.

Such disinterest is sad considering serious cricket was being played. On view were established stars (Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra), promising youngsters (Unmukt Chand, Manan Vohra, Mandeep Singh and Gurkeerat Singh) and IPL tigers (Rishi Dhawan, Parvez Rasool, Rajat Bhatia and Mohit Sharma).

This lack of crowds only highlights our fascination for top quality international contests --- people have an appetite for blockbuster events but anything less is unexciting, hence rejected.

But this view is not entirely correct. One reason matches were shunned was they were not promoted, nobody knew they were being played in Delhi. There was no effort to inform, let alone involve fans about the schedule, venue, timings and access.

Which is surprising, as the BCCI communicates effectively during the IPL. In that tournament Indian players are most sought after at promotion events and other public appearances. If Vijay Hazare games were aggressively advertised and 'meet and greets', coaching clinics, organised interactions were structured as in the IPL, especially with school kids, the response would be positive.

I was witness to an incident in the mid 90s when Imran Khan (visiting Lord's for a meeting) was told politely but firmly to step off the grass. This was in January, three months before the cricket season! That has changed. Lord's has now opened up and hundreds of kids were allowed to play, around the main square, during the lunch break of the last Ashes Test.

As part of a 'community engagement' programme, Lord's has also tried to reach out to residents in the neighbourhood.

Australia too supports an elaborate programme to connect with the community. The annual financial grant from Cricket Australia to its units takes note of effort towards grassroots development and community engagement.

In India, attracting talent into cricket or getting kids to watch Vijay Hazare games is not a difficult task. But for that, cricket has to become more spectator-friendly, systems need to be put in place and the mindset changed.

The writer is advisor, sports ministry


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