Absent Test fans set alarm bells ringing
Empty seats at Test between India and Aus have alarmed cricket's administrators, who were already worried that the runaway success of T 20 could spell doom for the classic, five-day game.cricket Updated: Oct 24, 2008 10:26 IST
Empty seats at last weekend's test between India and Australia have alarmed cricket's administrators, who were already worried that the runaway success of Twenty20 could spell doom for the classic, five-day game.
"All of us were concerned when we came here and saw the lack of spectators," said International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Haroon Lorgat, who was in Mohali. "We want to promote and protect this form of the game and we are looking at it very seriously."
Organisers in Mohali brought in bus loads of schoolchildren to fill the stands after the second test began last on Friday with barely a hundred fans scattered around the ground.
There was little noise when India won the toss and opted to bat and the volume swelled only slightly when Sachin Tendulkar overtook West Indian Brian Lara as the highest test-run scorer.
The third test, in New Delhi, starts next on Wednesday, a day after Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival, and officials fear fans may stay away again.
The crushing nature of India's second-test defeat of Australia, by a record 320 runs, and security fears following a series of blasts in the Indian capital last month could also dampen enthusiasm for the test, they feel.
"We get evidence of interest in test matches from attendance of spectators at the ground," said Lorgat. "Bangalore (the first test venue) had a great crowd but we are certainly disappointed by the crowd numbers in Mohali."
The same Mohali stadium had attracted full houses when it held Indian Twenty20 franchise league games earlier this year, with fans regarding the three-hour contests as a perfect family outing.
Senior cricket official Inderjit Bindra, an advisor to the ICC, said stadium facilities needed to be urgently improved to keep Indian fans interested in tests.
Most venues have poor facilities. The absence of covered stands means fans are forced to sit in the baking sun and overflowing toilets are another huge problem.
"The television ratings are very high but it is essential to have people at the ground," Bindra, head of the local Punjab Cricket Association, told reporters.
"We have to make our grounds spectator-friendly. We've been short-changing the public so far, they will start short-changing us unless we improve.
"It is a challenge we must accept and take it very seriously."
Tendulkar was magnanimous when asked about the poor crowd after his record.
"It is not the quantity but the quality that is important," he said. "I got a fantastic reception and no regrets. I appreciate every applause which came my way whole-heartedly."
The ICC has discussed ways of retaining test cricket's primacy since the Twenty20 explosion followed last year's World Cup win by India.
Twenty20 has also raised scheduling issues for bilateral cricket with doubts lingering over Sri Lanka's tour of England in April-May next year because many of the players want to head to the lucrative Indian league which will be staged around the same time.
The ICC restricts the number of Twenty20 internationals teams can play on bilateral tours but national boards feel the heat from private parties keen to tap into the format's commercial value.
Indian batsman Saurav Ganguly was confident though that test cricket would never lose its lustre for the players.
"You will be remembered by what you have done in test matches," he said. "First tests and then one-day cricket.
"When you talk about great players you talk about a Sunil Gavaskar, a Steve Waugh, a Tendulkar, a Lara or a Ricky Ponting. It is just because of their performances in test matches. Some of them don't even play Twenty20 cricket."
First Published: Oct 24, 2008 10:10 IST