Virat Kohli scored his seventh double-century on the second day of the Pune Test against South Africa. Also, it was the highest score ever by an Indian captain. However, when he raised his bat, the number of people in the ground were barely more than that in a Durga Pooja pandal in Kolkata or in a Ganesh Chathurthi visarjan in Mumbai.
The common hypothesis is that the longest format of the game is dying and doesn’t appeal to the crowd. While it is true that the shorter formats in India still attract the fans to the stadium, Test match following in India isn't so bad.
Take a look at the number of tweets on the ongoing Test match or the television viewership and the above postulation about less interest in Tests seems shaky. Then what is the reason that a cricket crazy nation as ours couldn’t gather enough crowd for the match?
Consumers have got a step-child treatment
Well, a lot has already been said and written about the facilities or rather the lack of it for the spectators at the Indian stadiums. And there isn’t an iota of doubt about this. While the administrators have provided word-class provisions for the players, sadly the consumers have got a step-child treatment.
Whatever be the reason behind it, the consumers of the game in India haven’t been looked after well by its custodians. So, what is the solution?
There is a line of thought that Test match should be limited to traditional venues like Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata among others. Also, India should have a well-defined domestic Test calendar like Australia, South Africa or England. While all this might solve some part of the problem if implemented, but I am not sure if it will ensure a good crowd presence.
Put the onus on associations
In my opinion, the onus has to be put on the association organizing the match. It might sound a bit extreme, but if a fine is levied on the association when the crowd presence is less than a pre-decided figure, then it might work. Similar to how the associations are wary of producing a poor pitch for the fear of getting a negative point from the ICC and as a result, losing the chance to host a match in the future, a below-par crowd should also attract penalty points.
This will ensure that the state association organizing the match will put in that extra effort to woe the crowd. I am not telling that they don’t put in any effort, but clearly, there is a need for more. It is like when you are organizing an event and wanting a decent volume of guest presence.
Indian cricket fans aren't as demanding
At the end of the day, an Indian fan wants the stadium to be approachable in terms of commute, reasonable pricing of tickets and food, provision of drinking water, a shade to sit under and clean toilets. Can’t this much be given to the fans?
It is a credit to the loyal fans who turn up in stadiums despite all the hurdles. Take the case of the fan group - North Stand Gang Wankhede, a union of cricket lovers from the city of Mumbai. They traveled from Mumbai to Pune to witness this match as there wasn’t a Test planned in India’s commercial capital this year.
“At the end of the day if two people are sitting in a ground for a Test match, then that’s also not cricket”
The presence of a large crowd does add up to the atmosphere and any cricketer or administrator for that matter will agree to this. On this, the great Kapil Dev had once said, “At the end of the day if two people are sitting in a ground for a Test match, then that’s also not cricket. Cricket or any sports, even if you play marbles or fly kite, if 100,000 people are watching then it is a game.”
I hope some actions are taken soon before even the most loyal fan also turns away from the stadium. Because if that happens, it would spell doomsday for Indian cricket.
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