How to turn fans away from Test cricket? Leave them out to bake in sun, MCA style

Devendra Pandey
With no covered stands at the MCA Stadium in Pune, spectators struggled to shelter themselves from the harsh sun. (Express photo by Devendra Pandey)

Bhushan Sahu couldn’t find a place to shelter his family from the harsh sun at the MCA Stadium on Thursday. His family and a few others searched in vain for shaded spots before eventually hiding by the side of a concrete wall of stairs that led up to the commentators box.

Watching a game of cricket at the Pune stadium can, sometimes, feel like a punishment. Not only is the venue far away from the city but it also doesn’t provide any cover in the stand, and the paying public is left baking in the open sun. Sahu said he paid a thousand rupees for a north-stand ticket but was startled to see there were no covered stands. It was his first time at the ground and he left saying that he won’t be coming back anytime soon.

“At least give me a roof, a place where there is shade, then I will bring my kid again," he said.

A simple umbrella would do the trick, or at least make the experience more bearable, but it’s not allowed inside the stadium. A fan, Namdev Patil, tried to bring one in but was asked to keep it out.

“There is no roof, I don't want myself to be roasted in this heat. At least an umbrella should be allowed, na? Going back also now is not easy," he says. A mother could be seen trying to cover her young child with her dupatta.

At a time when cricketing bodies all around the world are devising ways to bring people back to Test cricket, the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA), in partnership with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), seems to be almost alienating the paying public.

More than 4,000 people turned up for the game to watch Mayank Agarwal’s hundred and an unbeaten fifty from Virat Kohli, but their experience was worsened by temperatures that hovered above 30 degrees, with high humidity and direct exposure further compounding their misery.

Heat wasn’t the only inconvenience faced by the people. Reaching the venue is a big task in itself — the dearth of public transport to the ground means unless you have a personal vehicle, it can get tough. Of course, parking spaces aren’t easy to find and one will have to be ready to walk a kilometre at least — not advisable to kids, elderly, or anyone with medical issues in the heat.

The Maharashtra Cricket Association's international cricket stadium has been in the news for wrong reasons since the time their new structure came up. A dispute with Sahara and the MCA landed the association in serious debt. The banks have sent a notice to the MCA for non-payment of a Rs 69.53 crore loan they had taken.

The impasse over the Lodha Committee recommendations means the MCA had to wait for early subsidy given to state associations for the last three years. That, however, can’t be used as a justification to deny fans basic amenities.

On Thursday, the MCA had invited schoolkids to watch the cricket, but they too were made to swelter in the heat for the seven-hour duration.

The weather gods relented in the last session as the wind picked up and a cloud cover hung over the ground to provide some comfort to the people.