A Plebian Argument

This is a rebuttal to a passionate, if somewhat over-the-top criticism of the idea of playing test cricket in a specific few venues in India, and selecting the others for One-Dayers and T20; in the fine blog Bored Cricket Crazy Indians. The disclaimer: I have visited the blog a few times, and have quite liked it, especially the ‘Player Profile’, which is hilarious. This post is aimed at the arguments, not the person behind them.

Dear Sir,

Rebuttal 1: Transformers, Sofia Copolla and Percentage Capacity Utilization:
‘Lost in Translation’ is an excellent movie. ‘Transformers’ is not so much so. Now, let’s hear it from the bean counters.
Here’s the truth. Test cricket is not instant gratification. It is not paisa-vasool in the normal sense of the term. No sporting event that lasts for more than 3 days can be for the entire duration (if you exclude the World Cup Football of course). There are ebbs and flows, moments of great excitement and moments of intense boredom. Indeed, there could be days of intense boredom.
Thus, stadiums will hardly ever be filled to the rafters for entire test matches (while they will be for One-dayers and T20s, you know that if you stick on through the day, you will go home entertained. Or at least have a result, reason enough to celebrate an India win or feel sad for a loss). Test cricket, is a different animal; a form of entertainment that is not based so much on the end result as capturing the moments within the game. Subtle. ‘Lost in Translation’-esque.
Stadiums are hardly ever filled to the rafters in India, nor anywhere else in the world for test matches. But that’s fine, isn’t it? It’s not about the percentage capacity utilization of a stadium that should decide whether the stadium should stage a test match. It’s something a little more subtle than that.
I have nothing against Motera. But Srinath’s 6/21 does not quite have the making of a stadium as much as a standing ovation to Pakistan, the dreaded enemy, after they have vanquished India even after Sachin’s masterpiece. Gavaskar’s 10,000th run does not make a stadium as much as an all-stadium farewell to Asif Iqbal, a minor cricketing figure in the larger scheme of things, but who was taken to heart by a people from another nation. Performances give a stadium its reputation, the fans give a stadium its heritage. Chelsea, for all its wins, will not be Liverpool yet.
Again, it’s a subtle thing. And percentage capacity utilization has nothing to do with it.
(Disclaimer 2: I do not know much about crowd participation in Motera, it might well have been impressive, it certainly has not been highlighted enough to have built a reputation for the stadium. I’ve never seen a game there, you can replace Motera with Mohali or Barabati)

Rebuttal 2: Bharat Bhagya Vidhaata?
There are around 10 major stadiums in India.
Four of them – namely Eden, Chinnaswamy, Chepauk Chidambaram and Wankhede, are in big cities with ideal locations.
The others, as the article suggests, are not. Far away from the heart of the city, with rudimentary transport facilities, they would certainly constitute a bit of a stretch for the casual cricket fan, when he/she knows that there is a good possibility that this would be a rain-curtailed 40-over day with the score progressing by 78 runs for the loss of a wicket. It would not quite be that dreary, why, it wouldn’t be dreary at all for the instant gratification seekers going for a One-dayer, mind you. 40 overs? Great, the One-dayer will be a 20-over thing then! Will they play Yusuf Pathan for Rohit Sharma? Who will open? Will India win? Match on!
But fair enough. Some cities are in a position of advantage in terms of stadium location, over others. What to do with that? Well, dear sir, you can do nothing. We can do nothing.
Know what? It’s not the BCCI who decides where in a city the cricket stadium is built. It is the city’s municipal authority, the political who’s who that take the decision. The BCCI, ahem, does not rule the country yet… but you never know that might change.
And now that a stadium is already made, it is the decision of that municipal authority if they can live with this white elephant and invest tons and tons of money to build another stadium in the heart of the city, such that it can be utilized for five days, every two years, for a test match. The one-dayers and T20s will not be affected, they are fairly paisa-vasool, and the crowds will still flock, be the stadium 20km outside city limits.
Can we do anything about it? Nope.

Rebuttal 3: A working class hero is something to be…
Do you remember, sir, whose comment led to this sudden outpouring of ‘save test cricket via the Eden, Chinnaswamy, Chidambaram and Wankhede’ wailing from the media? Dhoni’s, and he is the antithesis of elitism. He is more small-town than I am (I hail from a smaller town than he does, however). And ask me if I would take your idea against that of this admirable, straight-speaking, working class hero, who is the captain of our Cricket team. Oh sir, you never had a chance, did you?

Un-rebuttal 4: One day is better than five.
Cannot agree more with your stand against 5-day passes. I could only go for the third day of the match. I do not think that there would ever be a moment in my cricket-watching life that will come near the experience. And this is verbatim from a facebook comment.

Perfection, is a rare thing, guys. That day, Sachin was flawless.



4 thoughts on “A Plebian Argument

  1. 1. Just because lazy journalists can’t be bothered to give an informed opinion doesn’t mean they’re right. If anything, it means the exact opposite. But let us for your sake buy your argument. What exactly is the claim to fame of the Mumbai crowd? All it does is heckle players. Chennai has been glorifying itself based on a standing ovation to a Pakistan team. What else? The Eden Gardens crowd is famous for unruly behaviour when things don’t go the way it wants them to. Gee there’s a legacy we need to have. Even Mohali used to be praised as the best stadium in India for a long time even though more than half the stands aren’t sheltered and don’t have seats. Over a period of time one learns the perils of relying on the media for information. The whole “test cricket is different” argument is bullshit. A golf tournament lasts 4 days and draws crowds each of those four days. If ever there was a game that could compete with test cricket in the subtely and stakes it’s golf. A lot of people seem to think coming to the stadium means sitting on your butt to watch 7 hours of cricket when it doesn’t have to be that. It can very well be a family event or a school picnic where kids are allowed to have a game of their own. Indeed, South Africa and New Zealand open their grounds for the public to have a game of cricket during the lunch break. Even if it may not be possible to replicate it here, it’s quite possible to let kids play in the practice areas. The Motera has 3 full-sized cricket grounds OTHER than the stadium. Surely they can open them up to school kids during the match.

    2. There are two things that can be done. Firstly, travel can be made cheaper and more convenient. India isn’t the only country where stadiums aren’t located bang in the city centre. Secondly, the area around the stadium can be developed so that people have other things to do before, during or after the day’s play.

    3. Dhoni is a cricketer and not an administrator. I wouldn’t expect him to talk about ways to bring people to the stadium because it’s really not his job. This is the job of administrators. Sadly all of them seem to think having a stadium should be enough to bring people to the game and they’re anyway happy because gate receipts when looked at in isolation don’t contribute much to the bottom line.

  2. Mahek: thanks for the comment, however, I will highlight a few aspects that scream out’ au contraire’.

    1. This was not a comment against Motera, let us not go the Motera vs the rest of India debate, I have never visited a test match in Motera, so I would not know as much as you would. However, you cannot say that Chennai’s reputation is based on one standing ovation of the Pakistani team, and at the same breath, say that the Eden crowd is famous for unruly behavior, that entire hypothesis being based on one incident as well. Chepauk Chidambaram’s (and the Eden’s) reputation is based on years of support to test cricket. Chepauk is not supremely raucous if compared to a few other stadiums, yet it is unfailingly sporting, that’s the character of the stadium, and that character is defined by crowd behavior. Chinnaswamy is similar to Chidambaram, if slightly more animated. Eden is all emotion and passion; Wankhede is similar to an Australian ground in the way it heckles everyone, be it a player of the opposition or even one from home. Hell, of all Indian grounds, the Wankhede crowd was the first to heckle Sachin during his bad patch. What I am trying to say is that each of these stadiums has a character of its own, something which is missing in other Indian stadiums. Oh, of course the Kotla has a character of its own too. That of absolute indifference.

    2. As far as I know, Mohali was praised as the stadium with the best pitch. That was a bit of an eyewash, Mr Bindra is an influential man. Would anyone compete that Eden Gardens is the best stadium in India? The history, the crowds, the look and feel of the ground, the feel of an arena of gladiators, the passion, the noise… the Eden is an experience. I dropped school to watch an Azhar innings there. Indelible impression. And may I add, I was there in the stadium for that one major act of crowd violence, Semi finals of the world cup. And Pepsi, the major sponsor was the reason for that crowd incident.

    3. On the golf example: Question 1. What is the average crowd in a golf match? Question 2. Do you watch golf? Have you ever gone to a course to watch a golf match? Do you realize that if you and I go to a tournament, we can choose to watch different matches altogether? Question3. Do you realize that the TV coverage of golf and actually watching the match from a course are two completely different experiences? Question 4. Do you realize that golf is a niche sport targeted for a specific audience (or at least it was before the Tiger phenomenon)? While cricket is not a niche sport in India, it is THE sport? And therefore, the scale we are speaking about is completely different? Question 5. Do you realize that there is only one version of golf (and one can choose to take it or leave it) while cricket has three different versions, and one can say that each of them cater to a different type of crowd mentality? Question 6. Do you realize that in golf, you do not follow a team but a player? In golf, if you choose, you can follow your favourite player right through all the four days at the links, so your personal entertainment for all those days, is guaranteed. In cricket, not so.
    If there would only have been test cricket (and no T50 or T20), then the question could still willly-nilly have been valid. Not in this case.

    4. We cannot let kids play in the ground. Concern 1. Crowd. There will be thousands and thousands of kids who will come to play. Who will you let play, and who will you send away? Concern 2. Neither South Africa nor New Zealand have cricket as their major sport, the stadiums are built in a different manner, and the idea is feasible there. Concern 3. Security . And let me suggest something here that the BCCI can do. They can make the match in event. Have each stadium have a kind of a cricket museum, and the spectators can walk around the museum during the breaks and even during the match.

    5. Travel arrangements. Development of the area around the stadium. – Who will do all that? The BCCI? You remember I mentioned that these things are in the hands of the local city authorities and political honchos, not the BCCI, all that the BCCI can do is allocate matches. At the risk of sounding repetitive (and I feel a little dirty supporting the BCCI here), the BCCI does not rule India yet, only the allocation of matches to stadiums.

    6. Dhoni is the captain of the Indian Cricket team. We are followers of the game. He, the team, and us, we have the greatest stakes involved here. Dhoni mentioned what he felt, he was a fan once, and is the biggest and most important of the voices that we have. And as I mentioned, it was his idea which got this idea to some to focus. And he is anything but elitist. And don’t forget, he did not demand that the Mecon or the Keenan should be having more matches. And don’t forget, there were enough whispers in the general public and in the blogosphere / tweetosphere about this point, then Dhoni brought in in the open, and only then did the media take it up.

    7. Last but not least. Test cricket, to survive, would have to embrace its subtlety. On the entertainment sweepstakes, it does not stand up to T20 or T50. And if the subtlety of test cricket is bullshit, then we might as well get rid of it.

    • 1. How many of these grounds have you been to for a test? If you haven’t been to all you can’t really compare and are merely relying on what the media tells you.

      2. It wasn’t just for the pitch. The commentators used to talk up the facilities and what not. This when anyone with functioning eyes could see seatless uncovered bleachers covering half the stadium. The Eden Gardens in its previous avatar wasn’t the best stadium in the country. Best venue maybe, but definitely not the best stadium.

      3. I do follow golf and have worked on some tournaments as well. Watching it at the course is actually much worse than watching it on television, yet people do turn up in huge numbers (Not in India but definitely in the West). You said it is or used to be a niche sport while cricket isn’t. All the more reason to expect bigger crowds in cricket. You’re also wrong about just one version of golf. There’s strokeplay and matchplay. There’s also skins golf. Oh and the most prestigious golf tournament is a team event.

      4. Crowd? And I thought the whole problem was we DON’T get a big enough crowd! Besides I mentioned an alternative in which kids can play not in the stadium but around it. What does cricket not being the biggest sport in SA or NZ have to do with it? Or the kind of grounds they have? Surely you’re not suggesting that it’s impossible for fans to get onto the field at Indian grounds.

      5. Travel arrangements and getting schools to organise picnics is something state associations can very well do, especially as most of them are run by politicians. Infact there is a precedent here. There were special buses to D Y Patil during the 2008 IPL. I also remember something similar in Delhi a few years ago when people were asked to park in certain places from which they would come to the Kotla by special buses. Developing the area is upto the city but here again it’s in the benefit of the city to do it, especially in cities which host IPL matches. The BCCI can do a lot more than just allocating matches to venues. If that’s their only job then you and I can do it too.

      6. The media has been harping on this issue long before Dhoni’s statement after the Bangalore test. The point I was making was Dhoni is not in a position to think of how to draw crowds to test matches. His skill lies in playing cricket and not in administration (so far).

      7. Let’s not get carried away with this subtlety business. Sure it’s not as much in your face as T20 but it’s also not something new to us. It’s been around for ages and there is still a big enough following that you can draw 30,000 a day in most places. Cities like Delhi, Kanpur and Ahmedabad are pretty big. Nagpur and Mohali are smaller and location is a bigger problem in these two places than the others, but I would still like to see the BCCI make an effort to draw crowds. If it still doesn’t work you can withdraw the test status of any venue and I’ll be fine with it. But I’m not okay with doing it without pushing the board to do something about it.

      • Mahek, sorry you lost me at the first line. That’s the kind of dick-sizing (pardon the language) I do not tolerate.
        Five (four for tests, six including Ranjis, seven including Iranis). And it should not matter. It’s via the media that we apperciate Bradman and Hammond and Trumper.
        I thought I would rebut further, but it’s not worth it, after that first line. Embarrassing, frankly.

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