The entry to the DRIEMS gate is marked by a standee announces the ongoing Vijay Hazare cricket tournament. A premier limited overs tournament named after a premier batsman who once scored a century in each innings of a Test (116 and 145) against Don Bradman’s Australian team at Adelaide in 1948.
Hazare may not appeal much to this generation of cricket followers who have been bred on the limited overs format. It was thus hardly surprising when a student of this educational institution, located 20 km out of Cuttack, wanted to know the significance of the Vijay Hazare tournament.
“Any IPL player here?,” she asked innocently.
“Only a few.”
She walked away with disappointment so evident on her face. This is the new cricket fan. Not interested in cricket other than the IPL.
Domestic cricket in India is an antithesis on an ODI or an IPL match. Even the domestic T20 matches are played in front of near-empty venues. “It hurts,” said a regular on the domestic circuit.
It was been a downtrend for domestic cricket for sometime unless the games travel to small centres where the crowds turn out in a big way. But then the big players avoid travelling to small centres for want of decent playing conditions.
“Accommodation is the main issue at small centres,” rued a star player. Well, his first few years were spent playing at small centres only.
Packed venue for a domestic match has been the sole domain of the Holkar Stadium in Indore. “Citizens of Indore have genuine passion to watch cricket and cricketers. We generally have decent turn out at domestic matches and roaring response for the big international matches,” said former National selector Sanjay Jagdale.
Speaking of small centres and cricket in old times when spectators would throng the venues one is reminded of the rousing reception at the Bhilwara Station to receive the North Zone team for the Duleep Trophy tournament.
More than 1000 fans greeted the North Zone team which had, among others, Ajay Sharma, Vikram Rathour, Vijay Yadav, Bhupinder Singh and Atul Wassan. There was also no Anti Corruption officer standing as barricade between the players and their fans at the stadium.
As Jagdale noted, “Today there is too much of cricket in one place (metro venues). You have Tests, ODIs, T20s. People get tired if there is too much of something. In Indore, we have cricket culture and we also coordinate with local media to create awareness.
“We also have volunteers who work tirelessly even for a domestic match. We give importance to fans and give him a good package – produce good pitches and outfield. Give same facilities for domestic and international engagements.”
Access to international cricket on television has also kept the fans away from domestic competitions. The administrators would have to introduce innovative attractions for the domestic fans. “Interaction with players at the end of the day and cricket goodies as prizes through lottery can be a way forward,” suggested a veteran cricket fan.
The focus on going through the domestic cricket at hectic pace before the IPL is an issue with the players. “Look at the scheduling of matches, the hectic travel, no time for recovering from injuries. The fatigue factor does not concern the administrators, does it? Why should I punish my body when the cricket is not appealing? Plus there is none to watch,” lamented a journeyman cricketer.
Not just spectators. Even the National selectors have skipped this leg of tournament here. On the other hand, the players are obviously preserving their energy and best for the IPL starting next month.
Domestic cricket holds little interest for them since performance here is unlikely to appeal to the National selectors.
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