Ranji Trophy: Fans pay the price for security lapse

After a man drove a car on the pitch on Friday, the authorities at the Palam ground shut the doors on cricket fans who had turned up to watch the final day’s proceedings.

Delhi's Nitish Rana plays a shot against Uttar Pradesh during the Ranji Trophy match at Airforce Complex Ground Palam on Saturday. No fan was allowed entry into the ground.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

A Test match between India and Pakistan was played `in-camera’ at the Eden Gardens in 1999 following crowd trouble. Fans, not all guilty of indulging in violence the preceding day, were turned away from the gates due to security reasons. There was widespread criticism as the organisers came under fire.

On a smaller scale, the authorities at the Palam ground here on Saturday shut the doors on cricket fans who had turned up to watch the final day’s proceedings in the Ranji Trophy between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The move was a cover up for the lapses by the ground authorities on Friday for allowing a person to drive his car right onto the pitch. No player was harmed but it showed the ground staff in poor light since the area falls under Air Force and is regarded a high security zone.

Reacting to the move, a veteran Board official said, “How can you keep the spectators away? It is just not in the right spirit because the game thrives only on the strength of the fan base.”

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The Board has a friendly policy towards the fans. “They are the biggest stakeholders of the game part from the players and the sponsors. Our initiative should be to attract he fans to watch domestic cricket and this certainly does not send the right signals,” said the top Board official.

The match was shifted to the Palam ground from the Ferozeshah Kotla, which was unable to host it on account of the India-New Zealand T20 match on November 1.

The senior Board official pointed out, “The BCCI had upgraded the ground at the cost of one crore a few years ago. We had provided the authorities with equipment for maintaining the ground. But it is disappointing if the spectators are kept away on the pretext of security.”

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The Board has been encouraging smaller centres to host domestic matches in order to increase its fan base even though there are some established centres, especially Tamil Nadu Cricket Centres, which treats the cricket fans with respect. “We give free contracts to vendors (in `D’ Stand and Terrace Pavilion) to cater to the spectators at very nominal price during domestic matches. You have to respect your fans,” said a senior TNCA official.

Kolkata and Mumbai throw open a couple of stands for spectators to come and watch domestic matches. Gates for domestic matches are free. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium in Dharamshala is part of the local tourism with visitors offered a grandstand view of the venue regardless of a match being in progress.

“The Palam ground, if it continues to keep the spectators away, may lose its status of holding a first class match,” the Board official insisted. On Saturday, the fans watched the proceedings from the peripheral wall of the Palam ground.