Don't be unfair to paying public

"OUR ORDINARY CITIZEN must stand for hours upon end without comfort or refreshment. Certainly our man is more likely to get a `lathi' on his back than to pour a `lassi' down his throat, " says the author.-T. L. PRABHAKAR

Now that the decks have been cleared, India has a priceless chance to build not just impressive stadiums but a game that treats alike paupers and princes, writes PETER ROEBUCK.

Suddenly Indian cricket is rolling in money. Doubtless the appropriate parties will consider the circumstances that led to the goldrush. Presumably past contracts will be scrutinised for any evidence that malfeasance lay behind a long tail of missed opportunities. As Bob Dylan sang in the swinging sixties "money doesn't talk, it swears."

Others may dwell upon such matters. Our task is to protect the interests of the game and its most ardent and neglected supporter, that most abused of human creations, the common man. Consider his lot in this progressive, gigantic India of 2006. To watch his heroes, he must queue for hours in a gruelling sun.

Upon entering the ground he must fight for a foot of space in a packed stand full of smiling and scorned enthusiasts. Long ago India disdained all notions of a fair share for all, dismissing it as the idle talk of romancers.

Our ordinary citizen, our local version of John Smith, must stand for hours upon end without comfort or refreshment. Water bottles are not allowed because some Alok or Gaurav might throw them upon the field. Food is not allowed lest the decrepit dump that passes for a stand is spoilt by rotting `samosas'. Nor can our voter seek sustenance in stalls offering fizzy drinks and crisps because the stall holder is charging exorbitant prices or else was turned away after refusing to pay the bribe. If our man needs to relieve himself he must risk his health by going into a stinking inferno.

Does it all sound unfair? Or does it have a familiar ring? Any sign of protest and our man will be subjected to a `lathi' charge from the numerous policemen grouped not far away, not so much maintaining law and order as protecting officials from the frustrations of the mob.

Certainly our man is more likely to get a `lathi' on his back than to pour a `lassi' down his throat. Let not India accuse Australians of anything when it treats its own inhabitants with contempt.

Of course it is not so bad in every ground. In some places proud and responsible locals have tried with the sincerity of the committed to build a stadium worthy of a great nation.

Others have been thwarted by a lack of support from the centre. Money has been used as a form of blackmail. Bounties have been disposed upon the co-operative.

Now the time has come for India to build 20 Eden Gardens, and to upgrade the mighty old ground itself till it can house 100,000 spectators in comfort, with no extra tickets printed to accommodate pals and politicians. Until that day arrives India will not deserve the power that its money has brought.

Now that the decks have been cleared, India has a priceless chance to build not just impressive stadiums but a game that treats alike paupers and princes. India has produced some of cricket's most widely admired players. Now is the time for those responsible to show that they, too, are giants of the age.

Fortunately, the performances of the new guard can be easily gauged. As batsmen are judged by figures, so officials can be judged from results. Take a look at the current grounds, in Chennai, Kolkata and elsewhere. Look at them again at the end of the decade. Compare notes.

Unless these celebrated homes of cricket, these witnesses of mighty deeds, have become more welcoming it can safely be concluded, though power has changed hands, everything else remains the same.