Glorious sunshine, no match!

THE SPECTATORS vent their ire after not a ball was bowled in Guwahati.-V. GANESAN

The MOOT POINT at the end of the day was whether the ACA was at fault in not being able to meet the demands of the spectators, who were right in questioning the competence of the officials, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

The violent spectators had been driven out of the arena and ironically the Nehru Stadium was bathed in glorious sunshine. The rain that had haunted the cricket officials for days had done the damage, but now there was not a dark cloud in sight. The match had been abandoned without a ball being bowled and it was the darkest moment for the Assam Cricket Association. It had failed to meet the international standards set for staging a match of this grade and it was not a debut occasion for this north-eastern city. The ACA has staged seven one-dayers successfully, but this one left the officials red-faced.

Rain had rendered the field soggy and "unplayable." That is what the umpires, Rudi Koertzen and A. V. Jayaprakash, said after four inspections and consultations with the two teams. The spectators had waited patiently for the match to begin, having occupied their seats from six in the morning. Assam may not have produced an international cricketer, but the craze for the game is phenomenal. The moot point at the end of the day was whether the ACA was at fault in not being able to meet the demands of the spectators, who were right in questioning the competence of the officials. The ACA had cheated the cricket fans. "If only they had covered the outfield properly we would not have been denied this match," thundered a club cricketer, who also blamed the officials for lacking vision when organising such matches.

It was a well-known fact that rain would be a major threat to sporting activities in Assam during April. So, when the match was allotted to the ACA four months ago, it had all the time to prepare itself adequately. A lack of urgency in dealing with such matters left the ACA in a soup on match day when it made desperate efforts to dry the outfield. The last time when such a challenge confronted the ACA, archaic, but effective methods, were used. Heaters and fans were put into service then.

On this occasion, the ACA hired a chopper that was available only because of the ongoing assembly elections. The fee was a hefty Rs.1 lakh for the hour's services and the pilot began his operations only after the payment had been made in full. He gave a bonus in the shape of a free ride around the stadium for M. S. Dhoni and Irfan Pathan. Only the chopper hovering over the outfield and Pathan and Dhoni making a welcome appearance provided the spectators some cause for cheer.

Once the spectators realised that no play was possible, some of them went berserk, smashing television cameras and burning hoardings. Police watched helplessly for a while before taking action by firing teargas shells. Two policemen were injured and two rioters held as an official of Nimbus, the broadcaster, said the damage to the cameras, including the hawk eye, was Rs. 80 lakhs.

It was shattering for the ACA, but then it had itself to blame. The umpires had taken appropriate action keeping the interest of the cricketers in mind, but the ACA secretary Bikash Baruah countered the decision, claiming the ground conditions were "playable." In the end it was the paying public that suffered even though the ACA announced it was going to repay the amount in full to all ticket holders.

In hindsight the decision to award Guwahati a match at this time of the year looks unwise and ought to lead to a policy in this regard. Only centres with international infrastructure should be awarded matches against visiting teams.

The Board has set certain benchmarks in cricket administration under the new regime of Sharad Pawar and it would do well to extend the paying public its dues, at the same time not ignoring the security it needs to provide the television cameramen and their equipment.

At Guwahati, the camera crew was left helpless with no support coming from the organisers and the police. It was not the first time that crowd trouble had erupted at a cricket venue in India, but here the anger of the spectators was at the failure of the officials, and not the players. The paying public deserves better and the ACA had to discover this the hard way.