I solved a mystery yesterday. In a Test that could well see Sachin Tendulkar hit his 100th international century, only 8,000 people turned up on a Sunday to a ground that holds 50,000.
Of course such turnouts are not uncommon at marginal grounds where the BCCI insists on hosting Test matches, but this was the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, where cricket has been played since 1883 and which staged its first test in 1948. Yet, what we saw yesterday were empty seats.
Sunday began as a glorious day in Delhi, with no sign of the infamous Delhi smog and the first hint of winter in the air. While reading the previews of the Test over morning coffee, my wife and I agreed that it was a perfect day to watch some cricket. The plan was to get comfortable seats in a stand that serves good food and drink, so we could read the newspaper and chat, with occasional cricket interruptions. Hopefully nothing too exciting would happen in the game to affect our plan.
So we set off early for the 90 minute drive to the stadium. There were more policemen than spectators outside the stadium, and we played a little game of pointing out the paunchiest among them (we found at least a dozen officers of Gatting-esque proportions). When we politely asked where we could park, we were asked if we have “parking accreditation”. Since we were unfamiliar with the term, we were pointed to a location approximately 5km away, where a “park and ride” service was available.
20 minutes and much Google-Maps-fiddling later, we were parked and ready to ride. The organisers unfortunately were unclear about the “ride” part of the arrangement – we were expected to find our own rides back to the stadium, a fact that was complicated by the traffic restrictions around the parking area. But the day was still good for walking and sharing rickshaws with strangers and we had missed only an hour of play when we reached the stadium (again).
On reaching the ticket window, we were informed that the ticket window was closed because it was Sunday.
Just reflect on that. It is the first day of the only Test match you will host this year. The ground is not even one-fifth full. Yet you don’t sell tickets because it is Sunday.
The policemen (who were genuinely polite and helpful for a change) told us that tickets were also available at major banks and at least one of those banks worked on Sundays. They even gave us directions to the nearest branch, about 3km away. Of course the traffic restrictions were still in place, so again we walked. There was one person selling tickets there and at least 200 people in line. Still, we had come so far so we decided to wait.
At the counter they told us we could buy day-tickets for the concrete bleachers (exposed to the sun and approximately at square leg), but for any other stand they were selling only 5-day tickets. It was as if the DDCA (Delhi and Districts Cricket Association) deliberately wanted to keep the turnout low. We only wanted to watch the game on Sunday, but after much deliberation decided to buy tickets for all the five days because, well, we had come too far to back out now.
So triumphantly we walked to the stadium for the third time since the morning. By this time the game was midway through the second session. We were hungry and dehydrated and the missus was growing irritated, but hey we at least had tickets. Unseen treats awaited us on the other side of the security barrier.
Then the metal detector beeped. Our new tablet computer was the problem. According to the fine print behind the ticket, you are allowed to take phones and digital cameras to the ground, but there was no mention of tablets. I gave a full technology demo of my tablet, sent a text message from it (to prove it was a phone) and took a picture (to prove it was a camera). But it fell somewhere in the twilight zone of technology products and the final decision was no.
We had a choice – we could go back to our car (which was parked 5km away), keep the tablet there, walk back and catch maybe 90 minutes of play. Or we could cut our losses and run. We ran. We had spent half a day and several thousand rupees already, and not even the enticing prospect of watching part of Umesh Yadav’s Test debut could bring us back to the stadium.
I guess we were insufficiently committed to Test cricket. With fans like these, no wonder Test cricket is dying in the subcontinent.