Fans make a case for bilateral cricket at non-IPL venues | Cricket – SportsMediaz

It may not add up in commercial terms—Disney Star is left to recover a massive 78.9 crore it pays to air every home international this year in what is a heavy backend payout for their five-year deal with BCCI. Bilateral cricket’s relevance may also be dipping by the day due to the ever-changing cricket canvas.

But fan frenzy on view in the T20I series against South Africa tells another tale. Valuations in bilateral cricket may see some corrections; cricket is a world apart from football where international contests outside mega events are mere friendlies, certainly not in India, the game’s epicentre.

Every match in the series was sold out, partly because many cricket centres have been starved of action due to the pandemic. In the 28 home matches played after Covid before this series, 17 were restricted to three venues—10 in Ahmedabad, four in Kolkata and three in Pune. Most of these matches were played in a cluster by creating bio-bubbles. The 70 league matches in IPL were restricted to Mumbai and Pune.

With the bubble restrictions lifted, international cricket was back criss-crossing India, catering to passionate fans. All matches ran to full houses and excitement was palpable at the venues, especially Cuttack, Visakhapatnam and Rajkot, which get internationals only once in two-three years.

At the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, they threw open the gates to one stand on the eve of the match during pre-match practice. It was packed to the rafters as Rishabh Pant teased fans by offering catches with his powerful swipes. “Some of the local channels did a full-scale coverage of the Indian team arrival. Some camera crews chased the team bus with correspondents stationed at vantage points en route to the team hotel,” said an onlooker.

At Visakhapatnam, the stadium is not centrally located. That did not deter fans from thronging the venue with people assembling from neighbouring districts in buses and trains. ‘Miss you, Dhoni!’ read one poster in the crowd. How could they forget? Vizag is where the former captain had scored his maiden international ton. ‘Miss you, Virat!’ read another. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah were all missing in action. But fans long deprived of cricket in the stadium were in no mood to miss out.

At Rajkot, venue of the fourth T20I, stand-in captain Pant looked out of a big sponsored cut-out of the Indian team as one entered the airport premises. One passed another sponsored billboard of Gujarat Titans captain Hardik Pandya and his team mates Shubman Gill and Lockie Ferguson while exiting the airport and moving towards the city.

The first match in Delhi too was a hit, but that is because Delhi fans haven’t seen any cricket of late. For the series decider in Bengaluru on Sunday, one didn’t feel the buzz for cricket until getting inside a 500-metre radius of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Events such as fan over-crowding at the nearby Church Street are now the preserve of Royal Challengers Bangalore.

It begs the question whether it makes a case for BCCI to change its dated practice of rotation in allocation of bilateral internationals and whether the time has come to pick non-IPL venues for limited-over bilateral cricket. The IPL franchises have effectively created 10 primary home venues and fans will get their annual dose of at least seven games. The anticipation around an international therefore doesn’t remain the same. Visakhapatnam for example, has hosted only 10 internationals since that 2005 match against Pakistan where a 24-year-old Dhoni smashed 148.

“In any case some of the bigger cities get Tests regularly over and above IPL. They will also host the all-important matches when ICC events are held in India,” said a state cricket official. “There is certainly a case for awarding more bilateral matches to Tier-2 cities where the whole city can come together to experience the cricket fever.”

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