By Narayanan Subrahmanian
The new cricket season in India started with a bang. There were matches being played across the length and breadth of the country. All professional players were playing at least one tournament or another. New Zealand A and West Indies A toured India for unofficial Test matches and one-dayers. There was the season opening one-day tournament, the Challenger Trophy, which itself has lost its gloss over the years. Then there was the Duleep Trophy, featuring zonal wise matches to kick off the domestic First-Class season. A lot of discussions have been going around regarding the relevance of the Duleep Trophy in this crowded domestic calendar.
Regardless of that I was excited when the fixtures were announced for the Duleep Trophy. Kochi, in my home state was given the nod to host one semi-final and the final for the tournament. It may be a low profile tournament, but still boasts the presence of some of the top level players trying to stake their claims ahead of a busy season. My idea was to see at least two days of the final match from the ground.
The semi-final match held at Kochi between North Zone and East Zone produced a run fest and it was extended to a reserve day as the first innings were not completed within four days. Rain played spoilsport for most of the match and no play was possible on the fifth day as well. So in a bizarre way, the toss of the coin decided the winner — an exercise that saw Harbhajan Singh’s North Zone team emerge triumphant.
Within three days’ time, the final between North Zone and South Zone was to be played and there were genuine concerns regarding the weather building up to the match. But I was hopeful thinking that two matches in succession won’t be affected by rain in Kochi. This time of the year in Kerala, we don’t get torrential rains. It rains every now and then, but definitely not enough to wash out cricket matches. But sadly, the rain Gods had different ideas, or were they functioning as usual. There were some overnight rains leading up to the final. That was quite common and under normal circumstances the match should have started be a bit delayed in case of a wet outfield. But the umpires confirmed by noon that no play was possible on the first day as they concluded that the outfield was not conducive for competitive cricket.
Second day, the day I planned to watch the match live had arrived. But by then I was somehow exhausted with the uncertainty over the game. A friend from Kochi told me that it was raining the night before the second day too. So going by the trend, it could become another frustrating day, I thought. I decided to cancel the idea of a going to the ground but I was regularly checking the score updates, more accurately the outfield updates. They were pretty gloomy too. But play did begin late afternoon that day with South Zone winning the toss and electing to bat. They finished on 33 for two at the close of play for the day. Sadly, that was to be that for the match.
No more play was possible on the third day as the outfield was dampened further by the overnight rain. By then, I had sort of given up on the match. The only real stat of interest left was the time at which the play would be called off on the remaining days. A 15-minute early start for the fifth day was announced, but by the time, no one really cared. Credit must go to the administrators for not extending the match into a reserve sixth day and saving the players and fans from more frustration as they had suffered enough over the past week. So the match was called off very early on the fifth day and the trophy was shared between the two teams. Game, Set and Match for a future Test venue.
Yes, Kochi has been actively pushing its case for Test status. The Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) thought that these two First-Class matches could pave way to hosting Test matches in the future. But they were ill prepared to say the least. If the sun is beating down and you can’t play cricket, then it shows how deficient the drainage facilities at the ground are. Shashi Tharoor, the Union Minister from Kerala came down hard on KCA saying that they owe an explanation to the fans of the game on this matter. He said via a tweet that the KCA had brought disgrace to the state and that they had benefited from an amount to the tune of Rs 8 crores spent on the drainage works. To this argument, the KCA President TC Mathews, who is now also the National Cricket Academy (NCA) chairman, riposted by saying that no funding was received by the KCA for drainage from the government.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the heart of Kochi has a rich sporting history. But this stadium is not actually owned by the KCA, but by the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA). The stadium was initially constructed as a football stadium, but has hosted eight One-Day International (ODI) matches so far and has produced some enthralling cricket over the years. In early 2013, I was fortunate enough to witness an ODI between India and England played at this venue. It was also the first day-night ODI played at Kochi. People flocked into the ground that day and provided an atmosphere befitting the cricket crazy nation that India is. As far as attendances go, there were reports of over 70,000 people attending that match and if those are true, then the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has left behind the Eden Gardens in Kolkata as the largest cricket stadium in India.
The GCDA has in fact opened an online referendum on its website to assess public opinion on leasing the Nehru Stadium owned by it to the KCA for 30 years. It is one of the preconditions for considering the KCA’s claim to be allotted Test match cricket. Depending on the public opinion, the authority will take a decision on the matter. If the love for the game that the people of Kerala have shown over the years, then the results of the voting could go only way.
Kerala cricket is going through a lot of radical changes. A lot of young players are coming into national recognition. Their domestic performances have been steadily improving all the time and the taste of Test cricket in their own backyard can come at no better time. But before that they have to make sure that the issues with the drainage facilities at the ground are taken care of properly. A farce of the kind happened in the Duleep Trophy cannot be afforded at Test level.
The chance for redemption couldn’t have come any quicker for the KCA as Kochi is scheduled to host the first ODI between India and West Indies to be played on November 21. What makes the game unique is that it will be the first international match India plays after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. If Kochi can come up with a spectacle following the hangover of such a massive occasion, then that could help to go a long way in not only mitigating the damage in reputation as an international venue, but also to push their case as a future Test centre.
(Narayanan Subrahmanian is a software engineer by profession. A boy from the 90s who has grown up watching a lot of cricket. Someone who gets nostalgic about even those dull draws from the past. Someone who is most at home when thinking and talking cricket. Someone who believes cricket is best enjoyed from the ground. Was once considered as a batting maestro by children of age 5, but later found out among the really good ones)