By Suneer Chowdhary
Ten days into the 2011 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the question that is often bounced around is about the public response to the championship. Almost 20 million fans watched the opening ceremony followed by the first game on their televisions sets.
But the story is quite different since then. Mumbai Indians will ensure full houses, thanks to the magnetic presence of Sachin Tendulkar. The Mumbai Indians also have some other colourful characters like Harbhajan Singh, Andrew Symonds and, of course, Laisth Malinga. The same crowd which had once called Symonds uncharitable names will look to back him and Harbhajan in their new avataar as Mumbai Indian stable mates.
Chennai Super Kings (CSK), led by World Cup-winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, will also draw capacity crowds. Dhoni is revered nationwide, has seen popularity skyrocket and more importantly, has become Chennai’s favourite cricketing son.
The Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur is otherwise cricket-deprived and it is no surprise that it fills up well on most occasions. However, those covering the games there from the Press Box tell me that there are a few stands that fail to fill up. Spectator interest also depends on the opposition Rajasthan Royals are up against.
The crowds at Kolkata are unforgiving when it comes to any unpalatable decision against Sourav Ganguly. The otherwise cricket crazy Kolkatans have largely stayed away from the KKR games as their way of alienating the Shah Rukh Khan-onwed franchise. Shah Rukh Khan was quick to dedicate their first win in the tournament to Ganguly and there was an improvement in the crowds for the Rajasthan game, but it was far from being full despite being a Sunday.
Delhi has passionate fans, but the hardships involved for an average Delhite to get into the stadium have left most of them preferring to watch it from home. Cost is another factor. On paper, the lowest priced ticket is Rs 650, but I have heard of many complaining that it is difficult to procure them.
For inexplicable reasons, the cricketing passion in Mohali seems to be far lesser than most other venues in the country. Not only the IPL, but Test matches too go as empty as most Ranji games would and attendances in ODIs are only marginally better. The star value of Priety Zinta’s presence can help, but not much.
Bangalore undoubtedly has the passion, but whether that passion would mean filling up the stadium when Royal Challengers play is the question. Especially if the side continues to perform in the manner they do and without the presence of too many local players (Mayank Agarwal was the only one in the last game)
Pune is not even playing at home. Half the stadium at the DY Patil seems to be filled with the Sahara entourage. Expecting cricket fans from Navi Mumbai to adopt Pune as their home team would be akin to asking Manchester City fans to follow Manchester United as their home club!
The Rajiv Gandhi Stadium is quite far from Hyderabad and that could be a factor in cricket enthusiasts not coming in large numbers.
I have great hopes from the Nehru Stadium in Kochi. Their gaudy uniform aside, the Tuskers have a decent team. And their win over Mumbai Indians seems to have given the side a lot to cheer about as well. If they can get a couple of wins under their belt, spectators should flock into the ground.
(Suneer is a Mumbai-based cricket writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tweets here: @suneerchowdhary)
Pictures © AFP