2006 to 2016: How cricket, and the audience, has changed at Kotla

With so much cricket, and plenty of Indian Premier League, international stars don't excite spectators anymore.

Written by Sahil Malhotra | New Delhi | Published:September 16, 2016 3:59 pm
New Zealand vs Mumbai, Mumbai vs New Zealand, Mumbai vs New Zealand warm-up game, Kotla, Kotla Stadium, New Delhi, Cricket India, India cricket, Cricket news, Cricket Feroz Shah Kotla stadium with an improved stands, plenty of barricades, more policemen. (Source: Express Photo)

A little over 10 years ago, a balmy March afternoon in New Delhi, a younger me made my way into the Feroz Shah Kota in New Delhi. It was Kotla of the old. The Kotla before the IPL frenzy gripped one of the busiest junctions in the capital. The Kotla which didn’t have more barricades than spectators. The Kotla which had spectators.

It wasn’t an international fixture I was headed to. But a practice session. A practice session of the England cricket team before they locked horns with India in the first ODI of the seven-match series.

For enthusiasts like yours truly, practice sessions were the best chance to get up close with your cricketing heroes. Not only Indian players, but visiting teams too. With a Yashica camera neatly tucked on my waist belt, I entered the venue, made my way past bushy paths and reached the net area. I spotted a lanky Steve Harmison from a distance and was thrilled seeing Kevin Pietersen in person. Pietersen had become the latest trendsetter, even in this part of the world, with his constantly changing hairstyles.

After sitting impatiently for a couple of hours, the wait ended when the players packed their bags before starting their walk back to the dressing room. Brimmed with excitement, in a flash I took out the camera, and dumbly enough, kept the flash on in broad daylight.

Harmison, James Anderson and finally Pietersen all happily obliged. I went back to school the next working day with pictures to show off. Times were different back then.

Cut to present. It’s the Feroz Shah Kotla again. An improved Kotla. Plenty of barricades, more policemen than barricades and not even a handful of spectators. New Zealand’s team makes its way to the stadium, dodging past the barricades and the policemen. Unlike the March of 2006, the September of 2016 has no waving hands to greet a visiting team. Times have certainly changed.

With so much cricket, and plenty of Indian Premier League, international stars don’t excite spectators anymore. They get ample opportunities to get a glimpse, so who cares about a warm-up game? Even if the entry is free.

It just wasn’t the Kiwis who were about to take field at Kotla for the next three days but a Mumbai unit with India player Rohit Sharma in the squad. Playing in front of empty stands is not something Rohit would be used to now, but that’s the sad reality for games like these, even at historic Test venues like Kotla.

Clearly outnumbering the spectators at the start of day’s play, officials and support staff got the new photograph – a selfie – with their hero. Rohit, sporting a white hat and Mumbai’s training gear, obliged and put a smile on their face.

The coin went up for the toss, Mumbai elected to field, out came the New Zealand openers Martin Guptill and Tom Latham but the spectators weren’t there. One hour of cricket in front of empty stands, and a few people came and occupied the front row of the West Stand – closest to the dressing room’s balconies.

They were glued to the railing before policemen swung into action and asked them to occupy the vacant seats. They agreed before going into the shade and finally exiting the stadium. Yes, it wasn’t a high-profile match,but international players, IPL players were in action. Could the association or board have done anything?

Free entry is all they could do and the lineup of barricades advertise the match in the NCR much before it begins. Overdose of cricket is definitely taking the spectator element away from the game. It’s not only with the warm-up games like these, but also with the Test matches across the country.

As the day approached the end, few more came, sat and left. None waited, for they know there’s a ODI, between India and New Zealand, taking place at the same venue on October 20. Who cares, about a warm-up game?