A social media campaign opposing the decision to host an ODI between India and West Indies in Kochi has resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s intervention and an assurance from Vinod Rai, the chief of Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, to review the decision.
Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, a venue that has routinely hosted international cricket matches, is scheduled to stage the ODI on November 1. However, since the stadium is also used for football, there are fears that such a move would severely damage the playing surface, which was relaid at a cost of Rs 2.55 crore for the under-17 football World Cup last year. After the renovation, the quality of Kochi’s turf has been regarded as ‘world class’.
The Indian Super League season is expected to start in October, which means there won’t be sufficient time to re-lay the pitch and bring it to the same standard. Instead, the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) has been urged to conduct the match in Thiruvanthapuram, which has a newly-constructed cricket-only facility. The KCA, so far, has resisted any such suggestions. The social media debate was stoked on Monday by Kerala Blasters Fan Club, who raised apprehension that the football field would take a beating if the centre square was dug up to lay cricket pitches. “We are not against cricket but if Kerala has another stadium at Thiruvanthapuram, then the match can be held there. Both cricket and football require different fields and if Kochi has got a world standard turf, efforts should be made to restore it. We will approach the High Court or Supreme Court if the football field is dug up,” said Somu Joseph, a member of the Manjapadda Kerala Blasters Fan club.
Javier Ceppi, the director of the U-17 World Cup Local Organising Committee, allayed fears that the turf would be damaged if a cricket match was played on it, insisting that such a scenario was considered when re-laying the turf. “Renovation on the ground was done taking into consideration that JNI is a multi-purpose stadium and that cricket should be played on it afterwards. There should not be a problem with installing a wicket and then reconverting the ground back to football,” Ceppi tweeted.
But the general concern was over how diligently will the ‘reconversion’ take place under the watch of KCA and other local authorities. Shashi Tharoor, an MP from Thiruvananthapuram, legendary India striker IM Vijayan and current international CK Vineeth have all opposed the move and have received support from Kerala Blasters’ international players.
On Tuesday, Tendulkar, a co-owner of Blasters, waded into the controversy. “Worried about the potential damage to the FIFA approved World class Football turf in Kochi. Urge the KCA to take the right decision where cricket (Thiruvananthapuram) and Football (Kochi) can happily coexist… Urged Shri Vinod Rai who has promised to look into the matter. Hoping that neither the cricket nor the football fans are disappointed,” Tendulkar tweeted.
KCA vice-president Abdul Rahman, however, said it was Tendulkar’s ‘personal view’. “The stadium has hosted cricket and football matches in the past. We had a meeting earlier with Greater Cochin Development Authority and told them about our decision to hold the cricket match here. Both sports can be played together,” he said.