Kieron Pollard looked at his marauding best at the nets, as West Indies had an optional training session at the Eden Gardens on Friday. Those who turned up at the ground were the team’s new arrivals, the T20 specialists.
Usually, during the practice days in the lead-up to an international fixture at Eden, fans magnify the noise level outside the stadium. They gather to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars. Mobile phone cameras go into overdrive. Today, the whole atmosphere was unusually quiet, so much so that after the practice session, when Pollard came and stood in front of the stadium gate, hardly anybody noticed.
West Indies are the defending World T20 champions, but the first T20 international here on Sunday could well be a damp squib, turnout-wise. According to a Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) insider, the state association is struggling to distribute even the free tickets for this game.
“We have 25,000-odd members; life members, associate members and annual members combined. So far, only a little over 8,000 members have collected their tickets. It won’t be a packed house,” said the CAB functionary.
The CAB has 15,000 free tickets for this game, membership and complimentary passes combined. The quota is yet to be exhausted. As for priced tickets, two days before the T20 series opener, still more than 12,000 tickets are available. “One doesn’t see a turnout of more than 40,000 even if ticket sales pick up the pace over the next two days,” said the CAB functionary. Eden Gardens has a capacity of a little over 66,000.
Ahead of the limited-overs leg of the West Indies’s ongoing tour of India, complimentary passes became a serious bone contention between the Committee of Administrators (CoA) and the staging centres. The state associations had stuck to their guns that they couldn’t restrict their quota of complimentary tickets to just 10 per cent of the total seating capacity of the stadium as per the new BCCI constitution. “…all sponsor and other free allotments shall in no event being more than 10% of the entire seating capacity,” says the Rule 37(8) of the new BCCI constitution. But the host associations put their foot down. The second ODI moved to Vizag from Indore after the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association declined to host the game over the complimentary passes row.
Then, CAB president Sourav Ganguly told this paper about not “compromising” on the distribution of complimentary tickets for the T20 opener. The CoA accordingly decided to reduce the BCCI’s share of complimentary tickets to half – from 1,200 to 604. The Committee also excluded membership tickets from the complimentary passes bracket. But as things stand now, there appears to be hardly any takers for the Sunday’s match.
A CAB member blamed it on the BCCI/selection committee for omitting the two biggest stars from the Indian T20 squad. “The CAB is getting this match on rotation. At the same time, the BCCI is not giving us a full-strength Indian side. Kohli and Dhoni are the game’s box office. So the BCCI needs to decide if this series, against the world champions, is important or not. Also, this game is happening in the middle of the festive season, when the purchasing power of people is not that much. And the Indian team is shorn of stardust,” he said.
There’s another school of thought that the T20 internationals in India should follow the IPL with regard to pricing of tickets. Tickets for this game are priced at Rs 650, Rs 1,300 and Rs 1,900. The lowest denomination for a Kolkata Knight Riders game at Eden is Rs 500.
“Like it or not, the IPL has set the benchmark of stadium attendance for T20 matches. We can’t have the pricing beyond the IPL. For a three-hour game, Rs 650 for a top-tier ticket is a little too expensive,” the member opined.
CAB joint-secretary Avishek Dalmiya, however, hoped that ticket sales would pick up in the next two days. “So far we have sold 17,000 tickets and the CAB hopes that in the days ahead the number would increase, because it’s also a weekend. We hope that we would have a decent turnout (on Sunday),” Dalmiya told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, weather forecast, too, is not very bright. A drizzle on Friday evening delayed the start of the Jagmohan Dalmiya Annual Conclave.