NAGPUR: Off Wardha Road, about 20 kms from the heart of the city, the VCA Stadium has almost everything modern Indian cricket centres offer. Separate playing and practice facilities, green outfield, space inside the stadium complex and spacious sitting arrangements will please those used mostly to old structures in the metros. Functional since 2008, it’s one of the first in the country built thoughtfully, keeping in mind the demands of time.
There’s one shortcoming that makes a Test experience in BCCI president Shashank Manohar’s city less fulfilling and that’s the absence of crowds. The four Tests it has hosted have seen negligible turnouts. The capacity is 45,000, but 10 to 20 per cent of that is the best it has got, reckon locals. On several days, attendance has been lower than that. One-dayers have been a different ball game, as almost all four ODI featuring India held here have seen sellouts.
“You don’t really feel the difference between large crowds and low turnouts once you are in the match, as the intensity and concentration makes you focus on what’s going on. But yes, a good crowd always eggs you on. It’s good to play when you see people in the stands. It can motivate you,” said opener Murali Vijay, asked if the presence of spectators makes a difference.
This is the place Vijay made his Test debut and like in 2008, VCA Stadium is unlikely to see many. Instead of making things more attractive for fans, the Vidarbha Cricket Association has done away with daily tickets. Only season tickets are sold, which means people who want to watch one day have to pay for all five. They are available online, with just one counter for sales. Going by VCA officials, the response hasn’t been encouraging either.
“We resorted to season tickets after seeing few takers for daily tickets. It was done also when we staged the last Test (in 2012),” VCA president Prakash Dixit told Express. “Don’t think the low turnout has been caused by that because rates are affordable. It’s just that the craze for Tests has dwindled. Was it any different in Mohali? These days, there are hardly requests for complimentary tickets. But this is something we have no control over, as one-dayers invariably draw big crowds.”
While tickets rates of `300, 400, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000 and 3000 (all prices for five days) are not prohibitive, the distance of the stadium possibly is. Wardha Road, a two-lane highway, is the only channel to the ground, which gets congested when scores head for the ground. Being far away, the stadium isn’t accessible by public transport either, unless special buses are deployed. This makes travel a harrowing experience, as those to have attended day-night ODIs here can testify.
As a measure to attract more, the VCA has decided to allow over 500 schoolchildren with free admission and snacks on all five days, but officials are not hopeful about the sale of tickets. Even if Umesh Yadav plays a first Test at home, he may not know how it feels to play in front of a home crowd!