CHENNAI: Apart from the frequent temperature checks and a few masked officials, few things stand out at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The usual buzz one associates in the lead up to an international fixture is missing. The MJ Gopalan Gate usually kept open, remain closed. Apart from a few electricians running checks in the scorers' room, it's bereft of humanity. On the field, the square is as green as the outfield. Even if the grass on the surface will be trimmed before the match, this looks more Manchester than Chennai.
Inside the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) office, there is no sign of chaos. There are no meetings and people aren't lining up for their pass. The only ones who you can spot are the office staff, in their traditional light blue shirt and navy-blue trousers. They are talking about how the seats on the boxes above the pavilion terrace should be arranged, considering social distancing protocols. It's the only place which will be open — only for TNCA office-bearers and staff — in case they want to watch the Tests. But as TNCA secretary RS Ramasaamy puts it, while pointing to the TV set in his office: “for all you know, we too will be watching it on television like the rest of the world.”
Despite the Centre allowing stadia to operate with 50 per cent crowds, the first two Tests will take place behind closed doors. There is a huge disappointment in Ramasaamy's voice as TNCA was hoping it could welcome back crowds for the Test series. They could have become the first stadium in India to have fans for an international meet amid the pandemic.
As early as January first week when the TN government allowed cinema halls to function with 50% capacity, TNCA knew it would get clearance if it approached the local authorities. Instead, the BCCI decided to play it safe, telling the TNCA that England Cricket Board were not keen on playing in front of fans.
“Playing behind closed doors is the most disappointing aspect of staging this Test match,” Ramasaamy said. “We have everything in place and since the Tests will be played under a bio-secure bubble, we are giving more attention to safety measures, but ultimately the mood is very sombre because what is a stadium without crowds? It is what creates atmosphere,” he added. In that sense, Ramasammy, joint-secretary KA Shankar, and assistant secretary, N Venkataraman, who are overseeing the preparations, are in a relaxed mood in complete contrast to how their predecessors normally were ahead of an international fixture.
This is the first international match at Chepauk since the new office-bearers led by president Rupa Gurunath took charge of TNCA. Under normal circumstances, this would have been similar to arranging a big-fat Indian wedding.
Easily among the top three efficiently run BCCI state units, they have hardly put a foot wrong when it comes to organising matches. Allotting venues for home matches often shows which associations hold clout and when the BCCI announced in December that Chennai would host two Test matches, it not only showed TNCA's relevance, but also faith that it can host these matches without hassle. Even though there haven't been many international fixtures in recent years, Chennai has been a regular venue for Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali tournaments. Even though the funds from the BCCI was suspended in between because of internal issues, the TNCA has left nothing for teams to complain about.
During international matches, it takes help from nearly 200 volunteers who make up their various committees like hospitality, gate entry, parking, security, transportation, groudsmen, media etc. This time there hasn't been a need to have so many. “We have only around 20 volunteers this time,” said Shankar, who was venue in-charge during the 2011 World Cup. “Even if we are not here, the staff can put up a show. Everyone has experience of organising a match, so nobody needs to be told what has to be done. They are aware of the responsibilities,” he added.
As far as these two Tests go, the TNCA is adding final touches. From Saturday, every individual who enters the stadium will be subjected to a Covid-19 test every three days as outsiders won't be permitted. An Apollo hospital kiosk will be placed near the MJ Gopalan Gate with doctors available at all times. Since the staff and office-bearers are not part of the bio-bubble, they will not have access to the outfield and the dressing room. Even the pavilion terrace will remain locked for them. While the TNCA Clubhouse will remain shut, the Madras Cricket Club has also been told that their terrace won't be available for access.
“We will sanitise the entire stadium. From February 2, the dressing room will be sanitized everyday and will be sealed. Only the teams can open it. If players wish to bring their families to the ground, we have prepared an area for them near the dressing room as they are in Zone 1 A (bio-bubble). We are confident of putting up a good show,” Ramasaamy said.