One of the many popular images of Virat Kohli on the field is of the Indian captain egging the crowd on to make more noise. While his gesture is met with a vociferous support in limited-overs cricket at any venue across the country, the same cannot be said about Test matches.
Reports of poor sale of tickets for India’s third and final Test against South Africa made the rounds on the eve of the match at the JSCA International Stadium Complex that has a 39,000 capacity. A more than half empty stadium welcomed the players on the opening day of the match which fell on a Saturday. The Sunday crowd, expectedly, was encouraging while it was back to square one when the new week began.
Low fan turnout was a common phenomenon of the Freedom Series which India won 3-0 with many incredible performances. The approximate crowd attendance in the first Test in Visakhapatnam was 4000 per day. The Pune Test received poor response for the first two days but witnessed great crowd during the weekend.
The three venues of the series, along with Indore, Dharamsala and Rajkot, became Test venues in the 2016-17 season. Not surprisingly, all these venues have struggled to draw in large crowds. In Rajkot, Pune and Visakhapatnam, the stadiums are outside the city and travelling can be a tedious process for people.
The MCA stadium in Gahunje, 25 kms away from the city, has drawn flak for poor facilities for the crowd. The poor response is also a reflection of the interest levels of the public towards Test cricket in these cities.
“We've been discussing about this for a long time now,” began Kohli at a press conference here. “In my opinion, we should have five Test centres. Period. I mean, I agree that you have State associations, rotation and giving games to every centre and all that. That is fine in T20 and ODI cricket,” Kohli said.
Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai have been India’s traditional crowd-pullers for Test matches. However, in the last decade, these four cities have hosted just 18 matches combined. The Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru, in fact, is easily the best as far as houseful stands are concerned.
“We are the performers in the circus, but you need the circus to be full. Some of these centres where people come to see Test matches should be given more games,” former captain MS Dhoni had said after India’s Test against Australia in Bengaluru in 2010.
The Lord’s in England, the home of cricket, has hosted 20 Tests in a decade. Kohli felt just like for teams travelling to England and Australia, countries travelling to India every time should know about the Test venues.
“When we are leaving the shores, we go to any place, we know we are having four Tests at these venues, this is what the pitch is going to offer and it's going to be a full stadium. Similarly, teams coming to India should know that they are going to play at these particular five centres, the challenges it can pose and what the pitches are going to be and what kind of crowd to expect,” he said.