There’s considerable hype surrounding the upcoming Day/Night Test match between India and Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens, but Harbhajan Singh is not sure whether this will be the antidote required to boost crowd attendances for the game’s most storied format.
“Most of the other teams have already played it. It’s a great experiment no doubt, but I’m not sure if this format will bring back crowds to the stadiums,” was the seasoned off-spinner’s tepid response.
He was, however, particularly impressed by the sizeable crowd that had assembled for the first Test at Indore last week and going forward, wanted such smaller centres to host Test cricket.
“Having matches in these big centres alone will not guarantee you big crowds. You have to understand that even in such centres, there are office-going people who will not be able to come during morning or afternoons…so it’s not that simple a scenario,” Harbhajan said during an interaction with the media on the sidelines of former Australia umpire Simon Taufel’s book launch at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi.
Harbhajan reckoned it’s the facilities that are on offer for fans in stadiums that ultimately attract crowds. Last month, the India-South Africa Test match in Pune saw a very low turnout, and even the precious few who had turned up bemoaned the lack of basic amenities such as having proper toilets and parking facilities.
“These things will ultimately decide whether people want to come to the stadiums. The advent of wifi and other forms of superior streaming devices have also got a role to play. It’s not that people have lost interest in the game. They can now watch matches on the go. I think this has also played a role in the poor crowd turnout,” he explained.
Harbhajan’s views find resonance with former India captain and National Cricket Academy chief Rahul Dravid, who in an interview to The Economic Times, had said that engaging with fans was an essential requisite to bring back crowds to watch Test cricket. “When we say there were 1,00,000 people at the Eden Gardens in 2001, we are missing the point. At that time, there was no HD television that could guarantee you a better experience at home, there was no cricket on mobile, and if you wanted to catch the action, you had to make it to the ground,” Dravid had said.
“People in India know their cricket. The sheer one-sided matches have also played a part in fans losing interest. Which is not the case with the Ashes in England earlier this year, which saw record crowds because there were two very competitive teams in action,” he added.