On the face of it, the decision on the part of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to consider entry of fans back into the cricket stadiums from the second Test between India and England seem to signal a return to normalcy in their eyes. But there is plausibly a deeper, more pertinent experiment and an indication of India’s summer.
It is a little surprising that a circumspect England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) that pulled out its players midway through the tour of South Africa has not objected to BCCI’s consideration to possibly opening-up the gates of the cricket stadium in Chennai for the second Test. While the experiment is expected to be at 50 percent capacity if it does go ahead, there seems to be another agenda on the BCCI’s mind.
The IPL mini auctions are not far away. Although the BCCI has an understanding with the UAE with regard to hosting the IPL tournaments back-to-back overseas after the UAE hosted the thirteenth edition only three months back, the BCCI is intent that the IPL 14 stays in India. There is an undeniable commercial aspect to the decision that also entails that crowds thronging the stadiums would add considerable value.
The BCCI was forced to make the decision after the franchises objected to having an all Indian affair with no foreign cricketers at the height of the pandemic last year. The franchises were equally adamant that they would prefer the tournament to be held in India with fans turning up in the hoards to make up for merchandising and gate revenue.
The IPL season 2021 might still not meet entirely with the franchisees or even the BCCI’s approval. Eventually, the 13th season was played in front of empty stadiums in the UAE. With the BCCI’s staunch commercial compulsions that the IPL season be held in India this year, adding fans to that equation would greatly add to its towering earning capacity.
There was a time when the BCCI claimed that the call on the domestic cricket season would be taken after an experimental staging of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy in the Twenty20 format. For the first time in its history, it has scrapped the Ranji Trophy tournament for the year.
There is similarly a reason to believe that the BCCI might have, informally, agreed to the idea of having a limited crowd capacity for the second Test, as if to test waters. There is little doubt that Test cricket does not, in any case, draw full capacity crowds even in a cricket-mad country like India. Crowd control might be of a little issue, even with the coronavirus pandemic still in the air even if the Indian government would have the world believe that India has successfully negotiated away the malice of the virus.
Pitchforking the idea of the reintroduction of crowds at the stadium, the BCCI might be merely looking for the viability, practicality and compliance with having fans made an entry back into the cricket fold.
Unless in the event of a drastic adverse effect on fans and cricketers, it would seem that if the BCCI wants to go ahead, it might be with a view that the new cricket stadium in Motera- the pride of Narendra Modi who hosted the now former President of the United States, Donald Trump, last year, – might win some political mileage and also, would signal a return to former money making ways in the IPL.
England, in this case, might be India’s test bunny as it were even if it seems that few cricketers participating in the IPL will be able to object in the same way as their board when it comes to relaxing the rules around the virus.