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The Hindu
The Hindu
N. Sudarshan

Karnataka runs the risk of turning the clock back by confining top-tier cricket to Bengaluru

In July 2022, at the unveiling of the Maharaja Trophy KSCA T20, the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) had hoped that the tournament would energise cricketing activity in the state after the Covid-induced lull.

The premier T20 competition was also returning in a new avatar – earlier called the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) – after the betting scandal of 2019.

Roger Binny, then KSCA president and now the head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), had stated that the event would “continue the development” in the districts. “We won’t let you down,” he had promised.

A year on, it appears that the custodians haven’t quite walked the talk. The 2023 edition of the Maharaja Trophy will not feature a single match outside Bengaluru, only for the second time in 10 editions (2010-11 being the other). In the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy, Karnataka played all six of its home matches in Bengaluru, something that hasn’t happened in more than a decade.

The reasons?

“It may be because of the broadcaster,” speculated a player who was part of the Gulbarga Mystics outfit that won the Maharaja Trophy last year. “Star Sports may have given only a small window for broadcast [Aug.13 to Aug.29]. But fans outside will be disappointed.”

A former state player and veteran of over 50 First Class matches felt that monsoon may have played a role. “In Bengaluru, we have the SubAir drainage system and we can restart matches quickly once the rain stops,” he said.

“But I heard that the Mysore team [Mysore Warriors] wasn’t too pleased. I am also surprised. There is more viewership outside Bangalore and those supporters are very passionate about the game,” he added.

Be it because of the broadcaster or the weather – there is merit in both arguments – the insular move to use only Bengaluru turns the clock back on Karnataka’s spirited efforts to democratise the game, wherein the likes of Mysuru, Hubballi, Shivamogga and Belagavi have proved to be capable hosts.

The move is also in contrast to what neighbouring Tamil Nadu is doing to deepen the sport’s roots. The last two editions of the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) have been entirely held outside Chennai, with Coimbatore, Salem, Tirunelveli and Dindigul emerging as hosts.

The prestigious Buchi Babu invitational tournament, which begins next week after a five-year hiatus, is also scheduled to be played away from Chennai.

“It’s a good challenge to play at different grounds,” said the veteran cricketer. “Bangalore is batting-friendly and mostly flat. When you go to Hubli, Mysore, the conditions, weather and pitches are all different.

“They are open grounds, so wind is a factor. At the Chinnaswamy, there is hardly any wind, and if you middle the ball, it is invariably a six. Earlier there was some novelty in every ball being hit for a six, but not anymore. Crowds are more knowledgeable and we need an even contest.” he added.

For some, top-tier cricket being limited to Bengaluru is just a symptom of a much bigger problem – uneven distribution of resources. “When there are no turf grounds how can we hold [Ranji] matches?” asked a Kalaburagi-based coach.

“There is one KSCA ground in Raichur, but there is no development. There are good private facilities at KBN ground (Kalaburagi) and Siddharaj ground (Maniknagar, Bidar) and they have been very helpful. But we need something of our own so that our children don’t suffer,” he added.

The KSCA officials, despite repeated attempts, were unavailable for comment.

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