World Cup 2023: Uneven venue distribution

- August 20, 2023
| By : Khurram Habib |

Even though India is hosting the 50-over World Cup on its own for the first time, and thereby getting to host an unprecedented number of matches, the BCCI has not shown the inclination to spread the event across the country, as it did in the past

MEN IN CHARGE: BCCI secretary, Jay Shah (left), and ICC CEO, Geoff Allardice, with the World Cup trophy

In the times when India had few venues matching world class standards and when the cricket board wasn’t as rich, especially without a 38.4 share in International Cricket Council (ICC) profits as it has now, the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) still thought of spreading the 50-over World Cup to the farthest corners of the country.

Back in 1987, when India and Pakistan jointly hosted the World Cup comprising just eight teams and 27 matches and with league games distributed between the two countries, India used as many as 14 venues for the tournament.

In the 1996 World Cup, comprising 12 teams and just 37 matches and shared by three nations – India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the BCCI used 17 cities as hosts.

Cut to the 2023 World Cup, beginning October 5, which India will be hosting all alone. There are fewer venues being used – 10 for 48 matches — despite more matches. There are two additional venues, but they are meant only for the warm-up games.

Being the first World Cup to be hosted by a single nation since 1983 — the 2007 World Cup hosted by West Indies was shared by multiple island nations, the 2023 edition provided an opportunity to most Indian venues and fans there a chance to witness the prestigious World Cup ties.

However, the Board decided to restrict the quadrennial tournament to fewer cities, leading to disappointment among many state associations which have historic relevance to India.

While Rajkot was not expected to be a front-runner, despite being a historically significant centre and possessing an international-standard ground, Indore and Mohali were expected to get games.

The Board, however, decided to skip them and instead allotted five games to each venue barring Hyderabad which got only three.

Comparison in share

In 1987, it gave only three cities — Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai – two games apiece to ensure that the remaining eleven got one match each. In 1996, it went one step ahead and gave each of the 17 venues one match each. No one got more than one.

“The idea [in 1996] was to spread the tournament as much as possible. Take it to as many venues as possible,” said Amrit Mathur, who was one of the four members from India in the Pakistan-India-Lanka Committee (PILCOM) that organised the 1996 World Cup.

But things began to change after the turn of the century. While Indian cricket spread to remote corners with international stars beginning to emerge from smaller towns, the hosting of the World Cup began to be restricted and venue distribution became less democratic.

In the 2011 World Cup, shared by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, major host India used eight venues for the 29 games giving each of them multiple matches. There were three venues in Sri Lanka and two in Bangladesh, which together hosted the remaining 20 games.

This time though India had all the 48 matches to itself being the sole hosts.

Not surprisingly, those in the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA) – which is the home association of Indore – are upset.

Former BCCI secretary and MPCA chief Sanjay Jagdale said, “Indore has a great history and cricket heritage. There is massive fan-following. Even in Test matches involving Bangladesh, we see a houseful. This is a big loss, because World Cup has its own prestige. We are surprised.”

The current MPCA secretary, Sanjeev Rao, was also upset but refrained from criticising the BCCI.

“It is something we would have liked since a World Cup game has its own prestige. But BCCI has its plans and we have to accept it. Anyway, we have got two other international games [as compensation].”

Rao, who doesn’t want to be critical, is talking about India-Australia ODI on September 24, the second of the three-match bilateral series, and India-Afghanistan T20I in January, 2024, the second of the three T20Is.

Same is the case with Mohali. The first ODI vs Australia on September 22 is scheduled there, while the first T20I vs Afghanistan is also there.

However, as Jagdale, Rao and a former official from the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), who does not want to be named, say the World Cup is a prestigious tournament and missing out on it is a loss.

The current Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) secretary Dilsher Khanna too said “there is prestige attached to hosting World Cup games” but added that “the BCCI has compensated us fairly by giving us an ODI before the World Cup.”

Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA), which owns Rajkot, downplayed the matter.

Himanshu Shah, secretary of SCA, said, “We are not disappointed at all. We are part of the BCCI. We have, anyway, got an India-Australia ODI (3rd and final game on September 27).”

Nagpur, which has a new, state-of-the-art stadium built 15 years ago, and Jaipur too won’t host any games. They, like Indore and Mohali, have been previous hosts of World Cup games.

Board’s version

The Indian cricket Board is of the opinion that it wanted to keep the World Cup to limited venues.

“The idea is to have as many venues as were possible to manage. That is the preferred option,” said a BCCI office-bearer Arun Dhumal to Patriot.

This, he said, is meant to make things like logistics easy.

An ICC official confirmed to Patriot that there is no restriction on the number of venues.

The 2019 World Cup in England and Wales was held across 11 venues while the 2015 World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand across 14 venues – seven in each of the two countries.

So, it appears that the Board decided to minimise the venues on its own.

Mathur, who is the only member among the Indian officials of the 1996 PILCOM active now, felt that things were less complicated back in the 1980s and 1990s making it easy to host in many cities.

“Scheduling and other related things were simpler back then. Now, things have become more complicated. There are [heavier] logistics involved,” said Mathur.

The scheduling is slightly skewed in favour of West Zone and South Zone. Both these zones have three venues each in the roster – Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad in south and Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Pune in west.

According to sources, Pune was in a tussle with Indore for the right to host before the former prevailed.

Central Zone and East Zone have one venue each. Central Zone has Lucknow, a first-timer for the World Cup, while East has Kolkata.

The much-talked Lodha reforms that aimed to give weightage to cricket in the Northeast by giving first-class status to the states in the region seem to have been ignored again as Guwahati, which is a 40-year-old international venue, has not got even a single match. There are only practice games there.

North Zone, where Mohali is located, has got two venues in the roster – Delhi and Dharamsala. The scheduling at the latter venue sparked off controversy due to low capacity of only 23,000 at its Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium.