Will Bhubaneswar Ever Host A Cricket Match?

  By Sandeep Sahu

It is an arrangement that suits no one other than the mandarins of the Odisha Cricket Association (OCA). The players of the Indian and visiting team have to undergo the eminently avoidable hassle of commuting some 35 kms not just to play the actual match but also for net practice at the iconic Barabati Stadium in Cuttack. The police have a tough time providing security to the players in two cities that together constitute the Twin City and during their journey from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack and back for matches as well as nets. Traffic on the busy National Highway No 5, chaotic at the best of times, becomes even more difficult with fans lining up on either side of the road for a glimpse of their favourite stars.

Everyone concerned, including the players, have to endure a torrid time just because OCA bosses have been determined and steadfast in their resistance to a cricket stadium good enough to host international matches coming up in Bhubaneswar. Ideally, they would also like the players to put up in Cuttack. But the problem is the Millennium City neither has an airport nor a good enough hotel to accommodate the players.

Proposals have been mooted at various times for building a good cricket stadium in the capital city so that the players and team staff are spared the tedious journey between the two parts of the Twin City that can take up to two hours to and fro. The first such move, if memory serves me right, was initiated by former cricket players like Kishor Mania and Shantanu  Satpathy and backed by the then OCA secretary Bibhuti Bhishan Das way back in 1999. But nothing came out of it because the OCA insisted on getting lease for a piece of prime land for the stadium for a princely sum of Re 1!

The idea was revived in the first decade of the new millennium when Ranendra Pratap (Raja) Swain was the Sports minister. But the OCA, by now under the control of Asirbad Behera, backed out saying the lease rate offered by the state government was ‘exorbitant’ and opposing some of the preconditions put by the state government like a stake in the profits earned out of international matches played and government representation in the organizational committee for matches. Those who have followed the goings-on in the cricket body say all this was a red herring conjured up by the Cuttack-heavy OCA to make sure that a cricket stadium doesn’t come up in Bhubaneswar. “If they were really keen, they could have negotiated with the government on the precondition. But they never did that,” points out senior sports journalist Sambit Mohapatra.

It is easy to see why OCA mandarins are determined not to allow a second cricket stadium to come up in Bhubaneswar. It would end the dominance of the Cuttack based clique that has held sway in cricketing affairs of the state for decades. In a cricket crazy nation like India, hosting international cricket matches rakes in the big bucks, apart from giving the administrators an opportunity to curry favour with the rich and the powerful by providing them the much sought-after ‘passes’ for international matches. Not long ago, the passes, including passes for VIP boxes, issued by OCA numbered a whopping 4000-5000. There have also been cases of passes being sold for a premium in the past. Then there is the ‘brag value’ that giving a pass to a friend, relative or acquaintance brings. All in all, international matches are a mouth-watering prospect for the organizers and any dilution of the power to dispense favours is sure to hurt the standing of the mandarins, apart from the ‘losses’ to be incurred.

That is why the OCA has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that international cricket matches continue to be hosted only at Barabati notwithstanding the inconvenience caused to everyone except the organizers and – more significantly – in violation of the rules of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC). One such rule that has been routinely flouted is the BCCI norm that mandates that the ground cannot be at a distance of more than 30 kms from the place where the players stay.

Then there is the ICC stipulation that the host stadium must have a ground of its own. Not many people know that the Barabati Stadium, which has hosted every single match played in Odisha, does not belong to the OCA but is built on land leased out to the Odisha Olympic Association (OOA) by the state government. With the OOA in the dock for making unauthorized construction for commercial purposes on part of the leased land, it is doubtful if OCA would continue to have the ground to host international matches. If the OAA loses the case in the Supreme Court – as is more than likely – it could mark the beginning of the end of the dominance of the Cuttack clique in hosting cricket matches in Odisha.

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The OCA bosses managed to work around these rules and norms by always staying on the right side of their BCCI bosses – from Jagmohan Dalmiya to Sharad Pawar to N Srinivasan to Anurag Thakur. But now that the cricket administration structure in the state – like its counterpart elsewhere – is set to undergo a complete overhaul with the implementation of the Justice Lodha Committee report as mandated by the Supreme Court, there is hope yet for Bhubaneswar. The rewriting of the OCA charter, which is bound to follow as part of the overhaul, may end the control of the body by Cuttack based clubs and educational institutions and lay the foundation for the construction of a good and modern cricket stadium in the state capital. The players will certainly not be complaining!