- Paridhi Acharya
2020 was supposed to be an exciting year for all the cricket followers. With the Men’s T20 World Cup scheduled to be played in Australia during October, there was going to be a lot of international bilateral series to help teams prepare for the World Cup. Furthermore, the world’s biggest T20 league, Indian Premier League, popularly known as IPL was to be played in March 2020 in India. This all, however, got halted when COVID 19 virus forced us to change the course of our lives and made us stay home.
After observing no game policy for almost three months, the International Cricket Council decided to resume playing games in certain countries with many restrictions in place. The biggest of them was games were to be played without any spectators on the ground. Perhaps, this was going to be the first time in cricketing history, and in the history of many other sports around the globe that no audience would be allowed while players played in empty stands.
After the restart, the first exciting news in the world cricket was that English bowler James Anderson was about to get his 600th Test wicket in the third Test match against Pakistan. Since the match was badly marred by rain, nobody was expecting a result from the match. Nonetheless, everyone following the series wanted the match to be played at least for an hour so that Anderson could take that one wicket to make him the first fast bowler in the world to reach such a feat.
Eventually when the match restarted on the final day, all eyes were on Anderson. After bowling for a while on the day, Anderson did manage to get the much awaited wicket. Although he got applause and congratulations from his teammates and few members of the ground staff, the entire spectator section was empty.
Imagine being an English player who have had a lengthy career and getting to play at one of the home grounds in England when you are about to be the first fast bowler in the world to take that many wickets, only to have no rabid English supporters on the ground to witness your greatest achievement. There is no doubt Anderson will always cherish this triumph but there is no denying that the same triumph would have been celebrated in a very different light had there been viewers on the ground.
The other cricket news that got global attention was Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s announcement of retirement from all forms of international cricket via his Instagram account. Being the only Indian captain to lead his side to victory in all three major ICC global tournaments, Dhoni is much celebrated and held in high regard. The helicopter shot that he used to score a six to win the World Cup Final in 2011 is relished and repeated million times whenever Dhoni gets remembered. However, one cannot forget the crowd at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai that went berserk that guaranteed the moment is unforgettable for years to come.
Dhoni continues to play T20 franchise cricket for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. On 19th September, when Dhoni took the field for the first time since announcing international retirement, he was neither in India nor amongst the Indian crowd. He was in the UAE playing an IPL match behind closed doors. One can only sit and imagine what kind of response he would have got had it been regular times. Looking at Dhoni’s persona it is difficult to predict if Dhoni himself missed the crowd, but it was apparent that his team mates, organizers, even the opposing side and everyone watching on TV at home missed the crowd that would have ensured Dhoni got the reception that he deserved.
As much as a sport is about people who play the game, it is also about people who buy tickets to watch it on the ground. Those sports in particular that are played in front of big crowds are popular because of the people who follow it. While a sport makes a career for those who play, organize, comment, coach and manage the game, it is regular people who spend their time, energy and money to make that sport exciting and interesting so that all the people associated with the sport get benefits and recognition from it.
This episode of pandemic has shown how interconnected we all are and how interdependent we are on each other irrespective of our different backgrounds. While cricket continues to be played without ground audience, it is certain that players are missing those spectators who used to come to the ground to watch them play, just as much as those spectators are missing going to the ground to watch the players, if not more. Even though hitting a six or taking a wicket still garners the same result for the team, it certainly doesn’t feel the same behind the closed doors.