From 86,174 to 0: Cricket in the times of coronavirus – India Today

Just 5 days ago on Sunday, March 8, 86,174 people turned up to watch the Women's T20 World Cup final between hosts Australia at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was the biggest crowd ever assembled to watch a women's cricket match and was rightly hailed as a watershed moment for the sport. Cut to 5 days later, the Australian men's team was playing an ODI against neighbours New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground - about 900 kilometers north-east of Melbourne. But apart from a fistful of media persons, groundstaff and the teams themselves, there wasn't a single soul present in the 48,000-capacity stadium. The eerie silence was such that Australian opener David Warner didn't even realise he had scored a 50 until he was reminded by his captain at the other end! What happened in these intervening 5 days, you ask? One word: coronavirus.

The novel Covid-19 which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 has claimed over 4,900 lives and infected more than 124,330 people worldwide. Not boasting to be the most woke of all sports, cricket has only started to get stirred and shaken by what the World Health Organization (WHO) is now calling a pandemic.

Since its outbreak, most discussions surrounding coronavirus in cricket have centered around easy-on-the-eyes stories revolving players opting to not shake hands with opposition players and carrying around more than enough stocks of hand sanitizers in their kits. But reality hit the game hard on Friday when the 1st ODI between Australia and New Zealand was played in front of a vacant stadium as Cricket Australia opted to play the series in-gates hoping to contain the spread of the virus.

For fans back home in India, Friday brought more gloomy news as the upcoming edition of the hugely-popular Indian Premier League (IPL) was postponed amid speculations of it even getting cancelled later on. With the Indian government deciding to suspend visas of all arriving travellers till April 15, a sword still hangs on the participation of foreign players in the cash-rich league.

The number of coronavirus-affected persons in the country is currently on the rise and there is no definite answer to the question of whether it will take a turn for the better by April 15. If it doesn't, the BCCI might have to do away with the tournament altogether or confine it to domestic players playing in empty stadiums. For anyone who has even a remote understanding of the IPL, what a sight would that be!

So far, no major cricketer has been tested positive with coronavirus with Australian pacer Kane Richardson causing a real scare on Friday when he was quarantined after complaining of a sore throat. Thankfully for the Australian team and the larger public, the results of his tests returned negative but the threat is far from over after Kiwi pacer Lockie Ferguson was put under isolation following the 1st ODI on Friday. In fact, with the virus already affecting high profile individuals like Canadian Prime Minister's wife Sophie Grgoire Trudeau, Hollywood star Tom Hanks and Chelsea footballer Callum Hudson-Odoi, there is no guarantee that cricketers or other sportspersons won't attract the contagion.

The good news amidst all this gloom is that the cricket world has woken up to the danger signalled by England postponing their 2-Test tour of Sri Lanka on Friday. The BCCI, on the other hand, seem to be trying everything in their control to organize the IPL as soon as they get the go-ahead from the government. What the BCCI also need to keep in mind is that apart from the cricketers and spectators, there are hundreds more (media persons, groundstaff, match officials, etc.) involved in organizing any cricket match - let alone an IPL game.

BCCI are supposed to decide upon the issue during the IPL governing council meeting which will be held Saturday afternoon. Whatever the decision of that meeting turns out to be, the dignitaries involved will be well served by watching the highlights of the Sydney ODI.

At times during the said match, fielders from both sides had to cross over into the vacant stands in search of the ball whenever a huge six was hit by the batsmen. This is unheard of in an international game where the spectators are often seen competing with each other in trying to catch the sixes hit by their favourite stars. In a way, the flat feeling around the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday also reminded TV-viewers of the strange circumstances and the serious health issues affecting people around the world.

And as if to flip the context on its head, women cricketers could be forgiven for giving out a wry smile at their male counterparts playing in front of empty stadiums - something that the former have endured for most of their playing careers. Cricket in times of coronavirus seems, unlike the cricket, we have grown up watching or got accustomed to in all these years. Even though there are reports of the virus starting to subside in its place of origin, China, in removing the crowds from cricket matches, the coronavirus has already won half the battle. All cricket can do is to prevent itself from losing the rest.

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From 86,174 to 0: Cricket in the times of coronavirus - India Today

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