Through the eyes of the fans

Through the eyes of the fans

It’s a privilege to sit in a warm press box and watch rain fall with the threat of a cricket game being abandoned. But credit has to go the fans who spent no less than six hours in the rain on Sunday, expecting a buffet and instead getting a junk food takeaway, but who were still just happy to get fed. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Where would people sit in the rain for six hours, with hopes of what they came there to see becoming increasingly dismal as the downpour got heavier? A cricket match, of course.

Much has been said about the fans who, throughout the Champions Trophy, braved the elements and stuck around only to receive scant reward for their efforts. The final of the competition eventually did happen, but it was a small slice of what fans deserved, and while it’ll do for them for now, it’s still unfortunate.

After the Champions Trophy final on Sunday I met two patrons who attended the match. One American, attending his first-ever cricket game, and an Indian expat who now lives in America.

Lonnie Brunson and Parijat Bhamburkar had a last-minute inclination to come and watch, and hopped on the earliest train out of London on Sunday morning. They paid double the price for their train ride alone and shelled out £120 apiece for their tickets to the match. They, like many others, sacrificed their Sunday to sit in the rain.

Weather can’t be predicted, of course, but some sort of alternative plan can be in place for when the weather does interrupt, surely.

If Sunday’s final had been rained off, there would have been a shared trophy. That’s something which is not uncommon in cricket. Series often have draws and shared trophies and World Cups or other global tournaments seem completely content with sharing the silverware. Try to fathom that happening in any other global sport.

Cricket lovers often say: “Try and explain that to an American” when cricket does something inexplicable. I had an American right in front of me and while he was glad to see a game, the concept of a shared trophy left him baffled.

“They usually play until they have a winner. I heard that if this game got rained off, they’d just share the trophy. How can you share a trophy? There aren’t two champions. But I’m glad I got to see a game, the shortened game made it more interesting,” said Brunson.

Both fans agreed that the truncated game was a let-down and that the treatment of fans as disposable and irrelevant compared to broadcasters is wrong. But Bhamburkar wonders whether there’d have been enough of a crowd on the reserve day to recreate the same atmosphere and suggests that perhaps The Oval would have been to a better venue.

Brunson, who didn’t know anything about cricket until that morning, had Bhamburkar next to him explaining all the nuances of the match. The reduction of overs, the sixes which aren’t home runs and everything else which makes cricket so appealing to those who grew up with it. But if even an outsider, whose first encounter with the sport was rain, knows that a sport is so heavily dictated by the weather, surely some steps should be taken to lessen the blow?

“I didn’t really know any rules of the game, but my colleague explained to me. And it doesn’t make sense. I think when it comes to a big championship like this they should have an arena where the elements don’t matter. A domed arena or something like that. If the weather is such a big problem, why should they disappoint fans?” he said.

Arguments exist both for and against roofed stadia in cricket, but nobody has ever made an authoritative decision on whether this could be a future possibility. Despite his initiation, Brunson won’t think twice about going to another cricket game, and while he probably won’t get into it as much as he does with baseball or American football, at least he’s not a lost cause.

Both of these men sat in the rain for hours. Them, along with the 20,000-odd fans who turned up on Sunday, all stuck around even when everyone was convinced that there would be no play at all. Everybody sought shelter wherever they could find it, but they never left the ground.

It’s a privileged position to sit in a covered press box, warm with a belly full of food, while the rain hoses down. Your only concern is what to write, but fans don’t have that luxury. They have to endure the elements and it’s their love for the game that keeps them warm, helped in some cases by a few pints of lager.

In his column for Wisden India, editor Dileep Premachandran writes about the many fans he’s encountered on his travels. Those who have hitchhiked across continents and their own continent, those who have missed weddings and other important events, all for the love of the game.

On the train back to London, the last of the fans bundled into the carriages. Many stayed behind to catch a glimpse of their heroes as they left the ground, while others simply enjoyed the banging drums and the carnival celebrations which sprouted from the victory. Every so often, they burst out singing.

Across the world it is not an uncommon sight, despite so many obituaries written for the sport for so many different reasons, it remains alive and its heart remains beating. Yes. Administrations are a mess, yes, players are corrupt, yes, some of it is very broken, but the fans of the sport will persist with their love affair.

Why should they then be discarded, not being given the final they deserve?

Broadcasters may be cricket’s backbone, but fans are its heartbeat. It’ll do those who run the game well to remember that, because without a heartbeat, you won’t have very much at all. DM

Photo: An Indian fan holds up a sign before the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match between England and India at Edgbaston cricket ground, Birmingham June 23, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown


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