A Cricket World Cup with little fanfare has dished up early excitement on the field
While the stadiums across India have looked empty – besides Sunday’s match between the hosts and Australia – the Cricket World Cup has already delivered special moments.
The muted Cricket World Cup feels largely in the shadows of the current sporting zeitgeist behind the Rugby World Cup which has taken an almost feverish hold on the sporting world since its kick-off a month ago.
Cricket has often been regarded as a religion in India, although you might not guess it with the sparse crowds at the opening five matches of the tournament.
The opening match of CWC 2023, on Thursday, between 2019 finalists New Zealand and England had a smattering of fans throughout the encounter, although it did pick up as the match went on.
The official attendance was reported at 47,518. While that would fill most stadiums in the world, the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad is the biggest cricket stadium built to date, by capacity. It can hold a mammoth 132,000 spectators.
There have been several explanations for the sparse crowds.
The schedule for the Cricket World Cup was finalised fewer than two months before the start of the tournament, and tickets went on sale only six weeks in advance.
That gave local Indian supporters as well as prospective international fans very little time to make the necessary arrangements to attend the opening-week fixtures.
Another excuse floating around for the modest attendance was that India’s love for cricket is narrowly extended to its own team, not so much the sport in its entirety.
In Sunday’s clash between the hosts and five-time champions Australia at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, a 33,110-strong crowd made their voices heard in the 37,000-capacity stadium.
While the overall number of spectators won’t break any records, particularly for attendance at a cricket match in India, the close to 90% presence does raise hope that the tournament will grow in fanfare at stadiums and online as the tournament continues.
In Chennai, India beat the Aussies by six wickets with nearly nine overs remaining.
The clash was a welcome throwback to a different time in One Day International (ODI) cricket. Where Australia’s 199 all out – although ultimately about 50 runs light – looked like a competitive total.
India were three wickets down with two runs on the board at one stage but through the brilliance of Virat Kohli (85 off 116) and KL Rahul (97 not out off 115) managed to knock the score off and start their tournament with a win.
New Zealand started the tournament, somewhat surprisingly, with a demolition of England by nine wickets on Thursday. South African-born Devon Conway was once again brilliant with a career-high ODI score of 152 unbeaten off 121 deliveries.
But the player who captured attention was at the other end – 23-year-old Rachin Ravindra (his first name is a portmanteau of Indian cricket icons Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid) struck a fabulous unbeaten 123 off 96 deliveries.
It was Ravindra’s first time surpassing 100 for his country and the first time he batted at No 3, standing in for injured captain Kane Williamson.
On Friday, expected whipping boys the Netherlands put up an almighty fight against favourites Pakistan at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad. Pakistan eventually emerged victorious by 81 runs but they were on the ropes several times against the Europeans.
All-rounder Bas de Leede scored 67 runs off 68 deliveries with the bat as well as taking four wickets for 62 runs with the ball. De Leede became the first player to take at least four wickets and score at least 50 runs in consecutive matches, having scored 123 off 92 and picked up five for 52 in his last match against Scotland in July.
There are three months between the two matches but those are some performances.
Proteas provide hope
South Africa could not have started their tournament better. The perennial World Cup underachievers stunned Sri Lanka with a breathtaking 102-run victory.
The win was set up by marvellous hitting by the top order. The team broke several World Cup records including the highest score yet (428) and fastest century to date (49 balls) by Aiden Markram.
The Proteas’ bowlers, however, failed to hit their straps and were initially peppered by a belligerent Kusal Mendis (76 off 42).
Nevertheless, excellent strokemaking by South Africa – even though it is early in the tournament – provided a glimmer of hope that this tournament might just be different. DM