When The World Went Out Of The World Cup
Cricket culture takes a hit
The recently concluded World Cup started poorly and ended in the same negative pulse. A stadium that could take 130000+ was close-to-empty for the inaugural match. Good organizers would not treat teams that are highly accomplished to play in front of a virtually empty stadium. It smacked of poor organization and management by the BCCI. Money in the BCCI kitty does not buy fans on-the-ground. Moreover, fans don’t follow a venue just because it is named after the Prime Minister of the country. It gets worse. Many expressed their annoyance claiming that despite the stadium being more-than- half-empty the online ticket booking platforms showed “sold out”.
All this ended up leaving the BCCI looking ill-set up, and poorly managed. Money can’t buy you competence. Only commitment can create appropriate sports management. What should have been a gala inaugural match flooded with cricket enthusiasts that fielded two highly distinguished teams - New Zealand and England - must surely have left the teams feeling lost in spirit.
Cricket is played for the fans and young people who come to learn the nuances of good cricket. The organizers lacked the enthusiasm and the capacity to make an attractive and well-spirited start to the tournament. If good sports management is about leadership and intent, both these dimensions were sorely lacking. At the end of the day, it was sheer coincidence that it was always those matches which had the home team playing in which the crowds in our fancy stadia were chock-full.
The politically ambitious are not necessarily the ideal sports organizers. Their eyes are set on biased goals. You have to know the intricacies of the game to hold offices of influence that run sports. Political bosses are usually a disappointment as sport managers.
Political picking does not make the right criteria in choosing a good cricket setting. You should be looking at a crowd of cricket lovers – spectators who come to enjoy good cricket because they know the game and appreciate everything good about it regardless of which team is doing well.
The home team will, of course, get a higher decibel of cheers. But the opposing team is never greeted with dumb silence as the Ahmedabad stadium offered to the Aussies. The closing event was a boring sea of women and men in ‘India blues’. If you were watching it on television, it was clear the crowd was massive but it was not a cricket-lovers paradise . You need big-time and broad-minded cricket administrators to make those decisions. Cricket is, after all, not politics. The Ahmedabad stadium was a dismal example of a crowd who came only to see India win; and shout slogans that did little to advance the spirit of cricket.
Compare this to what used to happen in Australia each time Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat. An entire stadium stood up to greet the great man and applaud him in the most dignified way. That is cricket in its best spirit. Interestingly, several locations in India also draw somewhat close comparison. The opponents also get cheered for a good show.
Our cricket culture has dipped to pitiable standards. Kohli is a great player; but it gets nonsensical and over-populist when an entire stadium idolizes him by screaming “Kohli, Kohli”. Can we do all this with dignity?
Sadly, all this has left the image of the country sullied. We all pray for the good things we want. A World Cup is a global event and to boo a team from a country deemed’ enemy’ takes us to the lowest depths.
We did not bring ourselves glory in the manner we hosted the World Cup. Imagine a World Cup sans fans from foreign countries. Not a single flag of another country. Matches not featuring India had hardly any spectators and television had to search hard for the odd overseas spectator. On the other hand in Ahmedabad, tickets were sold for fancy prices. A friend was looking for a Rs 45,000- ticket. Others stood in line and were willing to part with ‘anything’ just to watch the match which they believed India was going to win. Black market was an open show .
A cynical blogger, Monal Desai, had this to say the day after the match: “It is not only the match we lost last night. We lost the respect of the World for pettiness, unmatched in any World Cup so far”. Adding to this further: When Umpires Richard Kettleborough and Illingworth went up to receive their mementoes, they were roundly booed. Could there be a reason or rationale for such loutish behaviour? It must be the worst example for unsportsperson-like behaviour. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Guardian London cryptically remarked how India had taken the world out of the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Finally, where was our accomplished and charismatic BCCI President, Roger Binny. You rarely saw his face prominently. Jay Shah was far more prominent although his cricketing credentials are not much to write home about. Roger Binny, BCCI President, is a cricketing hero who was part of the 1983 World Cup final after an unforgettable personal performance throughout that tournament. He is someone who played his cricket at all levels with aplomb. Kapil Dev was not even invited. He led us to that famous 1983 victory. Dhoni was not invited either. So the heroes were kept aside lest the media focus on them rather than the emerging political masters of cricket.
At the rate we are going, before we rise, cricket may just fall. I fear so badly that we might become another West Indies. The story of lost glory which may have already begun with the performance of the most poorly organized World Cup.
Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator, human rights activist, and sports enthusiast. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.