“They are dancing in the aisles in Sharjah” – Tony Greig during Sachin Tendulkar’s century against Australia at Sharjah in 1998
“The whole of Bengal are on their feet” – Tony Greig after India’s Test victory over Australia at Kolkata in 2001
Imagine what would have happened if these two historic matches would have been played in 2020. No-one would have been dancing in the aisles in Sharjah nor would have anyone been on their feet at the Eden Gardens. Thankfully, these matches took place when the crowd at cricket stadiums was a norm and as a result the cricket fans were not denied the chance to witness such historic games.
But would the absence of crowds and the atmosphere that was created by them have any impact on the quality of cricket being played? If we go by what current and ex-cricketers have been saying, then the answer would be no. Former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop who is a commentator currently, had said in an interview that the players would have to adapt to the absence of crowd. As per him this wouldn’t be a major challenge as cricketers were used to playing in front of empty stands in domestic cricket as well as in Test matches in the UAE.
Kohli: “Things will still go on, but I doubt that one will feel that magic happening inside because of the atmosphere that was created”
Few months back, Indian captain Virat Kohli had felt (as told in the Cricket Connected Show on Star Sports) that though there won’t be any change in the intensity from the players, but the emotions due to the crowd will be difficult to re-create. “Things will still go on, but I doubt that one will feel that magic happening inside because of the atmosphere that was created”, he had elaborated. Next month, when the Indian Premier League gets underway, we will get to see how the stars perform in the absence of what Kohli had termed as magic.
Given the thorough professionals that these players are, one may not see a difference. And frankly, if the two Test series in England are anything to go by, then there definitely will not be any substantial impact on the quality of cricket.
“Sachin, Sachin will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing”.
But just adding on to what Kohli said, the players would definitely be missing the crowd. To get an idea of what those claps and cheers means for a player, rewind your memory to Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement speech. The great man had ended it with, “Sachin, Sachin will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing”.
So, how wonderful would it have been for James Anderson to get to his 600th Test wicket in front of a packed Rose Bowl? Zak Crawley would have loved to raise his bat after reaching his maiden century to a thunderous applause. In that view, I think every player wants to perform in front of thousands of spectators.
As far as the spectators are concerned, they are definitely missing being in the midst of the action. But then these are anything but normal times that we are living in. Everyone is trying their best to adjust and come to terms with the new normal.
So, the matches are being played in what is called as a ‘bio-bubble’ which tries to eliminate the risk of the disease. Bio-bubble is nothing but an environment that is shut off from the outside world. While this seems to be a good way to get things started, it definitely does not provide 100% Covid-proof as can be seen from the recent updates from the camp of Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
This brings us to the question whether it makes sense to start the gentleman’s game in such times. In my view, a beginning has to be made after minimizing the risk to the players and all other officials concerned. Of course, there cannot and shouldn’t be any compromise when it’s a matter of life and death. But it is also important for the game to continue in order to prevent further financial losses and the corresponding distress to the people in the cricket ecosystem.
And like we are seeing with the game having started in the original home of cricket, the IPL will signal it’s return in the sub-continent. While there is still some time to go before the fans would be back in the stadiums, but till then ‘the show must go on’.