Riding the COVID-19 storm

Updated: 28 May, 2020 07:04 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

No spectators at possible future events will take away the soul of sport and the heart of competition, but it's a bitter pill which must be swallowed as the virus shows no signs of ebbing.

Australia's Steve Smith and David Warner obliging kids with autographs during Day Four of the opening Test against New Zealand at Perth's Optus Stadium on December 15, 2019. Pic/Getty Images
Australia's Steve Smith and David Warner obliging kids with autographs during Day Four of the opening Test against New Zealand at Perth's Optus Stadium on December 15, 2019. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloSport used to be a pleasant distraction from the miseries of calamities and economic crisis. But the current pandemic is far more widespread and universally draining than any other unfortunate occurrence, save the two World Wars. Sports-loving fans are now forced to satisfy their hunger with the German football league while hanging on to strands of hope concerning the resumption of other leagues across disciplines.

Last week, sports minister Kiren Rijiju said in no uncertain terms that sporting events will have to be held without spectators. While we all want to see the resumption of sport, there is understandable pessimism about spectators being allowed at grounds for the next year, if not longer. Doubtless, sport will be less soulful in such a scenario, but it's a bouncer that must be dealt with; the next ball has to be faced.

Having spectators at arenas appears to be a dream situation considering the pace at which the virus is spreading. And while we begin to swallow this bitter pill, I can't help recalling the dollops of joy and mirth spectators brought into cricket — especially the ones from the West Indies. One of the best anecdotes I heard concerning Caribbean crowds was about Malcolm Marshall bowling well to a batsman without getting him out. "Macko," said one of the spectators, "enough of foreplay, let's have some action."

Then there was fast bowler Uton Dowe, who was given another spell by captain Rohan Kanhai after being hammered by Australian opener Keith Stackpole in the opening Test at Kingston in 1973. Kanhai's persistence moved a die-hard cricket lover to exclaim from the stands: "Kanhai, have you not heard of the eleventh commandment? Dowe shall not bowl!"

Denis Compton, that glamorous England batsman, was provided an example of how much cricket meant to the West Indian crowds when he was told by one of them during the 1953-54 tour: "Massa [meaning master] Everton Weekes, massa Frank Worrell and massa Clyde Walcott come first and then the Lord."

Test match crowds have diminished in India but can anyone dare say the same when it comes to one-day internationals and T20 internationals? Apart from the opposition, the crowds get Virat Kohli's juices flowing. In a closed-door scenario, he will miss that morale-lifting atmosphere just like a stage artist will feel while performing before an auditorium of empty seats.

On Star Sports, the India captain put things in perspective: "I honestly don't know how everyone is going to take that because we all are used to playing in front of so many passionate fans. I know it will be played at a very good intensity but that feeling of the crowd connecting with the players and the tension of the game where everyone goes through it in the stadium, those emotions are very difficult to recreate."

Meanwhile, our hearts go out to young Indian cricket enthusiasts, who would look forward to a visit to the ground for an Indian Premier League game in their summer holidays. Just the other day, Mohammed Azharuddin, while talking to journalist G Rajaraman on Gundappa Viswanath, revealed how he bought a Re 1 ticket to squat on the eastern side of Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad to watch Viswanath work his way to a strokeful hundred for South Zone against Clive Lloyd's West Indies in 1974. Azhar became a bigger Vishy fan that November day.

Rewind even further to 1921 when a 12-year-old Don Bradman succeeded in convincing his father to take him to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the Australia v England battle in the fifth Test of the series. Father and son could watch only the first two days of the Test which witnessed a grand 170 by New South Welshman Charlie Macartney. It was an innings that helped Australia whitewash the old enemy 5-0. It also fuelled Bradman's cricketing ambitions to such an extent that he told his father, "I shall never be satisfied until I play on this ground." A little over five years later, he did — a one-day match for Southern Districts of New South Wales against Newcastle in 1926; a season before his Sheffield Shield debut in 1927-28.

What kind of an effect can spectators have on the practitioners of sport? In 1990, basketball legend Michael Jordan was asked by novelist John Edgar Wideman for Esquire magazine about which section of the audience was most important to him. "Kids," he shot back. "I can notice a kid enjoying himself. I'll wink at him, smile, lick a tongue at him, and keep going and still maintain the concentration that I need for the game. That's my personality. I've always done it. I can catch eye-to-eye a mother, a father, anybody...kid around with them as I'm playing in a serious and very intense game. That's the way I relax, that's the way I get my enjoyment from playing the game of basketball," Jordan remarked.

I don't see spectator-free events destroying ambitions and aspirations of players, but a good car mechanic will tell you that a lack of acceleration can lead to the failure of a spark plug.

In all this, we must not lose sight of the fact that the virus is taking lives every day and if there is this soft voice telling administrators, 'Hang on, let this deadly bowler tire out and then make your way to the discussion room for the next move,' they must listen to it.

The wait for the real thing seems inevitable and long. But we have only one road.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzelloSend your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 28 May, 2020 06:58 IST

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