A stage-managed World Cup

I’m glad the ICC Cricket World Cup ended the way it did, with good cricket on show. I’m disappointed that India lost but, to echo Sunil Gavaskar at the post-match show, I’m glad it was only to a better team. But during the World Cup itself, there were many signs that it was stage-managed in ways that left an off-putting aftertaste, like a mix of jingoism, political interference, and flashiness. The following is a short list of examples.

1. Sundays for India: Sundays were reserved for India versus X games, whereas other teams’ games happened on the other days. The BCCI did this presumably to ensure the stadiums for the India games were full, at the expense of half or mostly empty stadiums for games featuring other teams. This is not a good look. In fact, if the BCCI wanted to maximise revenue, it could have scheduled the India games on weekdays, since people will have been willing to plan around the occasion and come to the stadium anyway, and use the Sunday games to showcase teams that won’t tour India in the foreseeable future, like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Netherlands. That could have been a win-win.

2. Tickets hard to get: Even before the tournament began, fans were neither able to access nor buy tickets for various matches: the former because of glitches in the booking system, including showing a stadium as being full when it actually wasn’t and outright server crashes, and the latter because the BCCI vouchsafed a significant chunk of tickets at stadiums for “sponsors, commercial partners, guests of both the ICC and the Indian board” and also “requested that states release as many tickets as possible meant otherwise for the member clubs, affiliated units, sponsors, former cricketers, life members, police, local government officials, which usually consumes a significant chunk of tickets for both international and IPL matches,” per ESPN Cricinfo.

3. Police presence: On Twitter, many of those who visited stadiums around the country reported police presence in the seating area, with some personnel taking away posters and placards supporting Pakistan (when the team was playing). Such acts of nationalism pushing the cricket back annulls the principal joy of sport and defeats the purpose of cricket being played in front of such large crowds. The spectating experience was also probably diminished by unreasonable restrictions on what people could take with them (including water bottles).

4. Cauldrons of nationalism: Australia captain Pat Cummins said before the final that he was looking forward to silencing a crowd of 100,000 people – but the adrenaline it invoked slowly but surely settled into shame. Why would a stadium of 100,000 people who claim to be there to watch a game of cricket fall silent? Australia and India are both great ODI teams and their clash could only produce great cricket, which is always worthy of cheer. But the Narendra Modi Stadium did fall silent, as if the spectators were there only to watch India win. There wasn’t a peep when Travis Head reached his century. Such silence befell many other stadiums through the tournament, especially when “jai shree Ram”s weren’t also ringing out.

5. Symbols and glam: The World Cup was, on screens, occupied with glam. The broadcaster’s cameras in all games, but especially during the final, kept focusing on the faces of film stars in the stands when they weren’t trained on the cricketers. It became kind of toxic together with – in this order – the Air Force jets’ fly past (reminiscent of nationalism’s foundational ties with sports as well as military might), the stadium-wide silence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promised presence that turned into an absence around the same time India’s defence started to go downhill, and, beyond the field, many being unaware of knowing how to lose with grace.