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Is the poor turnout at the World Cup a sign that ODI cricket is on its last legs?

This picture shows a general view of the Narendra Modi Stadium during the Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and England

FILE - This picture shows a general view of the Narendra Modi Stadium during the Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and England. Photo: Money Sharma/AFP

Published Oct 11, 2023


Poor spectator turnout, a scheduling fiasco and a dubious outfield have cast a shadow over the Cricket World Cup in India, as the 50-over game itself faces an existential crisis.

The future of one-day internationals has been thrown into doubt by the growing popularity of the slam-bang Twenty-20 version, and the early optics from the World Cup have not been helping matters.

Less than a week since it started, empty seats have plagued the tournament.

That has been especially true of games not featuring the hosts but even Sunday's India-Australia match in Chennai, one of the biggest fixtures of this year's event, did not see a full house.

"India's first game in the World Cup and the Chennai stadium in a cricket crazy city has more than a few empty spaces," author and columnist Rajdeep Sardesai wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Around 47,000 fans showed up when defending champions England took on New Zealand in the opening game at the 132,000-seater stadium in Ahmedabad named after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

More than 100,000 people had turned out for the T20 Indian Premier League final last year at the same venue.

Poor crowds are not making for a pretty picture in a cricket-mad country which is hosting the World Cup for the first time since India's victory in 2011.

Ticket sales appear to have been hampered by the late announcement of the schedule.

The fixtures were first released around 100 days in advance, compared to more than a year ahead of time for the 2019 World Cup in England.

To make matters worse, the schedule was revised and released again on August 9, less than two months before the first ball of the tournament.

A total of nine games were rescheduled, including India's marquee match against Pakistan.

Defending champions England saw three of their nine fixtures moved.

Ticket sales for non-India games began on August 25, and for India games from August 31 onwards, complicating travel arrangements for fans.

"We may have the richest cricket association in the world, but it seems to be the poorest when it comes to hosting a World Cup," wrote Prince Thomas, managing editor of Indian news website The Morning Context.

"The biggest sin you can commit against a cricket lover is to deny him/her a ticket but still have empty stands," he posted on X.

Average or poor?

Organisers have also been criticised over the state of the outfield in the picturesque hillside city of Dharamsala, one of 10 tournament venues.

Heavy rain in the region in the months leading up the World Cup brought an infestation of fungus to the outfield.

Groundskeepers had to race against time to prepare the oval for the first game between Bangladesh and Afghanistan on Saturday.

Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott said bowler Mujeeb Ur Rahman had been at risk of a serious injury when his knee jarred the ground as he dived while fielding.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) inspected the surface after Saturday's game and deemed it to be "average" but playable.

But England captain Jos Buttler did not mince his words, describing the surface as "poor" ahead of their clash against Bangladesh on Tuesday.

"Fingers crossed that no one on either side picks up an unfortunate injury," said Buttler ahead of the game.

Batsman Sam Curran later said England were relieved to have escaped their fixture against Bangladesh without anyone getting hurt.

"It was pretty bad," Curran said. "We're pretty happy to get through that game without any injuries — both teams, I think. That's pretty important, and we don't have to come back here."