The ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, billed as the most anticipated cricket event of the year, took place in India’s largest stadium, a country that truly reveres the sport.
However, when the tournament finally kicked off in Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, which was renamed after the Indian Prime Minister in 2021, it was met with the surprising sight of thousands of empty seats.
Low Turnout at the Opening Match
As England and New Zealand faced off in the tournament opener, cricket fans turned to social media to express their shock at the rows of vacant saffron-colored seats. England women’s cricketer, Danni Wyatt, took to Twitter, asking, “Where’s the crowd?”
Jemimah Rodrigues, her Indian counterpart, responded, explaining that the crowd was eagerly awaiting India’s match against Pakistan on Saturday, October 14.
Ticketing Woes and Fan Discontent
Fans were critical of the tournament’s scheduling and ticketing process. The first batch of tickets went on sale just six weeks before the opening match on August 25, causing significant inconvenience for traveling fans.
Indian cricket enthusiasts, who had longed for years to witness this prestigious event in their homeland, were left disillusioned. Vipul Yadav, a devoted sports fan, described the ticketing process as “nonsensical,” highlighting the frustration of many.
“Nowhere else in the world do you have to struggle this much for a ticket. All of this has happened because ticket sales began too late,” he lamented.
India’s Absence Impact
During the England vs. New Zealand match, only a few hundred fans from both countries were visible in the stands. The absence of the Indian team in the opening match seemed to be a significant factor in the lack of local enthusiasm. Remarkably, this marked the first time in 27 years that the World Cup’s opening match did not involve a host nation.
Former India captain Ravi Shastri pointed out that India’s absence could be the reason for the lukewarm response from local fans. Ironically, the last time this occurred was during a World Cup hosted by India, with the same teams competing at the same venue.
Criticism and Unmet Expectations
Sachin Tendulkar, the legendary Indian cricketer, tried to console the few spectators by emphasizing their love for international cricketers and promising to make the tournament special for all players. However, online criticism persisted.
One cricket enthusiast and writer from India, Manya, expressed that constructing the world’s largest stadium doesn’t equate to being an effective sports administrator.
No Opening Ceremony
In a notable departure from tradition, the tournament was not officially declared open with a grand opening ceremony attended by a head of state. Instead, it commenced with a captains’ news conference held a day before the first match.
The tournament now moves to Hyderabad, where Pakistan will play its first match against the Netherlands. Pakistan’s contingent received a warm welcome from the local crowd when they arrived in India. Pakistan captain Babar Azam expressed optimism, expecting Indian fans to support Pakistan despite the longstanding tensions between the two nations.
“Most of our matches are sold out, which means Indian fans are eager to see us and support us in the stadiums,” Azam remarked.
India’s bitter rivals may indeed see larger crowds in the 39,000-capacity Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad, offering hope for a livelier atmosphere in the matches to come.