Cricket and COVID-19: The sights and sounds of a vacant cricket stadium
"It was very different, every time you tried to speak it echoed around the ground. Showed you how empty it was. It was a little bit bizarre."
Echo is the most outstanding thing in an empty cricket field. The ball hits the middle of the bat and there's a sweet echo. The fielders clap, there's an echo. Mid-on says, "well bowled champ" and there's an echo. You can hear the batsman call YES or NO or WAITING clearly, there's an echo.
This is about all the positives of a closed door sporting event. The buzz is gone. The edge is gone. It is like going back to playing cricket in a park on a weekend morning with your mates, where there's no one seeing, not a soul.
The first ODI (and the only one as it turned out) of the Chappell Hadlee trophy between Australia and New Zealand was my first taste of watching a closed door cricket match. And, let me make it very clear right at the outset, it was not a pleasant one.
When Steve Smith pulled off a blinder at gully, there was no cheer. When Smith dropped a sitter, there were no boos. On most other days, there would have been the thumping sound of the DJ after the wicket or the collective disappointment of the Aussie crowd after the dropped catch, but on that day, there was none of that.
Surely, when Adam Zampa bamboozled Kane Williamson, one of the most technically sound batsmen around, as the Kiwi was stuck in between - neither forward nor back, neither committed nor leaving - the SCG crowd would have been at its feet, applauding the wonder that they had just seen. But on that day, there was none of that.
You could hardly make out whether the ball was headed towards the boundary through the vacant cow corner, or a spirited Mitchell Marsh was giving chase. You could hardly make out whether the bowler was already in his run-up or he was still in confab with the captain, fine-tuning the field. Almost in all of the matches that I have watched to date, I wouldn't have had to lift my head to know that, the spectators would be screaming in my ears. But on that day, there was none of that.
Generally, the synchronised claps in the stands would have told me when Pat Cummins ran into bowl or when Lockie Ferguson bounced out David Warner with a thunderbolt. But on that day, there was none of that.
As the well-balanced match started gradually leaning towards Australia, every time a wicket well, there was not the usual high-five, the hair ruffle or the handshake. Instead, there were the strange elbow nudges. Earlier, there was none of that.
"It was very different, every time you tried to speak it echoed around the ground. Showed you how empty it was. It was a little bit bizarre," Kiwi leg spinner Ish Sodhi said after the match.
"It was unique, playing cricket in front of half a dozen people, the journos, but all in all think it was a pretty good result compared to what is happening around the world with sporting events being cancelled. Once you get out there you have world class bowlers running in at you your heart rate gets up as it does generally in an international game," said Aaron Finch in the post-match presentation, which interestingly was shot on the spider cam.
International cricketers are not used to playing in empty stands. So, it was interesting to just observe them as they went about their business. Dawid Warner didn't realise when he brought up his half-century, because there were no applause from the crowd; there was no crowd to applaud. And, the southpaw hardly acknowledged the crowd; there was no crowd to acknowledge.
Of all things, you could hear the birds chirping at the SCG during the match. But, even that couldn't prevent me from feeling fatigued by the end of it all.
©Cricket World 2020