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Fans: The 13th man


The ICC Cricket World Cup has seen unbelievable shots, scintillating bowling and spectacular catches but there is one other thing which has made this tournament stand out so far: the crowds.

It all started in Christchurch on February 14, when 17,228 packed into Hagley Oval for the city’s first major international sporting event since the devastating 2011 earthquake.

The rebuilding of Christchurch and World Cup cricket came together for the opening day of the tournament. Emotions and expectations were high but Brendon McCullum made his intentions immediately clear, driving his first ball of the tournament for four.

Later that day, 85,000 people turned the Melbourne Cricket Ground gold as Australia romped to an emphatic victory over its old rival.

Many of the supporters had bought tickets a year in advance. The build-up was long but from the time James Anderson bowled the first delivery of the World Cup in Australia at 2.30pm, it was all about the cricket.

On the second day of the tournament, a sold-out Adelaide Oval bore witness to the biggest cricket match in history. More than one billion people worldwide tuned in to see India continue its unbeaten World Cup streak against Pakistan.

At the oval itself, Pakistan and India fans bolted through the turnstiles the moment they opened, but long before that the crowds had been gathering outside.

The deafening fanfare only increased through the day, with commentators noting they had never heard the like in Adelaide before.

When it became apparent India was headed for victory, its supporters abandoned their seats to dance in the corridors.
While the first MCG match of the tournament was a giant party for the host nation, it was outdone when India’s legion of loyal fans flocked to the venue to see their team play the Proteas.

It was a version of the MCG unlike anything seen before: India fans flocked to Melbourne from far or wide, arriving at the Yarra Park precinct hours before the gates opened despite the sweltering heat.

En masse the Swarmy Army marched from Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD to the stadium, thousands of people waving flags, playing drums and chanting. It was something to behold.

The 86,876 crammed into the stadium in the second largest ODI crowd in the ‘G’s history, prompting Anil Kumble to note on Twitter: “With the Indian fans at the G! Great atmosphere! Feels like India!”

South Africa was playing at a neutral venue, but it would have felt like playing in front of the most passionate crowds in Mumbai or Kolkata.

Meanwhile one of the biggest crowd reactions of the day was reserved for a man not even playing, when the camera zoomed in and revealed Sachin Tendulkar watching on in the stands.

The fans immediately below his box spent a large portion of the match thereafter watching their hero, rising to their feet and chanting his name whenever he stood and waved.

MS Dhoni summed up the crowd perfectly after the match.

“Even when we are playing in India, there are stadiums, some of the stadiums which don’t have that kind of capacity, so even when they are full they’re close to 40,000, so today we are seeing in Australia close to more than 50,000 to 60,000 people supporting us.

In Canberra, a passionate crowd came to see Afghanistan make its World Cup debut and everywhere the Blue Tigers went, their fans brought excitement and joy.

How much the team’s place in the World Cup was obvious at Manuka Oval. Afghanistan fans came dressed in Afghanistan kit, fill of excitement at being part of the historic match, many travelling interstate for the event.

One group of friends and family slept outdoors after arriving in Canberra late at night and finding there was no accommodation available.

The roar when Hamid Hassan bowled Afghanistan’s first ball filled Manuka Oval and continued throughout an innings that produced many highlights – particularly some terrific catches from wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai.

The larger and equally boisterous Bangladesh crowd was also in fine voice, with most animated spectators from both camps seen grinning and patting each other on the back.

At point large, a large contingent of Afghanistan and Bangladesh fans paraded around the edge of the ground together, flags waving.

Afghanistan’s loyal fans turned out in force at each of its matches and when its first win came against Scotland in Dunedin, the scenes of joy was unrivalled.

Likewise, the support for Bangladesh was strong at each one of its pool matches. When it played Sri Lanka in Melbourne, the two teams and their legion of fans made the venue their own.

Sri Lanka fans came out in force to support their team, while Bangladesh proved once again it also has some of the most enthusiastic fans.

Tigers and Lions roamed the ground, musicians played and the festive atmosphere that has accompanied each World Cup match to date continued.

In Auckland, the Black Caps fans produced their own all-day deafening roar when Australia came to visit.

Eden Park came alive as New Zealand’s bowlers rattled through the Australia batting line up.

When New Zealand was nine wickets down chasing needing six to win and Kane Williamson coolly launched a Pat Cummins ball over the fence, the roar of 40,000 people that accompanied the six was immense.

“(The atmosphere) was really incredible to be honest. To have a crowd right behind us was a team it was something really special,” Williamson said after the match.

Everywhere the New Zealand team travelled through the pool stages, they were met with capacity or near-capacity crowds.

The Black Caps are on a roll and everyone in New Zealand wants a piece of the action.

These are just a few examples of the enthusiasm and passion that has followed the World Cup to date.

Each country has had vocal supporters – dressed as Leprechauns, in kilts, as tigers, lions or kangaroos – and each city has turned out to see the best ODI cricket has to offer.

Three massive finals matches remain. Expect the World Cup party to get even bigger.

Courtesy: ICC


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