Hyderabad washout hurts cricket's value
Almost 30,000 fans turned up at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium to watch India take on Australia. They didn't see any rain, but also didn't see a single ball being bowled
The loudest cheers of the night came when Virat Kohli took shots at the goal with MS Dhoni guarding it. At the other end of the ground, there was Nathan Coulter-Nile mock-wrestling one of his team-mates. That these were the only glimpses of sporting action on a night when India and Australia were supposed to be playing the deciding match of a T20I series was as disappointing as it was shambolic.
Even as it rained in other parts of Hyderabad on Friday, there wasn't a single drop in the vicinity of the stadium all day. The heaviest of the showers came on Thursday night, which ultimately put paid to any chances of a game taking place. Despite that, ESPNcricinfo understands that the pitch and the square were in good condition. The outfield, however, remained damp and patchy and was ultimately unfit to play on. No amount of sawdust could have masked those ungainly-looking craters.
This is 2017. It isn't as if cricket enjoys a monopoly as a source of entertainment, given the sheer number of alternatives. And, with a series that doesn't really have a contextual peg, the battle to grab eyeballs is harder to win. To then have a washout, when there was no rain on match day, is to spite the game's value as a commercial product.
Now, if the square was dry and the outfield unplayable, then the ground either didn't have the covers or didn't cover the whole ground - a common practice now across stadiums in India. An official of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), however, maintained that the ground was covered in entirety in the lead up to the game. Instead, he pointed out how the ground slopes down, and away from the pitch, suggesting the moisture would naturally slide off the square and settle on the outfield.
The groundstaff felt that they were hard done by the unprecedented rainfall the city had received over the last three weeks. While the mornings and afternoons have been hot and humid, there has invariably been heavy downpour after sundown. More than two hours before the scheduled start of play, the HCA groundstaff had begun to labour hard. Heaps of sawdust were sprinkled on some of the soggier patches in the outfield. On the eve of the match, it is understood that they had even used pedestal fans to dry the outfield. Ultimately, all of it was an exercise in futility.
"We are all very upset," a member of the groundstaff said. "There is no way we can fight nature. What can we possibly do if it has rained on each of the last 21 days? We worked hard to prepare a good pitch and were confident that the game would start, but we couldn't overcome nature." If the BCCI decides to investigate this game, the officials and groundstaff might be forced to offer less cagey and more concrete response.
The other controversy of the evening came when the nearly 30,000-strong crowd was kept in the dark about the game being called off. The announcement eventually came only after the players had left for their hotels. There was neither a prize distribution ceremony nor press conferences. Eventually, a photograph showed up on the India team's social media pages, with Kohli and David Warner posing together with the trophy.
While India and Australia finished the series as joint winners, the fans in Hyderabad must have felt shortchanged. First, they endured a long commute to reach the stadium and were pleasantly surprised that there was no rain. But, then their hopes of watching India win a decider and keep alive their hopes of being No. 1 in all three formats were dashed right from the start, even if they didn't know it. They roared and cheered every time Kohli hit a football into the stands, in the hope that they would ultimately see at least a truncated game, but their enthusiasm flatlined soon enough. If there is any consolation from a match that was abandoned without a ball being bowled, it is that they will receive a reasonable chunk of their ticket money as a refund.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun