Representational image for the Unacademy Road Safety World Series (Image credit: InsideSport)

Playing cricket with the virus of corona

A year after the March 24 lockdown, India will be playing three One-Day Internationals with England in Pune, a prominent city of Maharashtra, the state which is, of late, reporting more than 60 per cent cases of corona virus and related deaths every day in the country. The matches would be held on March 23, 26 and 28–the last one on the eve of Holi.

This was preceded by five Twenty-20 and two Test matches (third and fourth) at Narendra Modi Stadium (the largest cricketing venue in the world) in Ahmedabad, the biggest city of Gujarat, whose chief minister Vijay Rupani had tested corona positive only last month. Yet, a confident India decided to go on with all seven matches in the city—in itself a unique development.

Incidentally, the first two Test matches took place in Chennai, the capital of poll-bound Tamil Nadu.

This practice of holding so many matches in just three centres in itself is surprising and that too when even during the height of COVID-19 last year Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were among the most affected states of India. Yet the cricketing authorities, for reasons best known to them, did not include other venues in the country at the time of planning the two-month long series with England, which itself had passed through the worst phase of pandemic in December and January compelling its Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel his January 26 trip to India, where he was the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade.

Apparently, there is no problem in playing cricket matches as now Japan is going on its plan to hold the Tokyo Olympic this summer, which was actually scheduled last year. The only difference is that Japan has put a ban on foreign spectators because of the pandemic.

The problem in India lies somewhere else. Here a man, who identified himself as Pankaj Patel of Gandhinagar on March 12 rang up police inspector, K V Patel, posted at the stadium, and threatened to self-immolate himself if the matches continued to be played as Gujarat is in the grip of pandemic. He used abusive language against the state chief minister and deputy chief minister.

Two days later the authorities decided to organise the rest three Twenty-20 matches scheduled on March 16, 18 and 20 without spectators. The ticket-money was refunded.

It was only on February 24 that President Ramnath Kovind inaugurated the Narendra Modi Stadium, having a capacity of 1.10 lakh. Union home minister Amit Shah was also present on this big occasion. The event reminded everyone of a similar gathering to welcome the then US President Donald Trump in Ahmedabad exactly a year back.

As if that was not enough, Unacademy Road Safety World Series was held between March 7 and 21. It was a Twenty-20 extravaganza organised in association with the Road Safety Cell, government of Maharashtra.

The India Legends, Sri Lanka Legends, West Indies Legends, Bangladesh Legends, England Legends, South Africa Legends and Australia Legends took part in the stadiums apparently thrown open for half of the capacity crowd. But in practice hardly anyone was maintaining social distancing and very few people were wearing masks.

Cricketing legends such as Sachin Tendulkar, Brain Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya and many others took part. If the state government in Maharashtra can impose a fortnight long lockdown in Nagpur and impose fine on those not wearing mask in Mumbai or in some other places why has it not called off these matches.

What type of hypocrisy is this? Why are poor people fined and harassed by police? Is corona virus selective that it would not affect those watching matches. One may not justify the slapping of a woman BMC marshal by a lady in Mumbai when the former was imposing fine for not wearing mask. But the questions raised in the above paragraph might have been gripping the mind of everyone now.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to address a big election rally in West Bengal a day after holding meeting with chief ministers on the corona virus people in social media responded very differently. They openly questioned his repeated election rallies in Assam and West Bengal (where all corona rules and norms are violated) and are asking as to why are there different criteria for different people.

Last year, notwithstanding the hasty way in which the lockdown was imposed, the people in general obeyed the government order thinking that this may put an end to the pandemic.  But over the years the common masses have learnt a lesson. The pandemic spread faster and took a very high death toll in the months when the lockdown was imposed strictly.

Ironically, the number of cases gradually declined after the relaxation of the restrictions. Even during the high time of the Bihar Assembly election in October and November last year the number fell down sharply when hardly anyone was wearing mask or maintaining social distancing.

The other irony is that the number of cases started rising about a month after the country launched its vaccination campaign on January 16.  The number is rising even after four crore people, mostly health workers and older lot, have been vaccinated.

Curiously, while the colder countries of Northern Hemisphere witnessed a big surge in the winter, in India, the number rose astronomically in summer last year and is showing similar signs this year too.

Surprisingly, the pandemic has not been showing signs of resurgence in China, the country where the first case was reported in November 2019.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.

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