Amid a raging pandemic and voices of dissent, the IPL continues. However, there is a slightly stranger case to be made for the people and businesses that depend on cricket…
Public disquiet over IPL games continuing to be held whilst bodies pile up at crematoriums across the country has been growing louder on social media. Cricket diehards will not make that case, however; they call it “a distraction” amid the din.
Nevertheless, it has been a strange season off the pitch, especially for the over two dozen sports good stores on Wallajah Road, which leads to the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk. The road and the insides of these stores, much like the galleries at the stadium, are deserted these days.
Syed Shahbaz of Dhoni Sports, one of the prominent sporting good stores on Wallajah Road, says, “We did think at the start of this year that we would be able to cope when the IPL season started. But our calculations went wrong. Compared to 2019, I think we have only been able to do 10-20% of the numbers [of sales]. What’s worse is that even our foreign orders have gone down to nil since lockdown last year.”
He adds: “Friday, Saturday and Sunday are usually the days when business is at its peak but the store is almost always empty now.”
Last year, when the first national lockdown was enforced, there was a surge in demand for indoor games. Even though it meant sales of cricket bats and accessories of other outdoor sports went down, retailers like Syed were only too happy to meet the demand. “People used to buy carrom and chess boards like crazy and we were running out of stock constantly. This year, we have the stocks but there is no demand,” he says.
For Mohammed T Vakharia, partner in Tamil Nadu Sports Emporium, another sporting goods store on Wallajah Road, the items that he has been selling of late are related to physical fitness: “Dumbbells, rods, plates, resistance bands,” he says, as row-upon-row of unsold cricket bats and other sports accessories deck the wall behind him.
“We used to sell to Government agencies and educational institutes too. Even that has dried up now because nobody is holding corporate tournaments,” he says, adding that more than IPL, it is the lack of amateur sporting action that is hitting retailers like him hard. “The cricket fever actually picks up when an event like IPL or the World Cup concludes.”
However, total lockdown on Sundays dents such hopes since it is on this day when most amateur cricketers in the city usually gather for a game or tournament. Still, people like Ajay S find a way to satiate their passion. “I have moved my matches to Saturdays now. Anyway, most people are still working from home, and so we are able to find time off [to play],” says Ajay.
Cheering from home
- Saravanan Hari is a well-known superfan among Chennai Super Kings supporters. The man who goes so far as to paint himself yellow for CSK games too is playing safe this year. In a video he posted to his Twitter account, he says: “Some seem to think that they may not catch the virus. I know what COVID-19 does to people. I managed to recover from it but it wasn’t easy. So, stay home and stay safe.” In another video, Saravanan can be found waving the yellow flag inside his home and showing support for his favourite IPL team.
That is not however the case with Anandakrishnan S; it was only recently that he had formed a motley crew team of 30-somethings to play cricket tournaments on the weekend. The survival of this team — ironically named Survivors — is up in the air, he admits. “We had just started practising regularly and preparing for tournaments before the lockdown happened. Now if people can’t get together for another month or so, I fear all that effort will go to waste,” he says.
In any case, he has a backup plan. “We can always play underarm cricket in my apartment parking lot. Every Sunday evening, a few of us gather to play, including my grandfather and uncle. When they relax Sunday lockdown restrictions, we can play again, and after everyone is vaccinated… we may all even be able to go back to normal,” he adds, hopefully.