Fears over the coronavirus may mean that the first ODI between India and South Africa in Dharamsala on Thursday plays in front of an empty stadium.
Currently, almost 40% of the tickets for the match in a stadium which accommodates 22,000 spectators when full, remain unsold, with many cricket fans, especially foreigners, looking to stay away, They include corporate clients as well – a third of the tickets for the corporate boxes are still available for sale.
Adding to the concerns over the virus is the weather forecast, which has predicted widespread rain and thunderstorms in the region between March 12 and 13. If that proves to be the case it will be doubly unfortunate for local cricket fans and the HPCA (Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association). The last international game scheduled there, a T20 international between these two same sides last September was also washed out by heavy rain.
In an attempt to forestall the weather, local officials have prayed to the rain god at the local Indrunag temple, where they were joined by cricket fans from the area.
Meanwhile, the threat posed by the virus may restrict the amount of saliva that bowlers put on the white ball during the match. Whilst this is obviously more hygienic, not using saliva means that the ball will swing and seamless, and be that much easier to hit, leading to accusations that the bowlers are not performing at their best.
No decision has yet been made – it will be decided by the Indian medical team on the eve of the match itself.
Meanwhile, the Indian players have been advised to avoid physical contact with fans.
For their part, Mark Boucher, the South African coach, has suggested that, during the time that his side spends in India, they avoid the customary handshakes and use other ways of greeting people that does not involve physical contact. The Proteas’ team decided to go ahead with the tour only after a full risk assessment was carried out by their medical and security teams.
So far there have been more than 40 positive cases of coronavirus reported in India but, if the pattern follows that of other countries, that number can be expected to increase sharply in the days and weeks ahead.