India crashed out to West Indies in the semifinal of the World Twenty20, but that didn’t dampen fan sentiment on Sunday.
A packed, noisy Eden Gardens crowd was treated to a sensational last-over finish as West Indies newcomer Carlos Brathwaite struck four sixes to subdue England in a flourish.
While the India games were full houses, crowds for the other games showed how far the shortest format has come in terms of keeping neutral fans excited.
The best example came at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, which was packed to the rafters. It was Sunday evening alright, but India were not in action until three days later. West Indies faced Sri Lanka, but the fans were there for one man --- Chris Gayle.
The batting enforcer of Royal Challengers Bangalore had a huge local connect, which helped too. They kept chanting “We want Gayle”. West Indies were cruising to victory against Sri Lanka, but the demand was for the Jamaican big-hitter to put on a show.
Gayle paced impatiently before the dressing room. A hamstring twinge had kept him off the field and he had to spend an equal amount of time, or until the fifth wicket fell, before he could bat. There were two minutes when the previous wicket fell and his teammates refused to oblige him. In the end, he waved to the spectators after the game had been wrapped up.
The crowd response was overwhelming in Mumbai, where England played West Indies and South Africa on weekdays. The fans at the Wankhede were treated to a Gayle special against England. But a full house for Australia-Bangladesh in Bengaluru on a Monday, or for Australia-Pakistan in Mohali and an England-New Zealand semifinal at the Ferozeshah Kotla?
Good entertainment packaged in three hours had found great response in the Indian Premier League, and leading players like AB de Villiers, Shane Watson and David Warner immediately connected with the fans as they turned out for their national teams.
Good attendance is key to the success of any tournament. The 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean fell on that count. The WT20 had faced uncertainties at the start after Dharamsala was ruled out as the venue for the tournament’s biggest game --- India versus Pakistan --- and the latter delayed their arrival over security.
There were issues over tickets and logistics as that game was shifted while the lottery system for buying tickets for the India games caused more trouble for fans. Still, the attendance numbers for the WT20, a tournament only a decade old, gave it a profile which matched the 50-over tournament held in 2011.
In the end, Brathwaite, more potential than performer in the IPL as he has been bought by Delhi Daredevils, won the hearts of the Eden Gardens crowd with his sixes and then by throwing his gloves into the stands.
We can be sure the Eden faithful will root for Brathwaite when Daredevils take on Kolkata Knight Riders.