The sight of cricket spectators witnessing live action between India and England inside the Narendra Modi Stadium was a welcome one for sports fans around the world.
Restrictions on attending sports fixtures have been in place since the start of the Covid outbreak and have remained throughout the pandemic to limit the spread of virus infections.
But an improved coronavirus situation has prompted an easing of some rules in India, including fans returning to sporting events, with England’s venues set to open its doors to limited numbers from 17 May.
Yet, after fans were allowed into the first two Twenty20 (T20) matches between India and England in Ahmedabad, there has been a change in thinking by the local authorities and cricket associations.
Why were fans allowed into India v England T20 series?
The first two T20 matches of the 2021 series were played in front of large crowds inside the Narendra Modi Stadium, in Ahmedabad, after a relaxation of Covid restrictions locally.
An improved coronavirus situation nationally opened the door - and the turnstiles - for a limited number of spectators allowed into sports venues across India from February onwards.
Up to 50% of the stadium’s maximum capacity attendance were permitted for the two Test matches played at the same venue prior to the T20 series, which attracted smaller crowds.
The ground, commonly known as the Motera, is the largest cricket stadium in the world with a seated capacity of 130,000, drawing around 60,000 fans for each of the first two T20s.
Will fans be allowed into India v England T20 series?
Despite spectators allowed into the stadium for the first two T20 matches, the remaining three fixtures of the series on 16, 18 and 20 March will be played behind closed doors.
This is due to a significant rise in positive coronavirus cases in the region hosting the cricket fixtures, Gujarat, which has recorded a reported 25,000 new infections a day of late.
It is the highest number of new Covid cases the region has reported since mid-December.
A statement released by the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) confirmed the series will be concluded without spectators inside the stadium.
GCA vice president Dhanraj Nathwani said: “Due to the rise in the number of coronavirus cases, we at GCA have decided in consultation with BCCI that the matches will be played behind closed doors. This will not allow spectators in the ground during T20 Internationals to be played between India and England at Ahmedabad.”
The statement went on to say that all tickets for the remaining three T20 fixtures will be refunded.
How has the news been received?
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) supported the decision.
Its honorary secretary Jay Shah said: “The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in consultation with the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) has decided to conduct the final three T20Is against England at the Narendra Modi Stadium behind closed doors.
“The decision was arrived at following detailed discussions with the state and local health authorities. The BCCI will continue to comply with all the regulations put in place to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and will always put the health and safety of its fans and stakeholders at the top.”
A spokesperson for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the decision “doesn’t materially affect us” as the players and staff remain in their bubbles.
Will fans return for the ODI series?
Fans have been permitted to attend part of the Test series in Chennai and Ahmedabad, as well as the first two T20s as the squads remained at the Motera ground.
Yet the One Day International (ODIs) series that follows the conclusion of the T20 series will be played in a different city south of Ahmedabad, in the Maharashtra state of Pune.
The three ODIs between India and England are scheduled to take place on 23, 26 and 28 March, with the first match starting just three days after the final T20 fixture.
Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) president Vikas Kakatkar said: “Keeping the seriousness of the current spike in Covid cases in Maharashtra, after inputs from the Honourable Chief Minister (Uddhav Thackeray), it was decided that permission will be granted for these matches without spectators.”