Sehwag new
Virender Sehwag Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

New Delhi: India great Virender Sehwag said World Cup organisers should offer free tickets to children to fill up seats in matches not involving the hosts, after witnessing empty stands during Thursday's opener between England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad.

The Black Caps crushed champions England by nine wickets in a game that eventually drew 47,518 fans, which the International Cricket Council said was a record turnout for an opening match at a 50-overs World Cup.

However, swathes of empty seats in the 132,000-seater venue - named after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - early in the contest left many fans online unimpressed.

The venue had drawn 101,566 fans for the final of the Indian Premier League last year, but factors like the hosts not playing, a weekday fixture and the oppressive heat in the city could have played a part on Thursday.

"Hopefully after office hours, there should be more people coming in," former India batsman Sehwag posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the match began.

"But for games not featuring Bharat (India), there should be free tickets for school and college children.

"With the fading interest in 50-over games, it will definitely help that youngsters get to experience a World Cup game and players get to play in front of a full stadium." Former India all-rounder and coach Ravi Shastri said the opening match should have featured the hosts, who only begin their campaign against Australia on Sunday, instead of both finalists from 2019.

"I understand you want one of the former finalists to play, but at all costs, have a home team play," Shastri, who works as a commentator, said during the broadcast after former England opener Michael Atherton raised the topic.

"If this was India v England, you would be guaranteed a full house. Even on a weekday, at least 70,000-80,000 people would have come in. It just adds that buzz. There is a build-up." Away from cricket, the ongoing rugby World Cup in France has been played to packed stadiums with fixtures and venues released as early as 2021.

In contrast, the schedule for the cricket showpiece was only announced on June 27 - 100 days before the first game.

A massive turnout can be expected at Ahmedabad, however, when India face arch-rivals Pakistan on October 14.