Season after season, a selected handful of sports activities journalists throughout India religiously trudge by means of the nation’s low-tech, long-forgotten, prolonged but supremely necessary home cricket circuit.
This bunch, an fascinating intermingling of cub reporters and seasoned veterans, has lengthy recognized what many others will expertise for the first time at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton come Wednesday. They have recognized what it looks like when cricket cradles stillness.
Take India’s Ranji Trophy, a tournament redolent of history and tradition yet which, for years, has often been played without a soul watching. Without one single spectator inside the haunting, cavernous empty shells of vast concrete stadiums, sleeping giants which awake only for international games.
For hours and hours in these matches, there is nothing to break the metronomic sound of baton ball. Apart from, maybe, the odd yell of excitement or nervous energy from a player, even as the cricket takes its own sweet time to decide who gets to make the grade to the bells-and-whistles, bursting-with-spectators international version.
Except there are no spectators in international cricket anymore. The Ranji Trophy lost quite a bit of its soul when the crowds went away, and international cricket, too, might have to live with just that when England take on West Indies in the first of a three-Test series.
The return of Test cricket for the first time in four months is more than welcome, and as Windies coach Phil Simmons has observed, how the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) conducts these ‘bio-bubble’ games “will likely be an enormous blueprint for how cricket strikes ahead”. Every administrator and player will be watching, for they cannot afford to not watch anymore.
Yet what does it mean for the game itself ? Cricket has proven itself extremely resilient over hundreds of years, surviving wars, class battles, commercial considerations and endless mutations. Unlike football, though, which too is currently being played without crowds across Europe, the coronavirus has struck at cricket’s basic foundations.
For starters, players cannot apply saliva to the ball, a practice as old as time itself. Entire teams must quarantine themselves for a fortnight either side of international travel, wreaking havoc on the calendar.
The West Indies, for example, arrived in England on June 9, trained at Old Trafford and have now shifted base to the Ageas Bowl. Players are stationed in hotels inside the ground itself. They are having swabs pushed down their throats twice a week, and even one illness, or the fear of one positive case – as the Sam Curran false alarm showed – can derail the entire caravan.
Covid replacements are now a must, especially in Test cricket. The umpires are not neutral, or non-neutral, if you please. Cricket prides itself on its ability to socially distance better than other sports, yet long hours on the field can make players forget about declining that high-five or huddle. The ECB has even nixed canned music and applause for the time being, though there will be announcements for bowling changes etc. after England’s players complained of a “lack of sense of construction”.
Incidentally, TV viewers in England could have the choice of including a ‘Lord’s hum’ to the protection. Anything for a semblance of normalcy. And then there was the disastrous financial fallout. Let’s face it, this series is a contractual obligation, like most international sport proper now. The ECB merely should recoup 180 million kilos of broadcast income.
The Afghanistan, Australia and the West Indies cricket boards are reeling from pay cuts and tons of of misplaced livelihoods. The IPL, the monetary engine room of Indian cricket, lies in limbo. The World Test Championship, of which this series is a component, appears to be like destined to eternally play catch-up with altered circumstances.
Which brings us to the cricket itself, the solely salve in these testing occasions. Ben Stokes will embark on a brand new innings as England captain, with the opposition led by fellow all-rounder Jason Holder, no mug himself in the multi-tasking stakes. West Indies beat England 2-1 in the Caribbean final yr however haven’t received a Test series in England since 1988. Brian Lara feels it will likely be a problem for them to final 5 days, although the highly effective Windies tempo battery may suppose in any other case. England too are chock-full of selections on the tempo entrance.
Once performs begins, the coronavirus will take a again seat, even when for a short whereas, from our minds. And is not that what sport is for? For an immediate, we would even for-get that cricket is present process deep change, or that we live in worry of our lives on daily basis. And the stillness could be a small worth to pay.