CHENNAI, India — The India-England cricket series starting Feb. 5 in Chennai also marks the first international sport in India since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The country went into lockdown in March 2020, and in recent months life has returned to a small degree of normalcy.
This tour by England, also including three one-day internationals and five Twenty20s, is a precursor to the Indian Premier League coming home in April-May, and India staging the Twenty20 World Cup in October-November. The money-spinning IPL was postponed for months last year and moved to the United Arab Emirates without spectators.
A drastic decrease in daily active COVID-19 cases across India — from nearly 100,000 per day in August-September to about 10,000 this past week — and a mass vaccination program has encouraged Indian cricket bosses to consider allowing spectators at stadiums.
The BCCI is reportedly preparing for up to 50 percent capacity from the second test starting on Feb. 15, also in Chennai. If it happens, it will be the first instance of England playing in front of fans after nearly seven months of cricket in closed stadiums.
Of more concern for England is stopping India on the field. India is coming off a remarkable comeback series win in Australia with a depleted squad, and will have back captain Virat Kohli after a six-week paternity leave.
Kohli amassed 655 runs in five tests against England when it last visited in 2016-17, leading India to a 4-0 win. A similar result — or 2-1 win or better — would put India in the inaugural world test championship final against New Zealand in England in June.
England needs a 3-0 win to stand a chance of making the final.