The England versus West Indies first Test match in Southampton, England, last week finally brought cricket to the forefront once more. The Test match was a thriller with the West Indies finally chasing the runs and coming out victorious on the final day of the game. However, England to me, has also come out as a winner. They showed that cricket can still be played even in these difficult times of COVID-19.
The effort and planning that would have gone into it and to be the first country to do so, must have been quite an arduous task. Furthermore, to organize it so meticulously was a magnificent achievement. They now have a template for the rest of the world to follow.
The players have shown that "the show must go on" and for them to live in an isolated bubble for the quarantine period and thereafter is a remarkable commitment.
One is, therefore, sad to learn that England's new sensational fast bowler Jofra Archer – on the journey from Southampton to Manchester where the second Test match is being held – broke the regulations set by visiting his flat on the way. This action from the young dynamic bowler was immature as he is now in quarantine and has missed the chance of playing a very crucial match for his country. The absence of Archer could play a very important role in the final outcome of the Test match. England will surely miss him.
Cricketers, henceforth, will need to ensure that all the protocol set for them are strictly adhered to. To expose themselves to the possibility of catching the dreaded virus is not only detrimental to them but also to their fellow cricketers, crew and the staff members supporting them.
An apology from Archer about his action is just because he received a rap on his fingers for his mistake but it could have led to a series being shelved unnecessarily. Cricket then would have been at a standstill once again.
The restriction of saliva for use by the bowlers on the cricket ball and its effect was one area that everyone was keen to learn more about. The importance, especially in England where one sweats less, has now proved that saliva does play a major part in the armory of a swing bowler.
The best in class with 587 wickets under his belt, James Anderson, was one such to suffer. A genuine mover of the new and old cricket ball, Anderson could barely get the swing that he is renowned for. He is a bowler who has over the years mastered the line and length to bowl in his home conditions but this time he too struggled to emulate his past repertoire.
A stadium without noise and pressure sans spectators was another area as to how the cricketers would address the silent atmosphere. Especially as the pumping of one's adrenalin for an athlete because of the crowd behind them does get that extra bit of momentum in their performance.
England, one felt, did miss the noise of their ardent fans and supporters, the Barmy Army, as chasing the 200-run target for the West Indians would not have been so peaceful otherwise. The home crowd pressure on an opponent is quite unsettling and the West Indian batsmen got the benefit of the lack of the English supporters terrifying them during the chase.
With cricket now finally on the cards, the ICC and all the cricket playing countries are out with their drawing board chalking out their plans. One does feel that the limited-overs, especially the T20 matches, are a better option to schedule, as the most popular version of the game will attract many more viewers and eyeballs than the conventional Test matches.
A five-day affair and with plenty of rain delays in England can be quite a difficult match to follow even for a die-hard fan. Also, not every game is expected to reach its climax in the afternoon of the very last day. The present-day cricket fans have far less patience due to the paucity of time in their everyday life and so cricket for them is much more of an entertainment than a slow technically correct affair.
One is still skeptical about Australia being able to host the T20 World Cup at the end of this year. One, however, gathers that they will be playing their popular T20 League, the Big Bash, this year. If this tournament is possible, one cannot rule out the possibility for them to go ahead with hosting the T20 World Cup.
India and the other nations will need to be prepared for such an eventuality if it arises. But at the end one is pleased that cricket has arrived once again!
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)