Kolkata: If anyone had wagered at the start of the year that the Indian Premier League will be held lock, stock and barrel in the UAE - or that fast bowlers will be banned from using saliva on the ball to retain its shine - it would have been written off as fantasy tales.
The COVID-19 pandemic ensured it happened as international cricket found its way for a resumption in July with the England versus West Indies Test series, but the sport is again staring at a certain degree of uncertainty with travel restrictions back to-and-fro from the UK while several leading cricketers complaining of the ‘bubble fatigue.’
The stress of living inside the bio-bubble, the only way forward for cricket to continue, proved tiresome for the professional cricketers and a number of reported breaches in their team hotel saw England abandoing their tour of a white ball series of South Africa midway.
Michael Vaughan, former England captain, branded the decision “alarming”, with him writing: “I worry that in future it will only be the rich nations that can put on cricket in bio-secure bubbles.”
While a big name as Australia’s David Warner has feared that the pressure of living in the bubble may force him to take a tough call on his international career, a number of England players - including their white ball captain Eoin Morgan - have voiced similar concerns.
Someone like Jason Holder, the West Indies Test skipper who survived months on the road after visiting England to resume international cricket and a person with mature head on his shoulders, was also not immune to such pressure. “Going from bubble to bubble, being isolated in a room, sometimes the room just gets smaller and smaller by the second,” said Holder following the second of West Indies’ two innings defeats in New Zealand earlier this month.
It was soon on the back of a landmark day for women’s cricket on March 8, when Australia beat India to win women’s Twenty20 World Cup in front of a Melbourne crowd of more than 86,000, that the sport came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic. The India versus South Africa white ball series was the next one to be cancelled with the Proteas already in India - before the pandemic forced the sport to come to a stop.
When the action resumed five months later, the world was a changed place. The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has to be complimented for being proactive by setting a template where international action can begin with strict bio-bubbles being created at two venues - Rose Bowl in Southampton and Old Trafford in Manchester - where team hotels were inside the stadium premises. It was a given that like the football leagues in Europe, the action had to take place behind closed doors but the guidelines approved by International Cricket Council (ICC) ratified a ban on the use of saliva by fast bowlers and fielders - an age-old practice to retain the shine on one side of the ball to derive swing.
This was certainly bad news for the bowlers in red ball cricket, but they have learnt to live with it as a number of Test series were being fitted in till year-end with an eye towards completing the backlog for the World Test Championship. This saw as many as three Tests: India-Australia, Pakistan-New Zealand and South Africa-Sri Lanka starting on the Boxing Day.
In a perfect summary of the topsy-turvy cricket year, ICC eventually decided to postpone the men’s T20 World Cup, scheduled to be held in October-November in Australia after waiting on a decision for more than two months. This, however, opened the door for Indian cricket board to find a window for the IPL - and both BCCI and the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) deserve a big round of applause for hosting the showpiece in the UAE amid such challenging conditions.
In a separate development, the ECB postponed its new domestic Hundred tournament, a 100-balls per side competition for men and women, while announcing 62 redundancies and pay cuts for players. The ECB also forecast a loss of more than 100 million pounds ($135 million) this year, potentially rising to 200 million pounds in 2021.
No centuries for Virat Kohli
For India, one of the powerhouses of the game, it was not a particularly memorable year in the international arena. Virat Kohli & Co had started the year with a forgettable tour of New Zealand while it was a rare year which saw the Indian captain finish it without any centuries for the first time since his debut in international cricket in 2011.
Till the beginning of their Boxing Day Test, Indian men’s team played a total of 23 international matches - three Tests, 11 T20Is, nine ODIs, and 11 T20Is. They lost all three Tests (two against New Zealand and the first Test in Adelaide which saw the infamous capitulation of 36) - though they registered wins in 10 T20s and three ODIs.
While it’s laudable that they lost just one of the 11 T20 matches, the results of One-day Internationals and Tests left a lot to be desired. On the women’s front, the Indian team played 11 international matches - all T20 internationals and they registered wins in eight matches. Going by the numbers, the performance of the Indian team looks highly impressive.
However, the three losses include one which will sting them the most - the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup against Australia on March 8 - the International Women’s Day - at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Post Script: The sport got a new boss when Greg Barclay, chairman of New Zealand Cricket, took over as the chairman of ICC on November 24. He succeeded Shashank Manohar of India, who stepped down from July 1 after two terms.