By: Chinmay Vaidya
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stifle activity around the world, sports are pushing through the storm and cricket is no different. After successful conclusions of the CPL and IPL, the cricket world will now head to Australia and New Zealand as those countries begin their respective summers in late November. There will be one big difference: fans will be in the stadium.
Australia and New Zealand have had major success in containing the pandemic. Australia has under 28,000 cases to date, averaging between 6 and 31 cases per day for the last month. New Zealand has been ever more successful, seeing under 5 cases per day from May through early August before the virus returned. Now the country is between 0-25 cases per day in the last month. Compared to the rest of the world, these two countries have worked miracles.
With India set to tour Australia and the West Indies headed to New Zealand, early reports suggest stadiums will operate at some capacity. Cricket Australia has suggested having as many as 25,000 fans in the stands with adequate distancing measures in place. With the Big Bash also set to take place, that number might have to decrease to ensure protocols are followed. The last thing either board wants to deal with is an outbreak.
India and the West Indies have arrived at their respective locations to begin the quarantine process. The CPL went on without a problem as no players tested positive for COVID-19 during the tournament. The IPL had a minor issue in Chennai's quarantine period, but the rest of the tournament went smoothly. Testing is no longer an issue for the players and boards involved. The opportunity to recoup lost revenue during the early days of the pandemic outweighs the cost of putting on tours. Cricket in bubbles has been safe, but is it sustainable for the players?
England captain Eoin Morgan and Windies skipper Jason Holder have said 'no' outright, citing the additional mental and emotional toll of tours now being supplemented with a quarantine period and limited interaction with the outside world. England had to complete some tour in the summer to avoid major revenue losses; Australia and New Zealand will make the same case when they host their tours. But the idea that cricket can continue to go on from bubble to bubble is starting to wear on the players, especially those who will potentially take part in three T20 tournaments from September to February once the Bash begins.
This is India's first tour in the pandemic and those players will have a strong voice on the issue, especially after undergoing a bubble experience in UAE for the IPL. Cricketers were already discussing the impact of the lack of fans from the pandemic's early days, but those T20 franchise leagues thrive on crowd energy. Bubble cricket for those leagues seems to actually take away from the product.
Of course the safety of everyone involved, fans included, is paramount to any board's decisions when conducting tours. Protocols will be followed until there is a vaccine effectively deployed around the world. But cricketers will make their voices heard on the struggles of going from one bubble to the next, leaving some to potentially cut their careers short by withdrawing from tours to avoid the prospect of another bubble.