By: Chinmay Vaidya
It took nearly four months for international cricket to return to action, but the wait is finally over.
England and the West Indies will kick off a Test match series July 8 despite the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the global population. This will be the first international match since Australia played New Zealand for one ODI behind closed doors on March 13 before scrapping the rest of the series.
That match took place in the early stages of what would become the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, New Zealand and Australia have shown major progress in containing the virus. New Zealand has effectively stamped out the virus and life in the country is back to normal. The United Kingdom has also shown significant progress, although there are still strong restrictions in place.
Cricket inherently lends itself to maintain social distancing. Aside from fielders in the slips, the bowler running up next to the non-striker and the wicketkeeper standing up close to the stumps for a spinner, cricketers are inevitably standing at least six feet apart in the field. This doesn't mean cricketers and staff won't be tested regularly. And of course, there won't be fans in the ground.
England's World Test Championship set with the West Indies precedes a Test series with Pakistan and a white-ball scrap with Australia. A handful of Pakistan's cricketers recently had a bout with COVID-19, but the board has gone ahead with the tour. England is confident the series with Australia will take place.
Unfortunately, this resumption of play hasn't taken off globally. New Zealand's August visit to Bangladesh has been scrapped and India is unlikely to stage the IPL given the logistics of bringing cricketers in from around the world while the country's coronavirus cases rise. The CPL held its auction, but the league will have to wait and see if going forward with the tournament is plausible.
Because cricket's calendars are so interconnected, a disruption on this scale has long-standing effects. There are ODI series directly linked to team's qualification chances for the 2023 World Cup. The World Test Championship has postponed matches. Those tours must be completed given the stakes. And then there's franchise leagues and the T20 World Cup.
The ICC has yet to make an official decision on the T20 World Cup scheduled for Australia in October, but it is unlikely to take place given the international hurdles. That open window would be a chance for countries to complete their unfinished series, but players will want to play in franchise leagues to make up for a lost earnings. That possible showdown will be thrilling to watch. And all this will happen without fans in stadiums, further diminishing revenue for boards already in a crunch.
For now, all eyes will be on England and the West Indies. The future of the sport is still uncertain.