Field on track: On cricket’s restart sans fans

A blend of joy and relief rippled through the cricketing world last Sunday as the first Test between host England and the West Indies climaxed at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl. Coming as it did after a pandemic-induced lull over the last few months, the willow game’s resumption, much like the revival of football, tennis and Formula One races, offered cheer in these grim times wilting under the global march of the coronavirus. With the previous breaks having occurred during last century’s two World Wars, it was fitting that cricket’s third enforced pause concluded at its birthplace England; and to make it doubly sweet, the men of swagger from the Caribbean islands snatched a four-wicket victory. The clash had all the hallmarks of the slow-burn and shredded nerves and cricket could not have asked for a more surreal comeback especially as the solemn backdrop featured the Black Lives Matter movement. West Indian pace legend Michael Holding wrung hearts with a speech on Sky Sports that held a mirror to racism’s sordid history. That Jason Holder’s men, with their roots harking back to indentured African and Indian labourers at sugar cane plantations, could stun their former colonial masters tied in with sport’s proven ability to break through the established order. It may be premature to whisper about a resurgence in West Indian cricket, but a start has been made.

England is a tough opponent at home and the next two Tests at Manchester will offer an intriguing mix while the West Indies will draw inspiration from speedster Shannon Gabriel and batsman Jermaine Blackwood. Besides the action on view, Southampton offered a glimpse of cricket in a bio-bubble wherein a sanitised venue with no spectators and teams staying at a hotel that is part of the ground, ensured that the game could keep the virus at bay. And cricket’s quirks were also in vogue as the relevance of saliva and sweat in triggering reverse swing, occupied airwaves and column-width. There were discussions about the ban on applying saliva to the red cherry in these fraught times while selection quibbles were again in play as Stuart Broad’s axing from England’s playing eleven, whipped up debate. Above all cricket’s return highlighted sport’s penchant to spring surprises. Just a year ago, Ben Stokes delivered a bravura performance at Lord’s as Eoin Morgan’s men won the World Cup against a doughty New Zealand led by the dignified Kane Williamson, in a final for the ages. Today, Stokes is mulling over ways to get past the West Indian ambush! Above all, bilateral cricket is back but as for bigger events such as the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia or the much-delayed IPL, the pandemic could still have the last word.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 2:08:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/field-on-track-the-hindu-editorial-on-crickets-restart-sans-fans/article32083533.ece

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