Cricket: Runout by Covid

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“Shahid Afridi tests COVID positive” – this dispirited news jolted the cricketing world, a few weeks ago. The player who entertained spectators with dexterous sixes, adroit bowling, and brought smiles on afflicted people as a philanthropist, left his fans, as well as close ones clueless. In fact, Gautam Gambhir, who is known for engaging in twitter bashing with Afridi was also shocked with the news and prayed for his well being.

Mirroring this story, this year has been a daunting time  for the cricket aficionados, thanks to COVID-19 which has caused a great stir in the cricketing sphere. While the news of players testing positive is afflicting fans’ emotions, the empty grounds & cancelled tournaments are further surging their grieve.

Well, Insha Allah, Afridi & other players will recover, and cricket will also come back to pitch and entertain spectators with marvellous games. However, this daunting phase has created a void in the cricket history, and it will be remembered by cricket fans for a long time.

Coronavirus which has caused a global gloom also took cricket, the gentlemen’s game, under its dark umbrella. For the cricketing world, this year was deemed to be a bombshell – IPL followed by T20 world cup and in-between many exhilarating tournaments. In fact, some associations were also playing to hold first-ever mix-gender cricket game.

Springing with IPL auction, cricketers, fans, etc were all geared up for fantastic cricket action. While RCB fans were excited with their line up and hoping for their maiden trump, the fans of veteran players were keen to give farewell to players for whom it was supposed to be their last show.

This year’s IPL was also supposed to facilitate cricket boards in analysing the performance of their prospective players to select the best team for the T20 world cup. On the flip side, the budding cricketers were preparing hard for the tournament to impress selectors. Alas! The bombshell erected – COVID-19 hit IPL and it was postponed.

The story doesn’t end there. Like IPL, COVID-19 also hit other tournaments that include qualifying events for the 2021 Women’s World Cup and the 2022 Men’s Under-19 showpiece. While qualifying tournaments aren’t so prominent in the general public, but for aspiring cricketers, it’s their prime platform from where they take off. And with the adjournment of these tournaments, hard work, dreams, & prospect of forthcoming starts were shattered in a flash.

As other tournaments are a gone story now, holding of the T20 world cup is still giving a ray of hope to ICC and cricket fans. Scheduled between October 18 and November 15, the fate of the tournament is being deliberated fiercely by the ICC Board which last week deferred taking the final call.

Albeit, the ICC has not officially yet postponed the tournament,  holding of T20 world cup also seem to be a distant dream now. In fact, Earl Eddings, Cricket Australia Chairman, recently said that it’s unrealistic that the Men’s T20 World Cup will take place in Australia as scheduled this year.

Bashing Financially

The COVID-19 didn’t only hit hopes of fans, and cricketers, but also hit cricketing world financially. The global economic slump triggered by the Covid-19 broke the entire financial model of cricket spectrum. For instance, the cancellation of IPL cost BCCI a whopping amount of $500 million.

It also affected the Indian economy, as IPL contributes a hefty share to the Indian GDP. Well, in the time where richest boards are facing such succumbs, one can’t imagine the state of lower-ranked nations. It’s this monetary crunch that led Afghanistan cricket board, who was recently admitted in  ICC full membership and were looking to cement their place, announce a 25 per cent salary cut for its coaches.

This financial crunch impacted whole cricketing chain that includes support staff, logistic companies, airlines and hotels. For instance, broadcasters Star Sports who paid more than $220 million for five years for TV rights up to 2022 were targeting $400 million of revenue in 2020 alone, as per reports. And IPL franchises who hired around 600 people, which includes freelancers and people on the payroll, faced job cuts.

By analysing above figures, it’s no rocket-science that further suspension of cricket will have a tremendous impact on the economy. For instance, Cricket Australia could lose around $174 million if high-profile home Test series against India later this year is cancelled. One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to calculate the losses if the grand trophy – World T20 tournament is cancelled.

Covid-19 Warrior

The optimistic ICC board is very keen to resume the cricket affairs and turn to be a cricket warrior. To clean bowled COVID-19, it also framed a set of regulations to resume the game. These include the banning of saliva, replacements in Test cricket, and induction of non-neutral umpires for bilateral series.

However, these regulations also posed questions. For instance, not allowing replacements in ODIs and T20Is puts questions on the holding of existing formats.

Moreover, the saliva ban was also questioned by many experts. Mitchell Starc, one of best blowers of current time said the ban will make cricket boring, and will also hinder youngsters to take up fast bowling in future. Some players have also called for its replacement like using wax to shine the ball.

Whether ICC will consider these options or not, only time will tell, but holding cricket this year seems difficult. We hope ICC whitewashes COVID-19 and resumes cricket action as soon as possible. Well, sooner or later we will watch cricket again. Alas! This time (Post COVID-19 cricket) it’s going to be a different ball game.

With precautions in place, neither we will be able to see the beautiful line of slip fielders, nor we will see large crowds waving flags of their nations. While we will be mostly watching cricket at our homes on TVs, or in a stadium but maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, our batsmen need to bat like Bradman of Great depression to throw virus out of the ground.

Younis Ahmad Dar, works at Greater Kashmir, and can be reached at younis.a.dar@gmail.com