Cricket plots a de­fi­ant path through the car­nage of Covid-19

Bring­ing to­gether teams from four con­ti­nents in the midst of a global plague is a re­mark­able achieve­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport First T20 Internatio­nal -

On his re­turn to La­hore this week, Azhar Ali, the Pak­istan cap­tain, could be for­given the in­dul­gence of post­ing a video of his fam­ily re­union.

Af­ter all, it was not just that his side had lost their Test se­ries in Eng­land, but that he had es­caped two months’ con­fine­ment in­side cricket’s most air­tight of biose­cure bub­bles. The con­se­quence, it seems, of in­ter­na­tional sport’s co­ex­is­tence with a dan­ger­ous pathogen is that its par­tic­i­pants risk a case of cabin fever.

To­day, it is the Aus­tralian crick­eters’ turn to dis­cover what it means to have one’s hori­zons re­duced to two grounds, al­beit 230 miles apart, with only each other for com­pany. Aaron Finch ar­gues that this lim­ited-overs tour is likely to be any­thing but a mind-broad­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, not­ing that his play­ers’ men­tal health is “some­thing to mon­i­tor heav­ily”. No mat­ter how much golf or ex­trav­a­gant room ser­vice is laid on at the Ageas Bowl or Old Traf­ford, the range of dis­trac­tions is thin.

Heaven knows how David Boon, who re­put­edly sank 52 cans en route from Syd­ney to Lon­don in 1989 – prompt­ing a con­grat­u­la­tory an­nounce­ment from the pi­lot on break­ing the Aus­tralia-to-Eng­land drink­ing record – would have coped.

Yet viewed an­other way, the Aus­tralians’ ar­rival marks noth­ing less than the com­ple­tion of a sport­ing mir­a­cle. Back when the Pak­istan trio of Haider Ali, Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan tested pos­i­tive for Covid-19 in late June, the chances of a suc­cess­ful sum­mer of cricket looked slim at best.

This is one sport, though, that has re­fused to be razed by the wreck­ing ball of the virus. Cour­tesy of the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board’s strin­gent en­force­ment of the pro­to­cols, breached only by Jofra Archer’s rogue detour to Brighton, the pre­car­i­ous ed­i­fice of pan­demic-proofed cricket has stayed in­tact.

The visit of Finch and his team is dou­bly re­mark­able in light of the sit­u­a­tion in

Aus­tralia, which has im­ple­mented some of the most dra­co­nian Covid poli­cies out­side Wuhan. As it stands, all cit­i­zens are con­fined to bar­racks, un­able to travel abroad even in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances. State pre­miers are clos­ing their bor­ders at the slight­est flare-up as they seek to em­u­late New Zealand’s strat­egy of virus erad­i­ca­tion. Ex­pats can­not buy a seat on the hand­ful of flights en­ter­ing Aus­tralia, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment lim­it­ing in­com­ing pas­sen­gers to a few hun­dred per week. Still, such is cricket’s place at the heart of na­tional iden­tity, it has se­cured the rarest of ex­emp­tions.

It is not some rag­tag band of sec­ond-stringers that Aus­tralia has cob­bled to­gether, either. All its swash­buck­ling stars are present: Steve Smith, David Warner, Finch him­self, not to men­tion Josh Philippe and Riley Mered­ith, both ex­plo­sive per­form­ers in the Big Bash. While the temp­ta­tion is to place an as­ter­isk along­side any sport staged in 2020, there has been no di­lu­tion of this squad’s qual­ity due to force ma­jeure.

Should the prece­dents set by the

Such are the sport’s tan­gled sub-plots that it is able to gen­er­ate its own noise to fill the void

two pre­vi­ous se­ries hold firm, these six con­tests between Eng­land and Aus­tralia will be a nour­ish­ing watch, re­gard­less of the back­drop of empty seats. For an­other of cricket’s great achieve­ments has been to be­queath mo­ments that stand up to any com­par­i­son with the “old nor­mal”. There has been James An­der­son’s 600th Test wicket, Stu­art Broad’s 500th, and an in­nings of 267 by Zak Crawley. Such are the sport’s tan­gled sub-plots that it is able, more than most, to gen­er­ate its own noise to fill the void, not least when the viewer hears Broad tell a div­ing Jos But­tler: “What a catch that is.”

Covid has been a cruel mistress for in­ter­na­tional sport, leav­ing the Olympics, the Euros and count­less multi-na­tion cham­pi­onships scat­tered in her wake. Cricket, how­ever, has been de­fi­ant in plot­ting a path through the car­nage. In part, its broad­cast deals gave the ECB lit­tle choice but to try to find a way. But its record of bring­ing to­gether teams from four con­ti­nents in the midst of a world­wide plague should stand as pow­er­ful tes­ta­ment to its in­ge­nu­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.