By Yajurvindra Singh
In the silent and watchful year, 2020, people around the world were focussed on only one mission and that was to battle the dreaded Covid-19 epidemic.
The virus that conquered the length and breadth of our globe left sports events in complete disarray.
Cricket was also a sufferer but a safety bubble and a strictly-controlled environment helped the sport see the light of day.
The dreaded virus not only spread a cloud of doom but also had death written all over it. Life needed to get on and so with vaccination, medical care and other protective measures some semblance of normalcy returned to the world.
International cricket series and matches with strict protocol proved to be successful and cricket, in dribs and drabs, finally resumed. Cricket matches and major sports events are now in progress in countries around the world. The feeling that one gets is that the lockdown, which was strictly enforced in most countries as a preventive measure, and the easing of it has now given a sense of careless freedom and confidence. People are now moving about without a concern and venues at sporting events are buzzing with thousands of spectators.
India have two of their cricket teams representing them in England and Sri Lanka. Both the countries have recently had players infected by the Coronavirus and so both the tours will need to battle the pandemic threat.
The Indian cricketers in England have had three weeks of holiday, if one can call it that, being away from home after the World Test Championship.
Each one of them does realise the importance and responsibility of taking utmost precaution to stay safe. However, the virus has shown that it’s unpredictable and, vaccinated or not, it can still infect one.
One gathers that India’s dashing wicketkeeper-batsman, Rishabh Pant, has tested positive and this could be just the beginning of things to come.
India start their campaign, however, in Sri Lanka with an ODI match on the 18th of July and play three ODIs and three T20s by the 29th of July.
The Sri Lankan team, since the beginning of this year, has not won a single of its limited-overs series. West Indies, Bangladesh and England have all beaten them and they seem to be at the bottom of the pile among the Test playing nations. The Indian side is in actual terms an ‘A’ side and for the struggling Sri Lankan side, they would still be a handful.
The three T20s will be the focus for players and selectors of both countries. The T20 World Cup being played in the UAE on October-November will be the goal for players to aim for. The major concern would be for the administrators to ensure a bio-safe environment for all concerned.
Similarly, England cricket administrators, who are at present battling to keep their players safe will need to put strict regulations in place. England may have beaten Pakistan in an ODI series recently with their second string of players. But to face India in a 5-Test match series, they will need to get their best players on the field.
One has always been sceptical about the new policy being implemented by most international sides of giving their players some rest by rotation. For anyone in any field, representing their country is the biggest achievement in their life. Cricketers in the past have given all their time and body for the honour of playing for their country. One, therefore, cannot understand as to why a fit and able player needs to be given a break when his country needs him. England suffered immensely by not playing their best players against India just because of this ridiculous player rotation policy.
Joe Root, the England captain, has finally come forth strongly against it recently by pleading the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to ensure that the series against India which starts on the 4th of August has the best of their best on the park.
The 2nd World Test Championship commences with England taking on India at home. Indian batsmen have struggled playing in England against the moving ball.
England are a confident team and a different cup of tea playing at home. However, the Indian side looks better on paper both in the batting and bowling departments. This series will play a very important and significant part for both teams in the qualifying process for the World Test Championship final in 2023.
This is precisely why for this series to be completed without a blemish, the battle to fight Covid and protect all concerned should be done in the same ways as it was done earlier.
England may have an open and unrestricted attitude in the way they have eased their restrictions and movements. Although the Indian and the English players and staff are now fully vaccinated, a bio-safe bubble is the only way to ensure that the series is played without a major mishap.
Covid will always be a threat, however, to keep it at bay will be the ultimate challenge.
(The writer is a former Indian Test cricketer)