Anxiety prevails in world cricket (Column: Close-in)

The lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought anxiety not only amongst the cricketers and cricket lovers, but also to all the stake-holders of the game. The cricket boards around the world are all in a very precarious situation, financially. Australia and New Zealand have already announced reducing their staff and possible pay cuts.

Cricket, like many other industries and corporates, has never seen such a situation. Even during World War II, cricket was being played in countries not directly influenced by the war.

Cricket as a sport was progressing very well and was on the road of making its presence felt in countries where it had barely existed before. The shorter limited-overs format was a strong contender to be included once again in the Olympic games. The last time cricket was played in the Olympics was in the year 1900.

The coronavirus, unfortunately, has uprooted the middle stump of a cricket innings that the International Cricket Council (ICC), the foremost cricket body, and their associates had crafted over the last three decades.

The uncertainty that not only every country as well as each one of us face, will require cricket to take a fresh guard for it to plan an entire new innings. Amongst cricketers the popular cliche is that “one is only as good as the last innings one played” and this seems to be the present state of cricket around the world. It will now need a new way of playing and popularising the sport.

This is the time when the cricket fraternity around the world needs to be together to support one another in ensuring that the game of cricket is kept active and alive. Cricket, fortunately, is not a body contact sport and with proper sanitation and care, it can be played without any major worries. Although, one may not see stadiums full of noisy spectators, the viewership and eyeballs that a match could attract will most likely be enormous to make it into a commercial success.

The T20 format should be the ideal one to start the ball rolling and thereafter the ODIs. Although, there are talks and discussions that Test cricket is on the anvil as well, I feel it would not be prudent to play the conventional form of the game so soon.

In Test cricket the close-in fielders, sweat used for the reverse swing and five long days comes into play. Putting restrictions on these issues as well as on the rules to avoid any close proximity between the players could compromise the pure form of the game of cricket.

One, therefore, hopes that the ICC and the cricket boards do not tamper with the playing conditions for the sake of doing so.

The limited-overs versions of cricket are already in the favour of batsmen and with the field and bowling restrictions in place, the teams will not need to make any major alteration to the way in which they played the game earlier. It will be interesting to see how Virat Kohli and his team will celebrate the fall of a wicket. Maybe they will do a cartwheel, once popularised by the famous England cricketer Derek Randall.

Cricketers are like actors in a theatre production. They will deliver the lines with flair and grace, however, the interesting part will be how the television and the mobile providers make it interesting and absorbing for the viewers. This is where technology and innovation will need to play its part.

The challenge for the providers would be to make the game interactive, attractive, absorbing, interesting and lively for the millions who will be watching it from home. After all, the internet is exploding with new found ways of interacting with each other as well as for teams and groups in the conditions prevailing in the world presently.

Cricketers too will need to play their part to keep the interest of their fans bubbling and to create an atmosphere for them to revel in. Some of the progressive countries are slowly moving towards normalcy in their everyday life. These countries should be the first to introduce cricket onto their shores. England seems to be heading in that direction with a possible series against the West Indies and Pakistan in July/August 2020. This, if successful, would be a wonderful start to revive cricket and keep the millions of fans happy.

The ICC Presidents’ term in the meanwhile is coming to an end and the world cricket body will have a new leader soon. In the present situation they will need one who has the knowledge of the game, a good captain to steer them as well as one who is young and dynamic in his thinking. Somehow, one feels Sourav Ganguly will fit the bill to the tee.

Especially, as the two legends of the game from two different countries, David Gower and Graeme Smith, have endorsed it strongly. The famous prince of Kolkata may soon become the king of the cricketing world as well.