A sliver of hope (Column: Close-in)

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has given the cricketing world a sliver of hope. They have scheduled a series against the West Indies in July at two venues where they can control the movement of the players as well as their safety.

An adjoining hotel next to the ground and a 14-day quarantine are some of the precautions that they will follow. The players will play in an empty stadium but with the match being broadcasted to millions around the world, a player will be sufficiently energised to perform at his best.

Spectators do make any sport that much more exciting, as the happenings around a game and the cheers and booing gives it that extra oomph. The noise in a full house stadium can be quite invigorating for an athlete in action. However, if given a choice between playing the game or not, then every sportsman would vote for the former.

The COVID-19 has caused a pandemic which has affected everyone’s life but life has to go on. Therefore, the cricket authorities around the world now need to find a way to look beyond the reality. The virus may linger for quite a while and hence the time has come for us to carry out some disruptive innovation to move ahead.

The limited-overs cricket, especially the T20 format, is ideal to get the game of cricket back on track. The shortest version of the game ensures that players are at a fair distance from each other, it does not require bowlers to put saliva or sweat on the ball as reverse swing is not a major option and it has the maximum viewership to boast of.

In India, the BCCI needs to evaluate the possibility of playing the IPL. There are pockets in India where the virus has been curtailed and although monsoon may be one factor which may hinder it, a safe haven to play cricket can always be found.

One such good option could be the beautiful and scenic ground in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh and many other such venues can be found in the vast landscape of India.

One hopes that as soon as possible and by the end of the year safe travel will not be an issue. The financial wealth that the IPL brings to the BCCI, chartering aircrafts, utilising the strength of their rich and powerful franchise owners, should make the movement of the players not a major issue.

Chances are that some of the foreign stars may not be able to come to India. However, cricket is a team sport with individuals providing the garnish and so without a few ingredients the pot will still be edible.

Many foreign players do look to the IPL as their yearly earnings and if a safe option is provided, most of them will definitely make an effort to take the plunge and come to India.

The IPL is a very important tournament for the benefit and progress of Indian cricket. It gives the BCCI the funding to run and develop cricket and the lack of revenue from their golden goose, could hamper the progress and plans of Indian cricket.

The initiative by the ECB which is a sliver of hope for all cricket lovers should also be able to galvanise Indian cricket into action. These are times when one needs to be resilient and look at all the positive angles and prepare for it rather than to wait and despair.

There will be some important steps for the BCCI to take in order to conduct the IPL whenever possible in the future. The franchisees will need to relook at the composition of their players and support staff.

They will need to prune it accordingly and have only the important ones as a part and parcel of their team. Many of their staff will have to work from home, as several of their activities could be done online. Some that required physical presence on the ground in the past could become redundant.

Cricket, was in the earlier days, played without the paraphernalia that one sees today. The captain and the senior players will need to take on much more responsibility by way of selection and planning like what was done many decades ago. A team then had just one coach, a treasurer and a masseur accompanying them.

England has started the plans to get cricket into an active stage, Cricket Australia needs it to survive and so do many other countries. Indian cricket fans are the eyeballs that every cricket nation wants to attract. The cricketing world needs them to fill their coffers.

The time has come for the BCCI to understand that COVID-19 will be a part and parcel of our existence for a while to come and it is how we go beyond the obvious that needs to be planned. They need to also become the initial movers or else as backbenchers they may lose their premium spot in world cricket.

Like one said before, “the show must go on”.