The poem ”The Little Man Cricketer” written by Frank Jones comes to mind when cricket will finally see the light of day once again. England play West Indies at the Rose Bowl Cricket Stadium in Southampton on July 8, after what seems like ages.
The poem”s first two paragraphs are brilliantly written and so appropriate to the present cricket scenario.
“O, cricket is a game for a real live man, keep fit little man, keep fit! So, get out in the open whenever you can, keep fit little man, keep fit! Don”t stay in the house to play with the cat, but put on your flannels and take your bat, if you don”t you will only grow flabby and fat, keep fit little man, keep fit!”
The cricketing world, starved of not watching live cricket, is crossing their fingers hoping that the Test match gets played without a hitch. England have shown that a planned program, if thought out well, could be a good solution to get the game back on track. This is truly a praiseworthy initiative by a country who were the primary movers of cricket over two centuries ago.
The players quite understandably will be under pressure, not only during the match, but also in ensuring their safety away from it. The COVID-19 medical tests, as well as the quarantine period, should give each one of them sufficient confidence but the dreaded virus is unpredictable at present. Players will be thinking as much about it subconsciously as much as on their cricket.
Football, in England, has shown that with adequate precaution a sport can be played and also enjoyed by their fans in the confinement of their homes. A stadium filled with spectators is always a preferred option but even without it, it eventually does not hamper the game.
The England versus West Indies Test match will be a historic occasion and many interesting factors will come to the fore. The silence that will prevail sans spectators will definitely be one of them. One was quite pleased by a comment made by one of India”s premier batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara. He said that he was used to playing domestic cricket without many spectators watching the game and so is quite in tune to play without them at the stadium.
Similarly, both England and the West Indian cricketers play their domestic cricket without many spectators watching them and therefore, one does not feel that this would be a major factor in a players performance. It is always nice to be egged on by noise and cheers to get one”s adrenalin going, however, the thought of millions of eyeballs watching them should be a good enough incentive for cricketers to build themselves up.
Another interesting factor will be that of not being allowed the use of saliva on the ball. Although, the use of sweat is approved, the cold weather in England may not be ideal to take advantage of it. One will now be able to evaluate as to whether saliva was an important factor in reverse swing or was it the gel or hair cream along with the sweat that made the difference. The latter can still be used by fast bowlers, who these days have made it a fashion to have well groomed and set hair styles.
The cricket ball is one area that will be under scrutiny at all times, especially, when the ball has to be retrieved from the stands. The hand sanitizer may come of use then and this could be useful for bowlers to keep the shine of the ball intact.
The factor related to distancing, one feels, would be difficult to adapt to, not only while fielding but also where the wicketkeeper is concerned when the slow bowlers are in operation.
The only redeeming feature will be that the players will be refrained from spitting. This unhygienic act was one that many cricketers developed a habit towards and one hopes and prays it is buried for years to come.
A sneeze or a cough will create quite a stir on the field and one wonders how players will try to restrain themselves. The English weather does bring the occasional sniffle, especially when one runs a few quick twos and threes. However, the focus will be a fair bit on the bowlers, who will now need to not only polish the ball on their own but also will need to ensure that they maintain good hygiene while handling the red cherry.
The batsmen, fortunately, because of the protective gear, are much better protected and safe. One, however, wonders whether the umpires will be wearing masks and gloves and as to how they will handle the bowlers sweaters and caps after each over.
The time has come, as the poem states, for cricketers to go onto the field and put on their flannels and take their bat. But little man, you will need to keep fit as well.
England have a new captain in Ben Stokes, considered to be the leading all-round cricketer in the world. However, they have a poor record when they make their match winners into leaders.
The famous West Indian Calypso that was sung when the West Indies beat England in the past went like this, “Cricket lovely cricket, at Lord”s where I saw it”. If the West Indians do happen to win, the Calypso may change from “Lord”s” to the “Rose bowl”.
Win or lose, cricket will be the winner!
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal).