Cricket’s time has come. What we all feared for has finally happened.
The fifth Test between India and England was cancelled/postponed hours before the toss due to COVID-19. New Zealand similarly pulled out of Pakistan on the basis of security threats. England have followed suit and cancelled their Men’s/Women’s tour of Pakistan in October as well. There has been more cancellation than actual cricket recently.
The international cricket structure is dismantling before our eyes—overkill of cricket, the IPL takeover, an acute mental health crisis, and Pakistan’s abandonment on the world stage.
Scheduling Woes And The Overkill of Cricket
Since the return from COVID-induced break, scheduling has slowly escalated. Overkill of cricket has reached its boiling point.
Last summer, West Indies, Ireland, and Pakistan toured England in cricket’s return. IPL 2020 in UAE followed soon after. The entire world had eyes on one series or tournament at a time with enough gap in between.
However, post-vaccination, international scheduling has been torturous.
England began its tour to Sri Lanka earlier this year and stayed for the India series. Soon after, IPL 2021’s first iteration took place. Then India went to England for months. England launched the Hundred in the middle of the summer.
When the Hundred ended, the CPL began. Four days after the CPL, the IPL began. The IPL final will be held on October 15th. The much awaited T20 World Cup begins just two days later, on the 17th of October.
But wait, there’s more.
IPL All Year Round?
India begin their home season on November 17th three days after the World T20 Final. And in Jaipur. Given the depth of both India and New Zealand, it is likely they will field a second-string team. Why is there a need for a T20I series less than a week after the T20 World Cup has ended?
IPL 2020 in UAE was a joy to watch. After months, the best players of the world played cricket had gathered together without any interruptions. The balanced pitches in Abu Dhabi & Dubai were conducive to fast bowling while Sharjah provided us the stereotypical high scores.
However, September 2020, March 2021, September 2021, and March 2022…This seems to be developing into an unhealthy pattern. Add to two IPLs a year. a ten-team IPL with a big auction next year. 74 IPL matches will push India’s home series against South Africa into June. Another T20 World Cup is to follow next October.
With Trinbago Knight Riders, Saint Lucia Kings, and Barbados Royals all having IPL stake owners, the IPL takeover of the world is complete.
Mental Health Crisis At An All-Time High
A byproduct of back-to-back cricket, bubble-to-bubble travel, and IPL-to-IPL jam packed into the international calendar is recurring injuries, early retirements, and mental health breaks.
Ben Stokes has been the most prominent casualty to the mental health crisis. Personal tragedy, finger injury, recalled back to captain a COVID hit squad, IPL, The Hundred, Test matches. Stokes is 30, a prime of a sportsperson career. However due to the intense nature of the cricket calendar, he has withdrawn from the India Test series, IPL, World T20, and possibly the Ashes.
England have done their very best to preserve the physical and mental health of players irrespective of the controversial rest/rotation policy. Even with such management and resources, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, & Mark Wood have been out for extended periods of time, while Banton-Bairstow-Buttler have pulled out of the IPL & other T20 leagues.
The Ashes begins on December 8th, shortly after the T20 World Cup. England’s team selection will give us an idea of how severe the mental crisis is.
Security Threats – Is There Western Bias Against Pakistan?
Finally a non-COVID related threat. New Zealand pulled out of the Pakistan series minutes before the first match on tour citing credible security threat against the New Zealand team without sharing information with Pakistan.
Pakistan was forced to make UAE their home for a decade after the horrifying 2009 shootings amidst the Sri Lanka series. India-Pakistan relations had already taken a hit a year earlier due to the Mumbai attacks. A year later, the spot-fixing crisis feat Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, and Salman Butt further took down Pakistan cricket.
Regardless of the outside noise, Pakistan managed to win a T20 Cricket World Cup, Champions Trophy, and #1 Test rankings in the next decade. The Misbah-Younis era slowly got Pakistan’s reputation back as a respected cricketing nation. The PCB established a decent stable Pakistan Super League despite lack of finances and IPL experience.
With ambassadors like Daren Sammy volunteering to play in Pakistan, ICC sending a World XI team in 2017, PSL hosting playoffs at home, and series against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, cricket was finally coming back.
Afghanistan Crisis In Spotlight
However New Zealand’s abandonment has set Pakistan cricket back yet another decade. It has started a domino effect with England pulling out and maybe, Australia next in line. Ramiz Raza, the new PCB chairman, has come out strongly against the “Western bloc.”
Australia have infamously been hesitant to play non-India subcontinental opposition. They have not invited Bangladesh for a Test series for years and are now on verge of cancelling the Afghanistan Test match based on lack of a women’s team (which is a decent point, but there was no opposition when Afghanistan was awarded Test status 4 years ago).
Afghanistan’s internal crisis has cast a shadow on their involvement in the T20 World Cup, and the geopolitical situation has made things worse for Pakistan as well.
Where There Is Money, There Is a Way
There was another security threat again today. This time with respect to the New Zealand women’s team in England. The team went in lockdown, security was boosted, communication happened, investigation took place, threat was deemed as not credible, and the match is to go ahead as scheduled.
Fans have been citing the devastating 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks in response to Pakistan-New Zealand abandoned series. The Bangladesh team were minutes away from the mosque when the incident took place. The 3rd Test was subsequently cancelled.
However, since it was in New Zealand, future tours were not affected. Pakistan themselves toured in 2020-2021.
Where Does Cricket Go From Here?
These two situations display that there is an implicit bias against Pakistan as opposed to the Big 4—India, Australia, England, New Zealand.
India can get away with a poorly managed COVID-19 situation in the first iteration of IPL 2021 by totally disrupting the international calendar because of their financial monopoly. The IPL/Hundred can cause a Test match cancellation.
England & Australia are free to abandon tours of South Africa due to bio-bubble breaches while touring the other Big 3 countries in worse circumstances. New Zealand escape without security backlash from the rest of the world due to their positive image and non-controversial nature.
If cricket is to sustain itself, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe need due support from the rest.
ICC has put in better plans to raise awareness of cricket worldwide, provide structure for women’s & Associate cricket, and contextualize Test & ODI cricket. However, it first needs to ensure that cricketing culture in once prospering countries does not die away.
If cricket cannot guarantee balance in the post-COVID world—balance of powers, player wellness, security threats, & scheduling, then this is the end of cricket as we know it.
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© Copyright @Nitesh Mathur and Broken Cricket Dreams, 2021. Originally published on 09/20/2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Broken Cricket Dreams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content (i.e. linked to the exact post/article).