Photo Credit:Delhi Capitals
Steve Elworthy will be a hugely relieved man. The former Proteas cricketer turned Events Director for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and his team have managed to pull off quite the mean feat, in conducting the first of the three England-West Indies test matches pretty much glitch free. Afterall, this was going to be a game like none other in the 143-year-old history of Test cricket.
What you may have watched on television last week may’ve been a high quality 5-day match played in front of no spectators whatsoever. What wasn’t captured by the broadcasters was the science-fiction like setting it was conducted in, right from the time the two teams reached and settled into Southampton, the venue. On-site hotels with zero interaction between those on different floors, digital check-ins, plastic screens at places like the reception and dining areas, more than 700 tests conducted on various stakeholders in a span of 20 days (all of which came negative), and hand sanitizers at every possible entry and exit point. At the ground itself – designated zones depending on who you are, and what your role is. It was all part of the ECB’s “Bio-Secure Bubble”. And really, credit goes as much to the English board as it does to the West Indians, for bravely agreeing to play in a country that recorded Europe’s highest COVID-related deaths.
Bubble apart, there was a cricket match to be played, of course. The first international match in almost four months, and what a match it turned out to be at the Ageas Bowl! Even before the first ball was bowled on a rain-interrupted Day 1, the images of an emotional Michael Holding breaking down on Sky Sports while discussing racism faced by his parents, moved every single soul who watched it, cricket fan or not. And once the cricket began, the players of both teams looked far from rusty.
Oh the sweet, sweet sound of the off stump pegged back, the sight of a splattered set of stumps, the red cherry making its way past the boundary ropes after a majestic cover drive, and the voice of the ‘keeper going “Howzzat” now and then – how we missed it all! A West Indies win is always exciting to watch. A West Indies Test win, even more, given how synonymous the Caribbean nation has become with cricket’s shortest format. And to have an unlikely hero, one who probably wouldn’t even have been playing had Dwayne Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer been on this tour – what better return could international cricket have asked for!
For the last five days, especially on the last day, which is when this match really exploded, you need not have been supporting either of the participating teams. Because for you, the die-hard cricket fan, what you were watching unfurl on your television set on Sunday evening, filled your heart with hope and joy. You realised cricket had passed its first big test, and that this could pave the way for more LIVE action. For a while you even forgot about the dish-washing-and-Zoom call-reality that is your current life! Cricket let you be in that rare happy zone you didn’t even know you could miss so much.
Thank you, dear cricket, and welcome back.