The downturn of the Caribbeans that started at the turn of the century appears to be changing of late
Jermaine Blackwood epitomised the discipline of the new West Indies during his match-winning 95 in the second innings in the first Test against England at Southampton. The West Indies of an earlier vintage would have wilted from 27 for three, chasing 200 for victory.
The world cricket has been crying for the resurgence of the West Indies cricket. The Caribbeans are the game’s joie de vivre and although they have fared well in cricket’s shortest format, they couldn’t replicate the performance in Tests. The downturn of the West Indies cricket had started at the turn of the century. They gradually slipped into a terminal decline. But things appear to be changing of late. Last year, they won their first Test series against England in 10 years. That was on their home patch. Now, they have started with a win in a three-Test series in England. Hopefully they will build on the momentum.
The West Indies’ victory, however, wasn’t the biggest news that rolled out from Southampton. Cricket’s return was far more important. In the middle of a pandemic that has ravaged humanity, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) showed the courage to host two Test series — the series against the West Indies would be followed by a three-match series against Pakistan. The UK government, local administrative authorities and of course the ECB deserve a big round of applause for that. This is triumph of the human spirit through sport — England has successfully restarted football also. A huge amount of money, planning and hard work have had been spent to create a bio-secure bubble. So far so good.
The ECB spent millions of pounds to create the bio-secure bubble for the players, match officials, support staff and everybody else involved with the Test series to ensure the game’s return after 117 days. From regular temperature checks to Covid swab, on-site hotels, demarcating zones at the venues, arrangements for media and creating additional space to maintain social distancing – cricket authorities in England have done a great a job. Jofra Archer’s transgression could have destroyed everything. The England fast bowler broke the bio-security protocols and took a detour on the travel day after the first Test to visit his home. He also met up with a friend. The England team management came to know about the unapproved visit only on the eve of the second Test in Manchester. Archer was named in England’s 13-man squad for the Test. Just imagine if Archer’s transgression would have come to the team management’s attention after the start of the game. The Test had to be called off. The future of the series could have been in jeopardy.
Little wonder then that the ECB has decided to take disciplinary action against Archer. As ECB director Ashley Giles said, Archer’s breach could have been a “disaster” and cost the English board “tens of millions of pounds”.
“There have to be consequences to every action and there will be a (disciplinary) process. This could have been a disaster,” Giles told reporters. He spoke about the ripple effect as well. West Indies legend Michael Holding was even more severe in his criticism. “I have no sympathy at all. I don’t understand why people can’t just do what is required. Talking about sacrifices; Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a little cell and he did nothing wrong… That is a sacrifice,” Holding told Sky Sports.
Hypothetically, in the Indian context, if a star player makes an Archer-like transgression, will he be dropped from the team and face disciplinary proceedings? The questions have to be asked. Indian sport, society to be precise, has a tendency to put stardust above the system. It is worthy of note that Cricket West Indies (CWI), too, didn’t take any action against the team head coach Phil Simmons, when he had moved out of the bubble to attend his father-in-law’s funeral before the start of the series. Simmons took due permission all right, but it was still a breach.
A more relevant question is whether the BCCI should take a cue from its English counterpart and restart cricket in India in a bio-secure bubble. The Indian board is the richest cricket body in the world. So money shouldn’t be
But social realities are different in India and England. In a country where a lot of people are happy to ignore the basic Covid health protocols despite repeated requests from the central and state governments — wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing etc. — creating a bio-secure bubble is probably well-nigh impossible.
Holding matches before empty stands, too, will be a challenge even without sale of tickets to general
public. As one state cricket association official pointed out, civic and other administrative authorities that make the necessary arrangements and grant permission to organise a game of cricket, expect/demand complimentary passes for the ‘favour’ extended. “Even a match behind closed doors could mean 3,000-4,000 people at
the venue in this part of the world,” said the official.
The BCCI so far has shown maturity with regards to cricket’s restart in India. It has prioritised player safety.