March 8, 2020. That is a day etched in our minds. Women’s cricket was high on the success of the T20 World Cup 2020, which Australia won for the fifth time. A couple of weeks later, they were to tour South Africa, which was a mouth-watering prospect given the Proteas’ show in the tournament and their close exit.
But, lo! Nothing of that was meant to be savoured. Not the highs of the World Cup win for Australia, not the prospective enticing contest for the viewers and the players – Mignon du Preez had said she was looking forward to playing the Aussies at home for the first time. Nope. None of that was happening.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the world was slowly folding inwards, just like the mimosa pudica. Routines came to a standstill; the world went under a lockdown. The sporting world also went shush.
However, after over a couple of months, there are signs of resumption of sport. The Bundesliga return notwithstanding, cricket is also raising its head and the ICC is handholding the process. ‘Behind closed doors’ seems to be the new normal. There are some tweaks made to the way the sport is played.
Cricket is generally considered to be a batter’s game and despite that, the first major ‘habit change’, for the lack of a better word, that was introduced by the ICC was that of banning the use of saliva to shine the ball, with a rider that sweat can still be used. Since the spread of coronavirus is aided by human contact and, more so, by mucus which could be present in the spit, that was the first habit change that the ICC brought in.
This became a topic of discussion in the cricketing circles, some voices calling for legalising ball-tampering, so that bowlers stay in the game. But what needs to be taken into consideration is that, this means of shining the ball is generally effective only for red-ball cricket, which women rarely play.
What does a ban on the use of saliva to shine the ball then mean for women’s cricket?
For starters, the white cricket ball generally doesn’t aid swing much. It is well known that it generally stops swinging after the first ten-twelve overs. And because of the use of two new balls in ODIs, reverse swing is also a forgotten art. So in a way, nothing much will change for women’s cricket.
Moreover, although there are quite a few pacers in the setup, the number of spinners are more in operation, for whom, the shine on the ball isn’t too critical. There are of course a few of them who operate with the new ball and rely on the drift to bowl, but again it is not the only thing in their armoury.
The ICC’s ‘Back to Cricket Guidelines’, that entail a number of suggestive measures, indicates that the way the sport is played could change forever. The traditional Aussie ‘ruffling of hair’ celebration could go out of the window and so could the basic high-fives and hugs. So what will Megan Schutt do next when she picks up a wicket? As good as anybody’s guess.
But given that the logistical arrangement for a men’s game are far more than a women’s game, could it be easier for women’s cricket to resume first? It would be easier to maintain social distancing even while the game is in operation in women’s cricket.
The ICC has also stipulated five to six weeks of training for bowlers to return to play T20Is and six weeks for them to play ODIs. The same is a good eight to twelve weeks for those returning to play Tests.
This could mean that women’s T20Is could take precedence as that is pretty much the major currency women’s cricket operates in. This could well be the way forward and a means by which the sport could cash in on the high of the T20 World Cup.
From where we stand, live action still seems a distant dream, though there are indications that men’s Tests might get underway in July. However, women’s cricket could also take the path of resumption in a place like Australia, where things are pretty much under control. If and when they decide to open their borders, it could be first with New Zealand, who had managed to minimize the damage because of the early steps they took. That could then pave way for a trans-Tasman series to be held.
This could be clearer come May 28, when the National Rugby League starts Down Under. The New Zealand Warriors had already arrived at the start of the month and were under quarantine before starting their training.
Irrespective of what happens then, we should brace ourselves for ‘the new normal’.