Cricket is operating in two different worlds with the sport on a cliff-edge

Will Macpherson
·3-min read
<p>Fans packed the banks for New Zealand’s win over Pakistan in Christchurch</p> (AFP via Getty Images)

Fans packed the banks for New Zealand’s win over Pakistan in Christchurch

(AFP via Getty Images)

There is barely such thing as a surfeit of Test cricket, but right now there is certainly plenty of it being played to distract us from the world’s very evident issues. Watching on, it can feel like the game is taking place in two entirely different worlds.

Turn on your television in the evening in the UK and you can see grass banks full of roaming fans at beautiful grounds in New Zealand, as Kane Williamson’s awesome and understated team - now officially the best in the world - go about their merry business, defying the game’s financial inequalities to uncover new players (Kyle Jamieson is the latest star) and beat all-comers.

Across the Tasman Sea, things are slightly more fraught and uncertain, but there is a wonderful series going on between Australia and India and the sheer scale of the stadia means that while the attendance is a fraction of capacity, there are still many thousands in the house.

Elsewhere, things do not look quite so simple. South Africa just beat Sri Lanka inside a bubble that Proteas captain Quinton de Kock described as “very unsettling”. England had their bio-secure summer, have seen a tour of South Africa aborted and then Moeen Ali tested positive on arrival in Sri Lanka, casting significant doubt over the two-Test series that begins a week on Thursday.

So, there is the world where cricket appears to be operating in idyllic normality, and another where every step seems complicated.

But the truth is that the whole game is on a cliff-edge. It is just that in some places the house is a little closer to the edge and the wind is blowing that bit more aggressively.

In Australasia, things are not as straightforward as they seem. To get that action on, the players have been forced through weeks of taxing quarantine. And in Australia, particularly, things are not just tense on the field. There is great uncertainty over where each game will be played as little clusters of Covid cases pop up, and restrictions over players’ behaviour is causing issues, too. Everyone involved is tired of the experience.

Given the current situation in this country, England operate indefinitely in the other, crowdless world.

Therefore, the news from Hambantota on Wednesday morning that no further England players have tested positive - in two rounds of testing since landing on Sunday, Moeen is the only positive - is a most welcome boost; firstly for the health of those involved, but secondly for a series that will be a much-appreciated distraction and seemed in considerable doubt only on Tuesday.

England’s players are now free to train in Sri Lanka after self-isolating in their hotel roomsECB
England’s players are now free to train in Sri Lanka after self-isolating in their hotel roomsECB

Every England player bar Moeen and Chris Woakes, who travelled with him from Birmingham to Heathrow, was allowed out of their hotel room to train.

It seems, at this stage, like the tight protocols in place for this series - no one but the touring party has been allowed to travel, so all British broadcasts will take place from back home - have been well followed.

But, in keeping with the times, we are not out of the woods yet. England have another round of testing on Thursday and more will follow every five days thereafter. Sri Lanka still need to get home safely from South Africa.

As we were reminded when England’s first ODI in South Africa was called off an hour before the toss, until the players actually take the field, we cannot be certain we will see a ball bowled.

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