Amid all the disappointments and frustrations of the tens of thousands who had travelled to Manchester for the fifth Test between England and India, and the tens of millions who had planned an escape from Covid by watching the climax of this series, there is one silver lining.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India has never publicly announced a plan to stage a second Indian Premier League competition every year, but it has long been a covert threat. And now the world sees how the Indian board can cancel a Test match and abort a tour unilaterally on the day of a game, all other cricket-playing countries should be forewarned, even if that is far from being forearmed.
A second annual edition of the IPL, to be staged every autumn in the United States, has always had to be shelved because of the lack of cricket grounds, until now. The new initiative by the International Cricket Council to have T20 cricket included in the Olympics of 2028 in Los Angeles (followed by the next Olympics in better-equipped Brisbane) would create the infrastructure which the IPL needs.
As the new chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Ian Watmore is leading the ICC’s application to join the Olympics - and should be extremely careful about creating the infrastucture in the US which could lead to the international cricket calendar being torn up.
September and October are the months when the second annual edition of the IPL would be staged in America. An international cricket ground already exists in Lauderhill in Florida where West Indies have played eight white-ball internationals, but the future growth area is California, where the 2028 Olympics will be held, with its large and affluent Indian community, including the CEOs of several multinational companies, if sponsorship opportunities were needed.
With every March and April inked in for the IPL in India, unless the BCCI prefers April and May, the international calendar would be limited to the English summer (the off-season for the Test-playing countries of the southern hemisphere), and to the four months from November to February. Not only bilateral Test, one-day and T20 series would have to be squeezed in but all global tournaments not staged in England.
Being forewarned about this evolution of the sport is a long way from being forearmed, because the Indian board has more money than the rest of the cricket world combined. But at least, after the abandonment of the Old Trafford Test, the rest of the cricket world can appreciate the danger inherent in a second IPL every autumn, and present a united front in opposition.
One IPL per year is plenty: the best cricketers from every country except Pakistan are enabled to earn more than most ever would for their country, and enough room remains for the international schedule to breathe, just about. Two per year, and cricket shifts from being an international sport in every format, except the Hundred, to a gigantic T20 franchise, with all the threats of match-fixing that entails.
The future of Afghanistan cricket has also to be tackled by the ICC, in addition to whether India forfeited the Old Trafford Test or not. While the captain of the Afghanistan men’s team, Rashid Khan, has stepped down from the post for the T20 World Cup in the UAE next month, the country’s involvement in the competition is not in serious doubt, if only because the next ICC biannual meeting is in November; but thereafter Afghanistan cannot maintain its existing position if their government forbids women to play cricket.
Afghanistan’s previous government had not exactly been full of encouragement, and Afghan women had yet to play an international fixture, but possibilities existed, both to play cricket and make a living out of it. Now there is none, and never will be under the Taliban government.
For the immediate future, the Olympics offer a solution. Russia having being banned, for doping violations, their athletes competed in Tokyo in the name of the Russian Olympic Committee. Afghanistan women could participate in international cricket under the title of ICC Afghanistan Women. Nobody living in the country would be able to play, for fear of death, but those who want to play cricket for a living might be able to join the millions of refugees who have fled to Pakistan and elsewhere.
Twenty years ago male Afghan cricket was being born in the refugee camps around Peshawar, and the same enormous energy can drive the growth of women’s cricket in similar environments. India befriended Afghanistan male cricket by donating headquarters outside New Delhi. If only as part of the same geo-political game, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan could build the female headquarters in Peshawar.
England’s cricketers meanwhile are left to regret the two chaotic hours which cost them the Test series against India - for it is over, whether or not the Old Trafford match is ever re-staged. Bowling nothing but bouncers at India’s tailenders at Lord’s, then buckling under the assault by the allrounder Shardul Thakur at the Oval, added up to the second consecutive Test series defeat at home for Joe Root, when he had never lost one before.