How Cricket Saved Our Summer
When the UK was in full lockdown, a summer of international cricket never looked possible.
There were early whispers that the West Indies may come and tour but making it safe was going to a big ask. As each week passed the whispers became louder and there were talks of “bio-secure bubbles” for all of the players, coaching staff, officials and media being created.
It was then announced that England would play a 3-match Test Series against the West Indies, followed by a 3-match One Day series against Ireland.
Nobody was sure how this would work or really that confident that it could happen.
Old Trafford in Manchester and The Ageas Bowl in Southampton were the two grounds chosen for the “bubbles” as they both have hotels built within the stadium. The players and coaching staff from England, the West Indies, and Ireland, match officials and media all signed up.
This would be a huge sacrifice to see International cricket this summer and would mean socially distancing from anyone and everyone, living in one place, eating on single tables, and being away from their families for the period of the Test Match or Series.
Players entered a bio-secure “bubble” in Manchester’s Old Trafford
On 1st July, England played a combined Test Match with one team captained by Ben Stokes and the other by Jos Buttler. Test Captain Joe Root was absent due to the imminent birth of his child, this would also see him miss the first Test Match against the West Indies as he had to self-isolate after being away from the bubble.
The game was streamed live on the ECB website. There was no sound on the action as well as no commentary. In all honesty, it was a bit of a tough watch. The game finished in a draw and England picked their Test squad based on that game.
A week later on July 8th, Test cricket finally returned.
There was a moment at the toss where stand-in captain Ben Stokes tried shaking counterpart Jason Holder’s hand, forgetting that physical content was not allowed.
A surreal moment for everybody in the cricket world as England began proceedings against West Indies
There was no crowd which obviously meant no noise. You could hear chit-chat on the pitch that you wouldn’t usually hear. The commentators, who usually react to the crowd noise had nothing to react to. The TV cameras that usually take in the ambience and atmosphere in the crowd after every wicket and boundary had nothing to pan to.
The England players were all wearing different style hairbands. Stuart Broad sported a Daniel Larusso style white knotted one, James Anderson a thicker black one, and Chris Woakes opted for the more traditional Alice Band.
The game also got stopped after Dom Sibley accidentally put saliva on the ball.
This was cricket’s new normal and it took a while to get used to.
Stuart Broad and his enchanted headband
Cricket also stood in solidarity with the BAME community following George Floyd’s abhorrent, racially charged murder by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
As society reflected, sport acted as a mouthpiece. Players, staff and commentators used their platform for good and address racial injustice that still exists today by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Society and cricket still have enormous ground to cover as we collectively strive for equality, but this summer can be looked back on as a breakthrough moment. We can be proud to see that the sport we love is addressing the wrongs of today’s climate.
"Racism is taught. No one is born a racist. The environment in which you grow, the society in which you live, encourages and teaches racism."
Michael Holding's powerful testimony combines with Ebony Rainford-Brent's impassioned words
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) July 8, 2020
And now fast forward to this Wednesday just gone and 18 games later, the last ball of the international summer was bowled as Australia took the ODI series 2-1.
The absent crowd just seems normal now. It will actually be a little strange when you start seeing people sitting in the stands again but that cannot come soon enough.
We also witnessed some incredible things: Jimmy Anderson’s 600th Test Wicket, Stuart Broad’s 500th Test wicket, Zac Crawley’s double hundred and, of course, Chris Wokes and Jos Butler’s heroics to guide England to a remarkable three-wicket victory over Pakistan in the first Test at Old Trafford. These moments all deserved 20,000+ people watching, applauding and celebrating.
Never did we ever imagine that we would a see 18 games of compelling international cricket and huge credit has to go to the cricket boards from the West Indies, Ireland, Pakistan, Australia and, of course, England for making it possible and making the ultimate sacrifice for us to enjoy a summer of the game we all love.
Although desperate to see England do well and win, the results at times seem irrelevant as, excuse the cliche, the overall winner was cricket.