The cricketing fraternity doesn’t know when live sporting action will resume again. As the world grapples with the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, uncertainty looms large over the future of the game, this year.
Former Pakistan captain and an erstwhile president of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Zaheer Abbas, however, is optimistic that if things improve Pakistan could travel to England for three Tests and three T20Is - scheduled to begin on July 30.
“There is still a 50-50 chance. If things improve and if the government feels that the situation is under control and its safe for teams to travel, then Pakistan may go ahead with its tour to England. It could be a smaller affair, but at least things will start somewhere,” Abbas told Sportstar from Karachi.
As per the original schedule, Pakistan is to play a three-Test series against England at the end of July, followed by a three-match T20I series, ending on September 2.
“The games should start if the coronavirus is under control and the deaths are not increasing. Even if they don’t allow the crowd to come to the ground, the game will be watched by people on television all over the world. In such times, it will actually give people something to talk about. It will be a motivation for other countries, too, to start cricket,” Abbas said.
“The boards are losing money, and if things improve and the series begins, there could at least be some cricket. But of course, it all depends on how the situation pans out over the next couple of months,” he added.
- Cricket in empty stadiums -
With its domestic cricket season largely affected and The Hundred postponed, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is hoping against hope to resume international cricket by July, with back-to-back series against the West Indies and Pakistan.
Obviously, there is not much clarity yet on whether the tournaments will start as per schedule. But Abbas believes that even if the series against Pakistan happens, the spectators may have to stay away from the ground.
But it’s the spectators who keep the game alive. How much of a challenge will it be for the players to play in front of empty stands?
“It’s not ideal. But the boards are losing money, so if the action resumes (even without crowd), at least some money will come in (through television rights). At the moment, it’s very unpredictable. You don’t know what will happen, but I think this is what the England cricket board will try to do,” the cricketing legend said.
“With lockdown, more people will watch the games on television all over the world -- be it the Pakistanis, the English fans or the cricket enthusiasts across the globe…”
Abbas also agrees that cricket will never be the same again post the pandemic, with too many restrictions coming in. “Of course, it will not be the same. But they should go and play because it will at least be good for their fitness and there will be some action,” he said.
But how much of a challenge will it be for the players to get in shape in such a short span of time?
“They have been away from the game for a while, so how they will fare - is something that will be on their mind. Even if they play in empty grounds, they will be fully prepared (mentally). They also know that is just happening for the time being, and there will soon be a time when the fans will be back in the stands.”
- Online coaching, a welcome move -
In a bid to keep the players motivated, some of the associations - including the Pakistan Cricket Board - have been organising online sessions with former cricketers and Abbas calls it a welcome move. “At least, they are trying to keep the players busy somehow or the other. They have already told the players what to do, in terms of exercises and other fitness drills. Now there will be no excuses that players weren’t told what to do in these months. So, players should be fit,” he said.
“In a way, it is also good that they are not playing cricket because it is a much-needed rest from a heavy schedule. They hardly get time to rest and this is the first time (in many years) that they are not playing cricket for a long time. Sometimes, rest is also required.”
While he is in Karachi these days, Abbas’ family is in London. And he plans to return home once the situation improves and the travel restrictions are lifted.
In his long and illustrious career, Abbas has seen highs and lows, and he is optimistic that eventually, cricket will bounce back.