Amid calls to begin international season, let’s not forget domestic cricket

The first Test of the England-West Indies series in July will be the first official cricket match amid the COVID-19 situation, but there is still no clarity on Irani Trophy and the BCCI domestic season.

“We are all happy because there is a start. As a player, all our eyes will be on those three Tests. It will help our board as well, to start domestic and international cricket. They will be in a position to make a decision,” says Manoj Tiwary (left).   -  Prashant Nakwe

The Ranji Trophy 2019-20 final was the last competitive cricket match before the world was hit by coronavirus. The pandemic put an end to all sporting activities since mid-March.

The German Bundesliga restart in May — behind-closed-doors — renewed hopes in football. Now, cricket is set to follow the empty stadium plan as England hosts West Indies in a bio-secure environment in July. The return of international cricket means television rights, revenues for the host — Hampshire and Lancashire counties in this case — and a blueprint for other nations; how to go about an international match during COVID-19.

Amid all the noise surrounding the Test series, saliva ban and the fate of T20 World Cup scheduled for October, the world perhaps forgot that the Irani Cup 2019, to be played between Ranji Trophy champion Saurashtra and Rest of India, is yet to see the light of the day. It was only late in June it was announced that the County Championship in England will begin on August 1.

India international and Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwary, who was part of the Ranji final in March, feels the BCCI can take a cue out of the Test series in England and prepare a roadmap for domestic cricket. “I think a step has been taken by the Bundesliga. They have shown us a way. At the very start, in every country, especially in our country, people were hesitant as to how to go about it. How far will they be successful if they start sporting action.

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“It is difficult to start in India with the number of cases going up and in our country, most people have not been following social distancing. I am talking from what I have seen in the news,” he told Sportstar.

Tiwary will be glued to the Test series. “We are all happy because there is a start. As a player, all our eyes will be on those three Tests. It will help our board as well, to start domestic and international cricket. They will be in a position to make a decision,” said Tiwary, who is shadow-practising at home besides weight training.

“Since I have committed to play for another 10 years, I have to train. I am not batting for real, only shadow. Shadow practising helps improve the skills, provided you are working on the correct technique,” he added.

Logistic nightmare

“It’s the domestic cricket that continues to be the lifeline of the cricketing structure and it is absolutely necessary that we give priority to it,” says Yusuf Pathan.   -  Sudhakara Jain

 

Wicketkeeper-batsman Shreevats Goswami, Tiwary’s team-mate, has a realistic take on the matter. “I don’t think starting the domestic season before international cricket is a good idea, especially in India where we have 37 teams playing three major tournaments — Ranji Trophy, Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 and Vijay Hazare. The sheer logistics involved make it a difficult task.

“When you’re playing a bilateral international, all the players have to do is get to the airport in a bus, board the aircraft and get down to the venue. Everything else is taken care of. In contrast, players have to do everything on their own in the domestic circuit, which, given the current circumstances, isn’t safe considering we play at far-flung venues where maintaining hygiene and social distancing is a challenge,” he said.

Goswami wants the Cricket Association of Bengal to have a chat with other associations regarding the safety measures involved in hosting a domestic game. “There are simply too many variables at play for the domestic season to start early,” said the 31-year-old.

Goswami also called for a contract system. “I feel the fee structure of the players needs to be revisited. The COVID crisis has had an adverse impact on the finances of cricket boards across the world, so it’s imperative that the associations ensure the players don’t bear the brunt. Now might be a good time to introduce a contract system.

READ| English County Championship to begin on August 1, says ECB

“There were also rumours that Syed Mushtaq T20 and Vijay Hazare could get scrapped for this season. That will compound problems for players who only feature in white-ball cricket. It’s not their mistake that they don’t get picked in red-ball format. Therefore, that too needs to be factored in before drawing up a schedule for the domestic season. All this will take time.”

India international and Baroda stalwart Yusuf Pathan is also excited for the England-Windies series but he believes starting domestic cricket ahead of international would have been ideal. “It is always exciting to see international cricket returning after a hiatus. And the series would set the tone for the season. With so much guidelines in place, it needs to be seen how things pan out over the next few weeks. Ideally, it would have been good had domestic cricket started first — that would have given players the confidence and would have helped them bounce back before international assignments,” he said.

The two-time World Cup winner, T20 in 2007 and ODI in 2011, called the domestic structure of BCCI the ‘lifeline’. “It is of utmost importance and with the country still grappling with the pandemic, clouds of uncertainty still hover around it. I am sure that the BCCI will ensure that the season pans out smoothly and there’s enough cricket.

“After all, it’s the domestic cricket that continues to be the lifeline of the cricketing structure and it is absolutely necessary that we give priority to it,” said Pathan, who has been training indoors over the past few months.

“These are challenging times for all of us, but I am sure we will bounce back stronger and cricket will be back to its old charm,” he said.

A welcome move

Lalchand Rajput.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

"For the last few months, none of the players could train due to the lockdown, so most of them are rusty. They would take at least a few weeks to get back to match fitness. But I am looking forward to the England-West Indies series as it will mark the beginning of cricket post the pandemic. There will be no crowd, and it will be awkward for the players but then, cricket needs to start somewhere, so it’s a welcome move. There are talks on whether domestic cricket should have resumed first. But that’s not feasible at the moment. With no government directive, it is not possible to start domestic tournaments. After training resumes, we can think of having domestic tournaments in India. And I think this year, we should reduce the number of matches and focus mostly on T20s and the Ranji Trophy. That way you can manage the season well, despite a delayed start." — Lalchand Rajput, coach, Zimbabwe.