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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Cricket New Normal: Saliva Ban, No Huddles, Empty Stadiums!

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has been having brainstorming virtual sessions with all stakeholders on resumption of cricket in the past months under the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic. Till now the Council has not been able to take a final call on the main issue of contention: when to hold the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup. It's very ironical that in a year which can also be termed as T20 the T20 mega event just cannot get underway that was originally scheduled in October, 2020 in Australia. Now, the Indian cricket board, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has been eagerly waiting for the decision on the T20 World Cup, because since its postponment is almost final the ICC decision will give the BCCI a window during October-November to organize its favorite money-spinner, the Indian Premiere League (IPL), of course, without the noisy reveling crowds. 

All the while the ICC has been busy framing new rules for the most popular game of the world, a craze in India. Indian spin bowling great Anil Kumble who was appointed as Chairman of the ICC's Cricket Committee in 2012 had been assigned this job. Kumble has already made recommendations and the ICC approved most of these. The first of course is the obvious: ban on the use of saliva during play. We have seen over the decades how intensive had been the use of saliva of almost all the players fielding to keep the ball shining. Now, saliva is a direct trigger for COVID-19 spread and therefore its use has been banned forthwith. This is set to affect the pacers in particular very adversely, and perhaps the dry ball will be of help to the spinners. The suggestion of using external substances got rejected mainly because the international cricket bodies had been opposing this tooth and nail for decades. There is one more suggestion for allowing a new ball for every fifty overs in Test matches which is under consideration.

The ICC rule to have neutral umpires in international series has also been waived off to prevent extensive globe-trotting that the international umpires had had to embark upon. Home umpires will now do the job. Another very important recommendation that has been accepted is of allowing COVID substitutes in Test matches that go on for five days. Any player showing any symptoms of flu, cough or fever during this period will be out of the match and a substitute player will be allowed to take his/her place in the playing eleven like under the present concussion regulation. Naturally, this rule wouldn't apply to the shorter formats of ODIs and T20Is. 

The defined cricket new normal will obviously include various other demonstrative physical attributes of the game: the huddles by rival teams that we have witnessed increasingly in competitive cricket in recent years will no longer be allowed; display of physical excitement in group like in the case of a fall of a wicket or in a hat-trick or a superlative catch or scoring a ton will be gone and all sorts of hugging, shake-hands, pavilion or dressing-room celebrations  and the like will no longer be there till Corona thinks otherwise. And, of course, there will be no spectators. Players will have to undergo all of the excitement on field in an empty stadium without supporting or singing or celebrating or flags-displaying cricket-loving crowds which would obviously be a daunting challenge to keep up the competitive spirit of the players. Unfortunately, there's no other option available at the moment and cricketers will have to adapt so that the sport resumes. 

It is a huge development that the first instance of international cricket resumption has already begun. Except for three players the West Indies team had agreed to participate in a Test Series against England in England--one of the worst-hit countries in terms of COVID deaths. The West Indies team had already arrived in England, all players tested before departure and thoroughly tested after arrival. They will live and prepare there for three weeks before the first Test of the three-match series scheduled to start from July 8, 2020. Hope the great game of cricket would pass the unprecedented COVID test successfully and with full honors. 

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