England Tour of India: First New Normal Cricket In India Since the Pandemic!

Undoubtedly the most cricket-crazy nation of the world, India had to go without official cricket for nearly a year due the COVID-19 Pandemic that raged in the country till September 2020. Three away cricket series against South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka had to be cancelled. The much awaited T20 cricket bonanza, the IPL, had to be shifted to the United Arab Emirates thanks to an empty slot left by the indefinitely postponed ICC World Cup T20 slated for 2020. For India, the IPL had been the start of the New Normal Cricket during September-November 2020 followed by its historic tour of Australia 2020-21, both under secure bio-bubble environment. Now, with the England cricket team touring India, the first official cricket Series is about to unfold from tomorrow, the 5th of February 2021, at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai: the first of the four-match Test Series between England and India.


In view of the pandemic that still has not said quits, new normal arrangements are in place creating a tight bio-secure environment. Although the COVID-19 protocols of the Government of India have allowed 50% of capacity spectators in the stadium the Tamil Nadu cricket authorities had decided to vote for full safety holding the first Test behind closed doors, no spectators allowed. However, after consultation with the BCCI, the state authorities have now allowed half-capacity spectators for the second Test to be held at the same stadium from 13th February.


To maintain a strict bio-bubble the BCCI has restricted the venues to only three: the first two Tests of the World Test Champion Series to be held in Chennai; the next two Tests and the five-match T20 Series to be held at the Motera, Ahmedabad; and the three-match World Cup Super League ODI Series to be held in Pune. The third test in Ahmedabad is going to be a pink-ball day-and-night match, starting from 24th February 2021. Really a power-packed tour with the good news that half-capacity crowds will be allowed for all the matches from the second test onwards. The matches will be telecast live on Star Sports and live streaming will be available on Disney-Hotstar. The euphoria of the Indian cricket fans after the home team’s stupendous Melbourne and Brisbane victories and the historic fight-back draw in Sydney, all under a stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane and depleted squads, is set to explode.


India, after the 2-1 Test series victory against Australia in Australia, starts as hot favorites. Their top players, namely R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma, have fully recovered from injuries, and therefore India will have the services of all top players including Virat Kohli coming back as the captain. The day Team India conquered the Brisbane fortress the Indian squad had been announced for the first two tests. In view of the pandemic an 18-member squad had been selected with the exclusion of a still recuperating Ravindra Jadeja. Then, of course, their near-invincibility at home.


On the other hand, England is hardly a pushover. They have also come here after sweeping the test series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka 2-0, and they have tremendously consistent players in captain Joe Root, leading batsmen Rory Burns and Jos Buttler, ominous all-rounders Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, top-class fast bowlers Jofra Archer, James Anderson and Stuart Broad and capable spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach. The England team had earlier won a test series in India in 2012-13 and crushed India in their tours of England in 2011, 2014 and in 2018.


There are more stakes involved in this Test Series as far as the World Test Championship (WTC) is concerned. This series between Indian and England is almost sure to decide the second finalist for the WTC Final in June this year at Lord’s in England, both of the teams having played 5 of the 6 Series allowed and New Zealand having already qualified with 70 points. India on top with 71.7 points needs to win at least two tests to qualify while England on 68.7 points will need to win three tests. Australia, even though they are in the third position with 69.2 points, is almost out of contention as their series against South Africa has been postponed indefinitely. India enjoys the greatest of chances to qualify at the moment. However, cricket being a game of glorious uncertainties we can only hope for the best. But some superlative cricket is definitely in store for all cricket lovers.


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