There’s been a lot to be angry about these last few months. Back in February, six months, two weeks, and nine lifetimes ago, the American Medical Association ran an article on the idea of “panger”, pandemic-anger, and, yes, the word is much too ugly to catch on, but no doubt you’ve felt some of it yourself. It’s harder to know exactly who to be angry at, though.
Oh there are the politicians, of course, and that man over there with his mask pulled down beneath his chin, and that lady who told you off because you weren’t respecting social distancing, and that friend posting smug holiday photos, but it’s all a bit scattergun, isn’t it? There was a lot of that going on on Friday morning. Few things in cricket feel better than the first morning of a Test match, and few feel much worse than first morning of this one, which was shaping up to be one of the great games, but which ended, instead, in thwarted promise, frustrated anticipation, and, yes, palpable anger, especially from Lancashire, who face crippling losses, and the fans, who had bought tickets and booked time off work and been burned at two hours notice. Problem was, there was nowhere to go with it, no one good to aim it at or blame it on.
Some went for the Indian Premier League, which starts up in nine days’ time. And according to reports, in Indian team meetings the night before the match several of the players said that they were worried that if the outbreak spread it would affect their participation in the tournament.
Well, yes. Like it or not, the IPL has more viewers than there are people in this country, and makes more money in seven weeks than the entirety of English cricket does in a year. To be blunt, the question isn’t whether the tournament is beginning to eclipse Test cricket, but why it hasn’t already done so.
And since we’re asking, a large part of the answer is because the Indian team haven’t allowed it to. If you doubt their commitment to Test cricket, then you can’t have been watching too closely these last few weeks. They’ve already played more Tests in the last 12 months than any other team, and will have played away series in Australia, England, and South Africa by the time the year is over. It wasn’t long ago that Virat Kohli was asking for more, calling for the World Test Championship final to be a best-of-three series. Right now, India are one of the teams who are propping up the format, not trying to polish it off.
What is fair, though, is to ask exactly how committed they were to playing this one game once the crisis started to unfold. The BCCI had already asked the ECB to consider rescheduling the tour back in May to allow for a little extra time before the IPL. The ECB’s chief executive, Tom Harrison, insisted the two boards had been working together through the night to try and find a way to get the game on, but a lot of what was being said in public didn’t square with the reports about what was going on behind closed doors. Besides, Harrison is a man who is complaining that there’s too much cricket being played after a season in which his board have launched an entirely new format of the sport.
Others went after the Indian coach, Ravi Shastri, who was singled out because he’d thrown a party fortnight ago that may, or may not, have been the source of the outbreak, and if it can be proven, Shastri will have to answer to the BCCI for it. But there was a lot of grumbling generally about the Indian players’ lax interpretation of their guidelines, presumably from people who have, just like everyone else in this country, been following them with monkish devotion for the last few months. Take a look around.
It’s anything goes in England at the moment, for everyone except Indian cricketers, who are apparently bound to higher standards by their obligation to what, exactly, the ECB’s bottom line and our entertainment? India have been on tour here for four months now, and have been subjected to similar sorts of stresses and pressures that led the England team to cancel their own tour of South Africa last year. In that case it was a pair of hotel workers who tested positive, in this one it was a physio, who had face-to-face contact with the players while he has been treating them in the last few days. And since those matches were postponed, and not forfeited, you would think it should be the same this time, especially since the game is already being rescheduled. Unless the ECB really want to maintain that it should be one rule for them and another for everyone else.
Which would be difficult, given that they are, of course, currently in the middle of their own negotiations with Cricket Australia about whether they can persuade the Australian government to show a little flexibility with the rules to help protect the mental health of their own players during the Ashes tour this winter. If you really want to know who to be angry at for all this, it’s not the players, it’s not the coaches, for once, it’s not the administrators. It’s the virus. And shouting about it doesn’t seem to make much difference.