A month ago, the cricket world began wrapping up incomplete tours just as the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed Covid-19 as a pandemic. That meant that the Pakistan Super League playoffs couldn’t be contested, New Zealand returned home in the middle of the Chappell-Hadlee ODI series, South Africa went back amidst the ODI series in India, while England had to go back home just before the start of the two Test series in Sri Lanka. Gradually, hindsight revealed that perhaps the cricket boards – and sporting bodies around the world – left the abandonments too late.
Across the world, events as high-profile as the Olympics and Euro 2020 were postponed till next year, while this year’s Wimbledon championships have been abandoned altogether. The events were scheduled up to July and August, which means that any sporting activity anywhere in the world before September – at the optimistically earliest – is realistically impossible. Roland Garros, the second tennis major of the year, which takes place before Wimbledon in May-June postponed itself to the end of September, further indicating that the return for global sports is expected around that time.
What does that mean for cricket in general, and Pakistan cricket in particular, then? For starters, the third and final leg of the Bangladesh tour – and ODI and second Test in Karachi – scheduled for April, was called off. Pakistan are next scheduled to tour England and the Netherlands in June and July, which is all but certain to be called off as well.
With global events scheduled up to August being abandoned, any cricket before September is realistically impossible
Last month, the West Indies put forth an interesting proposal, offering to host their original Test series in England, and even suggested that they could host the England-Pakistan series as well. However, that was before Covid-19 reached current proportions, and while the cases are relatively fewer in the Caribbean, any gathering anywhere in the world is unlikely to be allowed over the next few months.
UEFA, the European football body, is still struggling with finalising the league seasons. The latest proposal has been to host the remaining matches behind closed doors as late as June and July. Failing that the leagues would only have three options: scrap 2019-20 altogether, finalise current standings, or extend the incomplete seasons into the traditional starting period of the coming seasons.
In cricket’s case, the international franchise T20 leagues don’t span over nine months. As we discussed in the case of PSL, it might already have reached a fair conclusion with league matches all played, while the likes of Indian Premier League can be abandoned till next year.
The bigger question marks, however, are over the international calendar. Most of the Test series scheduled from March till September are a part of the ICC Test Championship that was scheduled to be completed in June 2021. Similarly, the ODI league was to start in 2022, to serve as a separate competition and also as the qualification for the 2023 World Cup.
Given that the ODI league still hasn’t started means that it can be postponed and squeezed into the calendar, since there still are over three years before the start of the World Cup. However, the only way the ICC Test Championship final can be played at Lord’s in June next year is if results are announced for the series that won’t be played owing to coronavirus – which significantly damages a competition that already had many detractors.
Given that September is the earliest possible restart for cricket, the debate over the World T20 – scheduled for October and November in Australia – is arguably the only relevant one we have. That is what we will partake in next week.