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Played and Missed

There was something missing this summer. It wasn’t great cricket, exciting matches or individual achievements. It was crowds.

Australia beat England in the one-day series but lost in the Twenty20 games. Ireland overhauled England’s 328 to win the third one-day international. Pakistan could not maintain the excellence of their bowling in their first Test in England but managed to draw the one-day series.

And the West Indies, too, failed to capitalise on their first Test victory to lose their series 2-1.

There were some fine innings, some great bowling not to mention milestones like Stuart Broad’s 500th Test wicket and Jimmy Anderson’s 600th.

We were lucky to have any cricket at all during the summer of 2020. But the absence of the cricket-loving public reminded you, ball by ball, that this was not how the game is supposed to be enjoyed.

It must have been as disappointing for the players as it was for the fans. International cricket needs a crowd. It needs the joy and despair of thousands of people watching, waiting and hoping.

On TV, the ‘Lord’s drone’ was added in an attempt to create some atmosphere but it was no substitute for the spontaneous applause, the cheering, singing and groans of disappointment which usually accompany a game of cricket.

This will continue around the world, assuming more games actually take place, until we get on top of the virus.

The professionals at least got to play. What about kids? In England, there’s been no school cricket at all (and it is a sport in terminal decline anyway in State schools) while amateur club cricket has been limited to a couple of months. As a result, interest in cricket has declined; people are taking up golf instead because it’s more socially-distanced.

But if the game doesn’t flourish at the grass-roots level, it will eventually wither and die. Not this year or next, perhaps, but over time.

And this will be a slow-motion tragedy not just for the Saturday afternoon sloggers but, ultimately, for the future of the great game at every level.

A few tentative steps are being taken to reintroduce crowds at some sporting events but a smattering of applause among a handful of spectators at a minor football match isn’t much. But it’s a start, I suppose.

Cricket-fans will have to hope these trials work out and allow games to be played in front of live spectators sometime soon. Because we really won’t know the coronavirus has been conquered until someone scores a century in the Boxing Day Test in front of a packed house at the MCG.

Nigel Hastilow’s new novel, ‘Close of Play’, about a £1 million village cricket match, has just been published and is available at Amazon.


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