Cricket During COVID-19: Normalcy Returns, In Masks And In A Bubble

July’s are boring for Indian cricket fans. At times, they are heartbreaking too. Remember Dhoni’s run out last year in the World Cup semi-final? Ouch! It still hurts. The throw didn’t just canon into the stumps, it steamrolled over a billion dreams and perhaps drew curtains on the most illustrious career in Indian cricket post the 2000s. But this isn’t about Dhoni. This is about cricket and us, cricket and fans.

 Right, back to July. They can be boring and heartbreaking, but never interesting, exciting, nerve-wracking – feelings a cricket fan lives for. It’s not July’s fault by any means. Crammed between a draining IPL, approaching monsoon, and India’s domestic season, July’s are mostly spent in anticipation of a big-ticket series. Not this July. This July is interesting, happening, amazing and above all, oxygen for an ailing Indian cricket fan.

 At a time when Covid-19 cases are at an all-time high, vaccination still seems like a distant dream, a cricket fan found joy in the red cherry fizzing past the outside edge of a bat. There was no Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, there were no knuckleballs from Bhuvneshwar Kumar. R Ashwin wasn’t foxing the batsmen with his crafts and yet, Ben Stokes seems to have made up for the lapse. Jason Holder’s outswings gave joys of a Bumrah yorker, Jermaine Blackwood’s fight was nothing short of a Rohit double ton.

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 It was never about players, it was about cricket – the bat, the ball, the pitch, the sound of a cracking cover drive, the tension of a Test match.

 Yes, cricket fans are selfish. Despite knowing these are not the times when we should even discuss sports let alone play it through five days, a cricket fan couldn’t have enough of it when cricket returned after close to four months with England taking on West Indies.

 Do we really need cricket? Can’t we do without it? We sure can but we don’t want. Life is easier with cricket around. Guessing the playing XI on the eve of a match, trying to make sense of a captain’s decision at toss-time, anxiously watching the openers’ battle for survival and after that their attempt to cash in as the day progresses is life lessons for people like us.

 Like everything else, cricket too had to return and thankfully it did. The four months in between were hollow, pointless. The long hours at home, uninterrupted internet connections meant nothing without live cricket. Yes, there was enough family time, there was a rediscovery of self, there was the odd occasion of trying out new things but it failed to come near to the joy of seeing the ball sneak through a batsman’s bat and pad and disturb the wood-work behind.

 Playing and replaying highlights of India’s old matches, a few spells of Glenn McGrath, some footages of Viv Richards demolishing bowling attacks – they were at best life supports to us until the real antidote came on July 8.

 “Are they mad? Why are they playing cricket now?” Asked my mom seeing me get all excited despite the blatant violation of physical distancing norms during the England vs West Indies Test match. I could sense the question was directed towards me as much as the organizers. But I chose to ignore it. ‘What will they know of cricket that only cricket know?’

 It is difficult to understand cricket without actually knowing the social and cultural context of India and it is equally difficult to make sense of our culture without understanding cricket.

 So, are cricket fans mad? Are they so heartless that a sport bears more significance than the safety of lives and the sufferings of millions around the world? The answer is obvious. Cricket fans know that the sport won’t help in curbing the virus or banish the pains, sorrows in any way. It won’t do the job of scientists and doctors, it can't. But what it can do is to provide meaning to the life of millions of Indians whose mood still depends on the outcome of a cricket match.

 It gets easier to handle lockdown with cricket, it gets easier to tackle the hardships. Like any coach would say, ‘give the first session to the bowlers and take the next two.’ We are only halfway through the first session in this battle with this virus, there is still some way to go. We have to give this session to the virus and hope that we can make it 2-1 by the end of the day.