The year 2020 has been a historic one for sporting events around the world but not in a particular memorable manner. For the first time ever since World War II, the Summer Olympic Games and Wimbledon have fallen by the wayside due to the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked the sporting calendar. The European football championships has also been pushed by a year, as the world’s most popular game has all but come to a standstill.
Of course, cricket has not been spared either as the game has seen international series postponed, the Indian Premier League put on hold and the T20 World Cup in Australia thrown into doubt.
Here, we take a look at what could happen next for cricket in 2020:
T20 World Cup under a cloud
The West Indies have been one of the weakest of the Test nations in the last 10 years, with troubles behind the scenes and row over players’ pay often proving costly for a talented side on the pitch.
But they have still produced two memorable World T20 triumphs, in 2012 and 2016, but now may have to wait to defend their crown in Australia.
The 2020 T20 World Cup is due to get underway in October, but the International Cricket Council admitted on Friday that it was “exploring all options”, despite playing down reports that it could be pushed back until 2021.
A postponement would be a blow to some of the game’s ageing stars, including the 40-year-old Chris Gayle, who was hoping to bow out of the international arena in style by leading the Windies to another global title.
The T20 World Cup’s immediate future is just one of the many questions facing the game as the Future Tours and Programmes could have to be redone by taking all the boards into consideration. The World Test Championship is also facing uncertainties. The ODI Super League was scheduled to be played between May 1 this year and March 31, 2022, serving as the qualification pathway for the 2023 World Cup and that is facing a question mark too. ESPNCricinfo reported that these are the issues that the ICC will have to debate as they are listed on the agenda for the quarterly meetings scheduled for May 8 to 10, potentially in Dubai based on government regulations.
While Cricket Australia remains optimistic that the 2020-21 men’s and women’s home summer – scheduled to begin with the men’s T20 World Cup in October and November – will proceed, either in empty stadia if social distancing restrictions remain in place or as relevant crowd guidelines allow, the organisations had to cut down its staff.
CA stood down majority of its staff till June 30 as it battled a financial crisis triggered by the pandemic but remained hopeful of the T20 World Cup in October-November and the highly-anticipated India tour being held on schedule.
The Australian financial year ends on June 30, which means that employees have been stood down for a period of two and half months during which it is impossible to have any sporting activity with no chance of normalcy around the corner.
“We have made the decision during this period of isolation, where activity has naturally been reduced, to stand down our people on reduced pay [with the exception of a skeleton staff] effective 27 April for the remainder of the financial year,” CA said in a statement.
Elsewhere, Yorkshire became the first English cricket county to announce that they had put their players and coaching staff on the British government’s furlough financial aid scheme.
With the English domestic season delayed until May 28 because of the coronavirus and further postponements likely, talks have been ongoing between the 18 first-class counties and the Professional Cricketers’ Association over questions of pay deferrals and wage cuts.
The PCA had planned to announce a collective response following conference calls over the weekend but Yorkshire, the county of England Test captain Joe Root, broke ranks to say they had decided to opt for the furlough scheme on Friday.
And, when this crisis tides over, a report in the Indian Express has stated that cricket will likely return to domination by Big Three with associate nations feeling the brunt.
Big blow for the freelancers
The world’s richest tournament, the Indian Premier League, has been indefinitely suspended, while the inaugural edition of The Hundred in England and Wales is appearing increasingly unlikely to go ahead as planned.
Many international players make the majority of their salaries in franchise limited-overs cricket, while the IPL draws massive crowds and is estimated to generate more than $11 billion a year for the Indian economy.
Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins was the most expensive overseas player bought at the 2020 season auction, with the Kolkata Knight Riders snapping him up for $2.17 million.
The IPL was originally scheduled to start on March 29, was delayed until April 15, and has now been postponed indefinitely after the Indian government extended the country’s lockdown until at least May 3.
A cancellation, or even delay of The Hundred would be a huge blow to English cricket, which was hoping to capitalise on last year’s World Cup triumph by continuing to attract new fans to the sport.
The tournament is still slated to start as planned on July 17, but other sporting events in the UK in July, including tennis Grand Slam event Wimbledon and golf’s British Open, have been scrapped.
While international cricketers will likely continue receiving their salaries from central contracts, the freelancers who depend on franchise cricket are left wondering about their next pay check.
A CPL-IPL clash?
Caribbean Premier League CEO Pete Russell expects the T20 league to take place as scheduled in September and hopes the BCCI figures out “its own window”.
There is a possibility that the BCCI organises the IPL in September or October and that might require rescheduling the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup.
The CPL is scheduled to run from August 19 to September 26 and can clash with the IPL.
“We wouldn’t go up against it. While I know the BCCI is all-powerful in these things, there has to be some sensible consideration around what players and other leagues are doing,” Russell told ESPNcricinfo.
Reiterating that the health situation is the priority for the stakeholders, the BCCI has said that the IPL 2020 season “will only commence when it is safe and appropriate to do so” which indicated that the governing body is not ready to give up on the 13th edition yet.
Can women’s cricket continue upward trend?
The year was off to an excellent start for women’s cricket, with a record-breaking crowd of over 86,000 watching Australia beat India to win the T20 World Cup at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last month.
But it faces a battle in order to continue to thrive after the coronavirus lockdown, with players paid far less than their male counterparts.
For instance, teenager Shafali Verma was the find of the T20 World Cup for India, but India’s women’s captain Mithali Raj thinks the lockdown could make it harder for such youngsters to break through if domestic calendar takes a hit.
“It’s true that if these matches were to go ahead, a few more gems like Shafali Verma would have been unearthed,” the Indian batting great told The Times of India.
And the report in The Times of India also stated that 168 matches in seven tournaments across age groups are yet to be completed for the 2019-’20 women’s domestic cricket season.
Here’s all that’s pending in the 2019-20 women’s domestic cricket season:
|Senior one-day trophy||Seven knockout games|
|Senior one-day challenger trophy||Four games|
|Under-23 one-day trophy||Seven knockout games|
|Under-23 one-day challenger trophy||Four games|
|Under-19 one-day trophy||Seven knockout games|
|Under-19 T20 trophy||135 games|
|Under-19 T20 challenger trophy||Four games|
It remains to be seen if the sport will be able to sustain the momentum generated by the tournament in Australia.
Internationally, the qualifying tournament for 2021 World Cup in New Zealand is under a cloud. Apart from hosts NZ, the teams that have now qualified for the tournament are Australia, England, South Africa and India.
The ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier is scheduled to be played from July 3-19 in Sri Lanka, this is subject to review due to the pandemic. The 10 teams vying for the three remaining places in the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2021 will be the hosts, Sri Lanka, along with Pakistan and West Indies from the ICC Women’s Championship, the two other teams with ODI status, Bangladesh and Ireland, and the winners of the five regional qualifiers - Thailand (Asia), Zimbabwe (Africa), Papua New Guinea (East Asia Pacific), United States of America (Americas) and Netherlands (Europe).
And what about MS Dhoni?
There are bigger problems facing the game at the moment, but the suspension of IPL has pushed back an imminent return to competitive cricket for former India captain MS Dhoni back by a few months. Questions were surrounding his place in the Indian team well before the IPL, and they have now only intensified.
“If the IPL does not happen this year, then it will become very difficult for MS Dhoni to make a comeback. On what basis can he be selected since he’s not been playing for the last one or one and a half year,” Gambhir said recently.
When cricket returns in 2020, it might well play a role in determining if we see Dhoni back in action on the field.
(With AFP inputs)