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Chair's blog: Plotting a Path Through Cricket’s COVID Challenge

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Chair's blog: Plotting a Path Through Cricket’s COVID Challenge

ECB Chair Ian Watmore

Sachin Tendulkar famously said that when life “throws stones at you, you convert them into milestones.”

Following the World Cup triumphs of 2017 and 2019, combined with exciting new plans for investment in cricket to inspire future generations, 2020 began by promising so much. Cricket was then existentially challenged, not just by the pernicious nature of COVID-19, but by its timing, which threatened a complete season’s wipeout.

I believe the game can be extremely proud of the way in which it came together and worked in partnership to overcome the enormous ‘boulders’ thrown at it. By inventing bio-secure and bio-safe bubbles for the professional game a full season of men’s Test, ODI and iT20 was played, a re-invented First-Class county season was completed, the England women’s team played a full iT20 series and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy was launched.

Also, medical protocols and inspirational leadership, much of it from volunteers, enabled the grass-roots game to erupt in July with levels of participation and joy unprecedented in recent years.

In short, the game refused to be beaten by COVID-19, quickly reset its objectives and its aspirations, delivered innovation and triumphed in the short term over the pandemic threat.

I would expect 2021 to be the year in which humanity will learn to live with the virus, based on a combination of vaccinations, behavioural changes, new social norms, risk management protocols and technological innovations. But progress will not be linear, nor as fast as many would like, and those who expect a rapid return to previous “normality” will be sadly disappointed.

We have already seen this COVID unpredictability in sport, for example the re-opening then closing of venues, the rapid ending of pilot projects to return supporters to stadia, the variable impact of tiers on recreational activity, and the mental health challenges of prolonged periods in bio-secure bubbles.

As we look forward to 2021, I hope we will get back to crowds in stadia, undisrupted schedules, relaxations in bubbles and social aspects of the game, and a return to venue usage for conferences and hospitality. But whilst I hope for these things, I do not think it wise to plan for them all to occur at least in the early part of the season.

We should, of course, expect progress over 2020 on all fronts – for example, playing recreationally and professionally throughout the domestic season; getting increasing numbers of spectators back into stadia; our men and women touring internationally and participating in ICC global events.

Most of all we should continue to press the case for cricket being a healthy, safe and enjoyable way to emerge from the winter lockdowns, improving the mental and physical wellbeing of so many people across society, and bringing communities together.

But we must also be financially very conservative, flexible to changing schedules and protocols, and tolerant of people’s mental health and personal situations. And, most definitely, we must not get our hopes ahead of reality given wider societal challenges, being mindful of the words of John Cleese’s character in the film Clockwise “I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand”.

This balanced approach – steering a path between survival and change, despair and hope – will enable the game to thrive, and society to benefit from the health and joy that our great game brings to so many. That is our collective challenge, and I thank everyone in advance for the part they will individually play in 2021.

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