Greyish dark skies, a chilly breeze, and drops of rain splattered on the ground- ah, typical English weather! The covers blanketed the fresh green grass and the ‘hover cover’ protected the pitch; the toss had been delayed. Everyone in the stadium, standing approximately six feet apart were looking for ways to kill time. Some caught up with each other while others were busy playing with the 250 characters on Twitter.
Fans moaned at the sight of the covers going on and off and their tweets resembled a lament. The wait continued. This felt all too familiar. Personally, I would have been that fan who cursed the unpredictable nature of the English summer but for the first time, all this was heartwarming and left a broad smile on my face. It had been a while since I had witnessed this.
That afternoon, Jason Holder and Ben Stokes flipped the coin and England decided to bat first. The players huddled up at their respective ends of the ground, the size of the huddle was bothersome. Teams usually stand in a tight circle but now the huddle looked like the size of the 30-yard circle. Things were looking different. Near the boundary rope, sanitiser dispensers replaced the ball boys. Commentators stood at a distance during the pregame discussions. In the commentary box, they sat at a distance with their own monitor screens and remember the name Carlos Braithwait? He had a mic in his hand instead of a bat.
The spider cam took the viewers around the stadium. The first test of the summer, at the Ageas Bowl, there was chockablock with empty chairs. Spectators with beers and umbrellas were nowhere to be seen. Our ears craved for the thunderous Barmy Army chants but were met with deafening silence. Players had to use their sweat to shine the ball. However, the outfield looked unchanged.
The mix of unfamiliarity and familiarity caused a slight pain in my heart. As this pain settled in, the two teams, dressed in the traditional white test attire walked onto the field. They looked rusty, excited, and nervous- the world of cricket could resonate with this.
The players took their positions. Rory Burns from England took his stance at the striker’s end. His bat tapped the crease twice, he looked at the pitch once more after which his fierce eyes were on Kemar Roach, the bowler. Kemar Roach placed his fingers on the seam of the ball and ran in to bowl the first ball of the test game. The bat touched the ball, and goosebumps covered my body. It had been 117 days since that sound of the bat touching the ball had filled my ears.
117 days later, international cricket was back. The long hiatus had come to end. However, the gracious return of test cricket was different. The pandemic has unveiled a new version of the game. It is going to take time for this version of the game to settle in. Nevertheless, cricket is back and is here to stay.
At Southampton, West Indies outshone the English men. In the second test, England emerged victorious. The series is now tied, the world is at the edge of their seat and Old Trafford is ready for the decider. It is going to be an enthralling third test.
Though it feels a little strange, I am grateful that I have been reunited with my first love. As I sing the songs composed by the Barmy Army, I plan to get done with my chores and get ready for my weekend date with the England and West Indies cricket team. Cricket is back folks, I don’t think I am ever going to stop saying this!