THERE is one sporting activity that unites most of the expatriate community in Bahrain … a love of cricket.
On a weekend, before the Covid-19 crackdown, every piece of waste land would be converted into a pitch.
But there is something quintessentially English about petitioning a Prime Minister for the return of a beloved national summer sport.
The furore started with a relatively innocuous question to Boris Johnson in parliament from the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark , who enquired whether the non-contact sport be starting again soon with the easing of the lockdown restrictions due to commence on Saturday.
Despite having allowed football, basketball and tennis, Mr Johnson’s response was that “the cricket ball is a natural vector of the disease”, effectively endorsing its continued absence.
Fortunately, yesterday, the ball swerved in favour of the game. The England and Wales Cricket Board gave the go-ahead for professional men’s county cricket to start its season on August 1.
The men’s County Championship was initially scheduled to begin on April 12, but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The fixtures and format for the season are to be decided by the 18 first-class counties in a meeting soon and plans will include both red-ball and white-ball cricket.
Of course, one of the main issues has been the use of saliva on the cricket ball to get one side to shine, thereby providing the bowlers with an opportunity to swing it in delivery.
Plans have already been introduced to ban this practice, instead, using sweat only.
The question of when hundreds of thousands of recreational cricketers will be allowed to get out of their armchairs is the next challenge.
In the meantime, fans of the sport at least have something to watch on TV.
England return to action against the West Indies before playing Pakistan later in the summer. GDNonline reported yesterday that six Pakistan cricketers, including former captain Mohammad Hafeez, have been cleared to join rest of the team in England after returning a second negative result in Covid-19 tests.
Pakistan are scheduled to play three tests and three Twenty20 internationals behind closed doors in August-September.
The first of three games between England and the Windies within 20 days commences on July 8 at the “bio-secure” test venue of the Rose Bowl in Hampshire, selected as it has a hotel on site.
England’s cricketers have been locked in their “bubble” since getting together at the start of the month.
The lack of county matches has meant that England’s new head coach, Chris Silverwood, has had to get creative by naming an initial squad of 55 players that included 14 yet to be capped. After a couple of weeks this was whittled down to 30 that have continued to train together.
England will complete preparations with an informal three-day practice match starting today involving most of their squad, after which they will announce the final squad.
Much of the debate centres on spin options. Moeen Ali, despite retiring from the longer format of the game late last year, has returned to the squad. He is by far their most experienced tweaker although he appeared to lose confidence having been successfully targeted by Australia in the last Ashes. Should England wish to invest in their future then they will likely turn to Dom Bess who impressed in their emphatic victory over South Africa, although Jack Leach is in with a shout.
Another interesting discussion is based around the batting line up. Zak Crawley is the man in possession although was only selected after Rory Burns was injured in a warm up kickabout in SA but is now fit and raring to go.
Fellow opener Dom Sibley looks to have done enough to secure his slot as opener, although Crawley could drop to number three should Burns return, although this would be at the expense of his county teammate Joe Denly.
The impending birth of Joe Root’s second child could mean that all are selected as Ben Stokes takes the reins as captain.
The West Indies arrived in the UK on June 9 with a full complement of 25 players (excluding three who opted out due to coronavirus concerns) and located themselves at Old Trafford, the venue for the last two tests.
They look to have one of the strongest and most united teams since the 1980s, particularly in the bowling unit, despite recent results not going their way. They boast the world’s leading all-rounder, Jason Holder, who will be ably supported by Gabriel and Roach while Raymon Reifer would give them a nice balance with his left arm.
Cricketers, in common with many professional sports, are concerned about the impact a lack of atmosphere will have on their performance.
I believe that the mental pressure associated with playing this strategic game will still be in evidence.
Even in village cricket there is an adage that “one wicket brings two”. Pressure is further placed on batsmen by “joining the dots” or by creative field placings.
One could argue, tongue-in-cheek, that it will be no different to playing in a county championship match in front of a handful of spectators or a match between Indian expats on a sand and stone patch of ground in Saar in front of their friends.
Of course, it would also be quite ironic if another typically English phenomenon were to curtail the cricket season still further – rain!