As hard as it is to imagine, in the span of a few hours, the calendar ticked over but the challenges remain. After the coronavirus pandemic made a huge impact on 2020, while people are willing to bid the last year goodbye, 2020 leaves behind a backlog that is now set to crowd the New Year if the pandemic can stand by.
A Twenty20 World Cup, another edition of the IPL, the inaugural edition of the ICC World Test Championship, the line for cricket in the year 2021 is quite boisterous. Expectations will be running high even if the year must begin on more muted terms, given that the pandemic outbreak at the end of the past year has made for renewed restrictions, as the game watches cautiously.
To have had some cricket last year was a coup of sorts. The situation of England returning in the midst of their tour from South Africa showed just how fragile the hold on the game can be for any cricket board, particularly those desperate to get their timesheet clipped to set their clock running and do not have the luxury of England, Australia or India to dictate terms or have enough of a draw.
It is still going to be a huge challenge, the staging of these events. Even if the virus might lose its stranglehold by then, it is expected that caution and safety of the cricketers will be paramount, leading to greater exigencies and protocols.
The good thing is that the year 2020 also provided some practice and rehearsal in that regard. And it might just pave the way for better planning for these tournaments in the days and weeks ahead. Still, uncertain days loom large. South Africa, hosting Sri Lanka, are also auditioning for a wary Australia. Pakistan are making preparations, one hopes and expects, as South Africa have committed themselves to a tour, which will be no small event – cricket on Pakistan’s soil in the form of a full tour.
If that is not going to be gripping enough, the expectations of hosting the IPL 2021 in India might have increased after the vaccine celebrations at the end of the year around the world. But it will still be a challenge as the IPL might have to shift grounds and venues to ensure that after their successful UAE stint last year, the IPL stays in India to the soaring expectations of fans.
It might also be the final chance for most teams to show their teams as they currently stand on home turf because the virtual start-from-scratch auctions would have gone rather well hand-in-hand with the BCCI’s announcement to introduce two new teams to the franchisees from the year 2022.
There is, of course, the return of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup to the table this year after Cricket Australia opposed staying on as hosts in the year of the pandemic. While there is still some debate over whether a once in two years affair is still a fair measure of a World Cup, what is not in debate that is the ICC intends to keep this on its agenda, plausibly as the one way it can control this format of the game which over the last decade has become something of an individual board agenda, making it more club level and therefore, disassociating in that regard.
The ICC also needs this platform to try and appease its many disgruntled associate members who have been up in arms over lost opportunities to play cricket at the highest levels of the game. With the game seeing a more obvious skew towards the more influential cricket boards in 2020, the ICC needs this tournament to happen to reestablish turf as it were, particularly with an eye on the Olympics.
There is, of course, the buildup of anticipation, for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final, slated for June at Lord’s. While it is rather obvious that at least two of the three big are virtually assured a berth and the second not far behind, there is only a small percentage of teams vying to topple the expected line up. It is a grim shape of things coming on the back of a year when there has not been much Test cricket thanks to the pandemic.
And although there might still be some way before there is a fairer measurement when it comes to accruing of points, it is still a step ahead to ensure that Test cricket is given a place of honour, rather being constantly evaluated as an antique piece with one foot in the door of the museum of cricket’s history. This is then a chance to create a new legacy.