Cricket needs to come together to extricate itself from a mess of its own making
The game in the time of Covid is already challenging. The international schedule urgently needs a re-evaluation
Hollywood comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's signature line, "Well, here's another fine mess you've got me into", could easily apply to cricket's current scheduling predicament. In the comedians' case it was heavyweight Hardy accusing his bumbling partner Laurel of yet another blunder. Cricket has only itself to blame for the bloated, unworkable schedule that the Covid pandemic has blown up like a left-over land mine.
First, there was England's withdrawal from a December 2020 ODI series in South Africa following a Covid outbreak. The pace of scheduling breakdowns picked up recently with India's refusal to play the last Test in the five-match series against England. That was followed in quick succession by New Zealand's last-minute withdrawal from a T20 series with Pakistan, which prompted England to cancel their proposed men's and women's tour of that country.
There's no doubt that completing cricket tours unhindered during the pandemic is a precarious business. Just surviving from day to day is an accomplishment in the current climate. Nevertheless the treatment meted out to Pakistan, in particular, appears to be excessively harsh, considering the way they have unselfishly toured other countries during the pandemic.
Pakistan have now learned a lesson about the game that the former England captain and accomplished broadcaster Tony Lewis once eloquently expounded about on air. After a particularly strenuous overseas winter bonding session, the England team had quickly found itself in trouble after the loss of early wickets in the first Test of the summer. "Ah, that's better," chanted Lewis, "now the England players will understand the reality of the situation: it's every man for himself." Or, as it might be more correct to say In modern cricket parlance: "It's every man and woman for themselves."
This is especially so in the lamentable case of Afghanistan, where the dreaded Taliban have more or less decreed female sport is a no-no. This will more than likely result in the Afghanistan men's team having their first Test with Australia cancelled, and their probable ultimate removal from the status of Test-playing nation.
An international schedule that has lately flourished like a mushroom in the dark is now resembling a block of Jarlsberg cheese with its trademark holes.
The situation could reach a critical point when the England players are presented with the restrictions that will more than likely apply during their Ashes tour of Australia. Confronted with a choice between a severely diminished Ashes series or a hastily arranged replacement tour, Australia might feel sympathy for what countries like Pakistan have experienced.
Could this possibly bring one of the "Big Three" to a crisis meeting of the ICC with a feeling of empathy for the plight of lesser nations? Only an eternal optimist would answer "yes" to that question.
Nevertheless that is what is needed - some sympathy, in the light of the constant Covid disruptions to the international calendar. From cricket's point of view, the only good that could come from the pandemic is a thorough re-evaluation of the schedule.
However, that would require the cricket countries to come together in good faith with a view to making decisions in the best interests of the game. As we've seen over the years, and particularly in more recent times, the likelihood of this happening is about the same as that of Donald Trump displaying humility.
In the early 2000s when the game's administrators followed the golden rainbow and discovered the IPL at the end of it, they unwittingly transferred enormous power into the hands of the players. There's no better time for the administrators to call in that favour and work with the players to map out a better and more equitable future for the game.
If that situation were to eventuate and the result is a workable schedule that accommodates all, cricket will have the pandemic to thank for helping extract itself from a nice mess of its own making.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist