The Light Roller

Look, there are 18 holes in your cricket bubble

What will it take to keep a tour on right now? And which England captain is the real alpha?

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Chris Woakes plays golf during the PCA Team England Golf Day at The Grove, Watford, May 31, 2019

"Why am I here? I was just saying I really like tea time"  •  Luke Walker/Getty Images

Golf, so said someone once, is the best way to spoil a good walk. It certainly seems to have been a good way to ruin a halfway decent tour, as briefings and counter briefings continue to emerge following England's decision last week to depart from South Africa without having played the back nine.
No suggestion that the England party were unhappy with the quality of Cape Town's putting greens or disappointed by a lack of motorised caddies. Rather it seems players being given permission to pop out for a round relatively unimpeded raised fears among the tourists about the integrity of South Africa's biosecurity arrangements, despite the fact that, um, England had reportedly asked for such allowances to be made before the trip began. No sooner could you say "tour off" than everyone began to tee off.
Of course, we're all trying to live our best pandemic life right now, and the Light Roller would be the last to throw shade in these situations. Getting all your Christmas shopping done is a chore in normal circumstances, never mind when you're having to contend with a possible spell of self-isolation in a distant hotel. John Lewis click and collect won't be of much help on the Western Cape.
But then again, there's no smoke without a dumpster fire - and South Africa handily provided the spark for this conflagration by apparently organising a braai on their first night in the bubble. Then came hints that not only had the Proteas been brazenly barbecuing meat, they might have been hitting the fairways, too; followed swiftly by revelations that England had perhaps been out for a few rounds themselves. By the end of the week, a local newspaper was printing the names of the five different courses patronised by the English. We can only hope that Woodward and Bernstein will eventually get to the bottom of the matter.
Maybe there were further infractions of which we are yet to learn that made England uneasy: old-school high fives being practised at South Africa's training sessions; insufficient social distancing at the breakfast buffet toast rack. It's tough following all the rules right now. Just ask the Pakistan players who jeopardised their tour of New Zealand by fraternising during quarantine, thus opening themselves up to the harshest penalty allowed in the country: a strict telling-off.
Whether or not cricket can continue in a world where golf remains such a contentious issue, we will have to wait to find out. Cricket South Africa is already scratching around for its green fees, and can't contemplate losing another tour in the rough. Other boards are staring warily at their schedules. "When a member of the Big Three sneezes, world cricket catches a cold," as another popular aphorism doesn't quite go. We could do without bunker mentalities right now.


Elsewhere during the South Africa tour, the discovery that England have been experimenting with broadcasting coded signals from the dressing room during games took us into classic geeks versus jocks territory. Andrew Flintoff scoffed at the idea of "a bloke who does a bit of IT telling you to bowl one wide outside off stump", while Michael Vaughan wrote that he would have given the suggestion "short shrift" if he was captain. Eoin Morgan, taking a brief moment away from ordering his pencils, dismissed the latter with a putdown worthy of Tina Fey. All of which serves as a reminder that Morgan has lifted England's only 50-over men's World Cup, while Flintoff and Vaughan can stake their one-day reputations on, er, an incident with a pedalo and losing the Champions Trophy final to a 71-run ninth-wicket stand. We think we know who's the genuine "alpha" here.


The Big Bash comes but once a year, each time seemingly more bloated and gaudy than the last. As mentioned previously, this edition has seen the advent of three new rules: Bash Boost, Power Surge and X-Factor, the last of which has fulfilled the role of Brussels sprouts at Christmas by going largely untouched. But one feature conspicuously missing is the magic of DRS - technology they have even got at the Lanka Premier League, a tournament thrown together about ten minutes ago with the aid of hopes, dreams and sticky tape. Still, on the plus side, BBL umpires are now sporting armpit advertising from a well-known brand of deodorant. So they won't stink even if their decisions do.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick