Cricket news - The road back to Cricket - Part 2

New Zealand have their own ICC event, the Women's 50-over World Cup in February 2021, to worry about

New Zealand have their own ICC event, the Women's 50-over World Cup in February 2021, to worry about

In Part two, we look at the impact of the Covid-19 crisis in New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe, and what the future of cricket looks like there. In Part 1, we've covered Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, India and Ireland.

New Zealand-by Bharat Sundaresan

At some point this week, New Zealand will quietly open its doors to Hollywood royalty. Jon Landau, the Oscar-winner who produced Titanic and Avatar, just two out of the three highest-ever grossing movies in history, and a few members of his crew will make the journey from Florida Keys to Wellington. They'll spend the customary two weeks in quarantine before recommencing their work on Avatar 2, which thanks to the NZ government's special travel allowances is set for its original release date in December 2021.

The decision to grant Landau & Co. these clearances has received mixed reactions around the country, not surprisingly. New Zealand was after all the first country, if you remember, to shut its borders completely when there were still just 200 cases overall. It had also imposed the "widest ranging" restrictions in the world as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had called them. To her credit, they've worked too considering there's been only a single new Covid-19 case across the country in the last 10 days. Ironically, there have also been reports where some senior members of her own cabinet who have demanded that she ease up on the lockdown and if anything fasttrack the trans-Tasman travel bubble, which could in later months also open the doors for a lot of trans-Tasman cricket between the two neighbouring countries.

What would be New Zealand's priority be, and why?

Cricket in New Zealand can always do with their finances being in top shape. And for now, they're just relieved that the pandemic didn't come to bear before the Indian team completed their full tour and left in the first week of March. That meant that they at least aren't in a desperate state. In fact, they're in line to even achieve their budget this financial year. That also gives them time to see how the overall cricket schedule pans out around the world before deciding upon any contingency if required. Unlike the bigger boards, New Zealand are among the major beneficiaries of the dividends from ICC events. And unlike Australia or India, they would be as keen as the other smaller countries that the 2020 T20 WC does take place. They also have their own ICC event, the Women's 50-over World Cup which New Zealand will host in February 2021, to worry about. As of now, they are scheduled to host Bangladesh, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia in various capacities.

What if those countries don't get the clearance to travel?

The trans-Tasman bubble though would do well to ease the cricket board's anxiety, as it would mean if nobody else does manage to come this far, they can at least bank on the Aussies to hop across the Tasman for some fush & chups. CEO David White has also indicated that the country's success in controlling the spread of the virus could also make it a neutral safe spot to host matches or even tours that won't be able to go ahead elsewhere, even if that might sound a tad ambitious at this stage.

What are the (other) roadblocks?

It's still difficult to say when the Kiwi borders will open completely. But for all those bilateral tours to go ahead, it'll depend more on when players from those countries could get a clean chit to travel. As of now, New Zealand really look the best-placed amongst all major countries to consider a home season, since they have the option and willingness to stretch it to even as far as April if needed.

That aside, what does the future look like?

The health of New Zealand cricket has been on display recently with news that the contracted players have not received any pay-cuts and also that the domestic season, which starts only in October, is very unlikely to be affected. And there are more positive signs even locally, Cricket Wellington came in for high praise for having removed affiliation fees for all clubs, to make sure they can afford to continue playing cricket without a hassle, even if some of them have had to face the inevitable consequences of being caught up in the pandemic.

Pakistan - by Aayush Puthran

How badly has Pakistan been affected?

A couple of domestic tournaments, two international fixtures and the last few matches of the Pakistan Super League couldn't be played due to the Covid-19 outbreak at the end of last season. However, given the development of the pandemic, it is unlikely to affect Pakistan cricket much in the new season, especially given that their cricket was set to begin in September, a point by which the PCB would hope that normalcy would resume and cricket competitions would be possible - even if without spectators in the stadiums.

With barely any cricket affected, the financial impact has also been low. There have been no pay cuts for the staff and the players have also got a hike on their contract fees. PCB believe they are well placed for the next 8 to 10 months in the current situation.

What would be Pakistan's priority, and why?

The upcoming England tour will be high on Pakistan's demands, especially given that talks have been going on with the ECB to bring the English side to play in Pakistan. Even without the current financial situation, getting England to play in Pakistan would be a massive boost in PCB's attempt to play more international fixtures in their own country. Cricketing activities are expected to begin with the training camp for the players for the England tour.

Apart from that, Pakistan will also look to complete the remaining Test and ODIs against the touring Bangladesh side. The remaining matches of PSL will also be high on the agenda. There are two possible windows - ahead of the start of the next season or in October-November this year. The dates will be worked out after speaking to the franchises.

Does Pakistan want to play the T20 WC?

Definitely, yes. Unlike most other teams, Pakistan is expected to speak in favour of having the ICC tournament as per schedule. Not only does that help them bag the participation fee of USD 80-90 million, but they are also unlikely to make that up with bilaterals if the tournament is postponed. And it's not just that. Even the Asia Cup is one of the tournaments that Pakistan would be lobbying for. A good part of the reason is the money on offer from an India-Pakistan tie. Although the BCCI has claimed that they will play against all member nations, a contest between the two countries is unlikely to figure without a third- party interest like the ICC or ACC.

What's the impact on domestic cricket and women's cricket?

Even as the pandemic brought an abrupt end to the ICC Women's Championship, leaving Pakistan to contend for the qualifiers after splitting their points with India, it wouldn't be a bad state for the women's team to be in. With no matches scheduled in the FTP earlier and several boards reluctant to spend on women's cricket, they will now get a chance to play in some ICC tournaments.

As far as the domestic season is concerned, like last year, it is expected to start from September, a point by which PCB is hopeful that normalcy would resume. Thus, no cricket should be affected on that front.

South Africa - by Telford Vice in Cape Town

Not for the first time in one of the most disunited societies on earth, South Africans are not speaking with the same voice. Some are adamant that seven weeks of lockdown have not been enough - or stringent enough - to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Others are outraged the country hasn't taken more steps towards normality. Sadly, as with everything here, the issue has become politicised.

Supporters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) are broadly in favour of the measures taken. The opposition, notably the Democratic Alliance (DA), want the rules relaxed. The ANC speaks largely for the majority black population. The DA is the standard-bearer for the white minority. Blacks and whites have taken to social media to attack each other in tirades fuelled by ignorance, unfairness and abuse.

Like every industry, cricket is caught in the middle of all that. Unlike almost every other industry, millions of South Africans think they own shares in the company. Heaped on top of everything else the game faces - an apparently bottomless pit of financial woe, a mounting governance crisis, a struggling men's team, the public's dwindling confidence in cricket's chances of pulling itself out of its nosedive on and off the field - little wonder the mood is gloomy. "We have an existential crisis," Andrew Breetzke, the chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA), said during on online press conference on Thursday (May 21). "The future of cricket is at stake. We've all got to work to make sure the game survives, and then prospers."

What is South Africa's priority, and why?

To make some money, fast. Even before the virus changed everything we knew about the world, CSA were forecast to lose up to USD 55.9-million by the end of the 2022 rights cycle. Now no-one can put a number on how much they won't have in the bank in the next few years.

When could it possibly happen?

India are being courted ardently to come and play three T20Is near the end of August, which would boost CSA's coffers to the tune of USD 10-million. That would win back some of cricketminded South Africans' belief that CSA had a clue what they were doing. With that would come renewed interest from sponsors, currently an endangered species.

What are the roadblocks?

Lockdown regulations in both countries may not have been sufficiently lifted by August to enable Virat Kohli's team to make the trip. If they come, they are likely to have to spend 14 days in quarantine before the series and another 14 days afterwards and spend all their time here in a sanitised biobubble. An attractive proposition, no? South Africa will be far from the only country trying to woo world cricket's cash cows, so the lobbying for India's presence will be intense. Graeme Smith, CSA's director of cricket, did his bit in that regard at Thursday's presser by punting BCCI president Sourav Ganguly for ICC president as hard as he used to hammer legside deliveries to the boundary.

That aside, what does the future look like?

CSA are considering scrapping what would otherwise be the first half of the season, and using the Mzansi Super League to get things going in January. That would look good on television, but the stark reality is that some of South Africa's domestic players are already resorting to mental health counselling and emergency funds to pay their living costs, both provided by SACA. An already groggy game faces the distinct possibility of going down for the count for good. South Africa could become nothing more than a supplier of players to foreign teams and competitions, in the same way that baseball's minor leagues exist only to produce individual players for the top level. The slightly better news is that CSA's operational staff, led by acting chief executive Jacques Faul and Smith, seem to be determined not to allow that to happen.

With England and South Africa pulling out, Sri Lanka will keep their fingers crossed for India's tour of the country

Sri Lanka - by Gokul Gopal

Sri Lanka has been in an extended period of lockdown for more than two months since March 20 - a week after the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country. While the Covid-19 positive numbers have crossed 1000, relaxation of curfews have been announced from Tuesday (May 26) in order to facilitate economic activities.

Meanwhile, as is the case with the cricketing situation around the world, the Sri Lankans too are taking baby steps in preparation for the return of the sport in the country. While the Annual General Meeting of the SLC, which was to be held on May 31, has been postponed, cricketers are set to begin training (provided the government gives the thumbs-up) from June - with safety measures in place - with the focus being on bowling and fitness.

What is Sri Lanka's priority, and why?

England's two-Test tour of Sri Lanka in March was called off abruptly while South Africa's scheduled tour, which was to happen in June, was also called off. Sri Lanka will be crossing their fingers for India's tour to the country. Their visit, should it happen, would be a shot in the arm for Sri Lanka Cricket and would also inspire the confidence of Bangladesh who are slated to travel here after India. Meanwhile, considering their finances, Sri Lanka will also rest their hopes on the T20 WC and the Asia Cup.

When could it possibly happen?

India are expected to visit Sri Lanka towards the end of June to play three ODIs and three T20Is in a series that would go on until mid-July. Bangladesh are slated to come later in July to play three Tests that are part of the World Test Championship

What are the roadblocks?

Everything hinges on what the governments of both countries decide, based on the Covid-19 situation, which is very fluid. While international flight operations in India are likely to resume in late June or July, Sri Lanka will also be monitoring the situation at home very closely. India's visit might also influence other countries, with Bangladesh likely to follow the developments closely before deciding on their tour of Sri Lanka.

But even if the tours do not go ahead, SLC CEO Ashley de Silva had indicated that it would not have a big impact on Sri Lanka Cricket although an immediate effect would be felt as far as cash flow is concerned.

"There will be an immediate impact on the cash-flow if these tours are cancelled but we will not incur a loss as such because we are rescheduling them within the current cycle," de Silva said in late April. "Financially we are okay at the moment as we have got enough reserves with us. But we will have to manage them carefully. We might have to suspend some of the infrastructure development work to support critical areas."

That aside, what does the future look like?

Sri Lanka's domestic tournament, which was called off midway, needs about eight weeks for completion and SLC will be hoping for permission from the government to go ahead. Meanwhile, while most nations will be concentrating on domestic T20 cricket, what about Sri Lanka? Will its struggle to create a successful domestic T20 tournament come to an end?

West Indies - by Pratyush Sinha

What would the priority be, and why?

The priority will be to make some money. Cricket West Indies (CWI) chief, Ricky Skerritt, couldn't have confessed this in clearer words. "This Covid-19 crisis has put our already poor financial state into ICU," he recently told Guardian Sports Media. "It is like going to the doctor with an illness, and as he is about to prescribe the medication, you get a stroke."

Test captain Jason Holder has even admitted to the BBC that the longer they stay off the field, the longer it will take for them to "actually make some money." Which is why it's important for the board and its finances that the T20 WC takes place when it can. ICC tournaments, and not in a bilateral series, is where the smaller boards are going to make immediate money.

When could it possibly happen?

The ICC meeting on May 28, like for many smaller countries, will be a major event, as it's when a possible decision on T20 WC could be made.

As for West Indies's first chance at live cricket, it will come during their scheduled tour of England featuring three Tests in July. Both the boards seem keen - "optimistic" in CWI CEO Johnny Grave's words - to make the series happen, but will it fill CWI's already emptied purse? Not quite. They instead stand to lose money even though the ECB has offered to bear the costs for the transatlantic chartered flight.

What West Indies, and their search for a home broadcaster, need is for bigger teams to tour them. South Africa's women's and A tour of the West Indies stands postponed, and the senior men's tour in August looks shaky.

What are the roadblocks?

Closed international borders is the biggest area of concern, closely followed by the safety of players. While visas and international travel might be facilitated by diplomatic cooperation, the fear among players remains a threat. Johnny Graves has assured that no West Indies player will be "coerced" to tour England, but "biosecure" stadiums and two-week quarantines will mean the players might not be allowed to leave the playing venue for the entire length of the tour. That will come with its own toll on the players.

What does the future look like?

It's highly likely that West Indies will travel to England for three Tests in July. There's also the Vincy Premier T10 League based in St Vincent and the Grenadines that started from May 22, featuring players like Kesrick Williams, Obed McCoy and Sunil Ambris, and which will have the honours of kickstarting post-pandemic live action in the Caribbean. And there will be fans at the stadium too, clearing the decks for the Carribean Premier League later in the season, slated to start from August 19.

Which brings us to New Zealand's visit to the Caribbean in July. Both geographies look past their worst in the pandemic curve and there's a glimmer of hope that the series might take place, even though a bit delayed. But that said, a lot of cricket's momentum will depend on how England vs West Indies goes about its business.

Zimbabwe - by Tristan Holme

What would the priority be, and why?

A scheduled engagement with Afghanistan for June is almost certain to be cancelled or postponed given that both countries are still under lockdown, but in any case, Zimbabwe's priority is to clear the way for India to visit in August for three one-day internationals - a trip that precedes India's series in South Africa. "We look forward to things stabilising so that they can come through," ZC chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani told Cricbuzz. "Financially it is our strongest and most profitable tour, so we hope by that time things will settle down and we can have that series."

What are the roadblocks?

"The challenge is the lockdown," Mukuhlani added. "We are under a more relaxed lockdown now but there has been no sport taking place. Cricket is classified as low risk, but we have a host of other issues to comply with the Sport and Recreation Commission and the Ministry of Sports. We've just received guidelines from the ICC and I'm happy to say we are on course - what we have put in place so far makes us compliant with what the ICC needs.

"We look forward to working with the BCCI as we progress towards August to put in place whatever is needed. There is still the issue of quarantine, as we don't yet know how to manage that when we receive our tourists. That is one of the challenges that we still have to figure out."

Last week CSA said they were "encouraged" by India's willingness to honour the agreement of a three-T20I tour, which suggested the BCCI are working towards making that happen. Will they be equally willing to honour the tour of Zimbabwe?

What does the future look like?

This was supposed to be a busy year for ZC after they opted for a quiet 2019 in order to curb spending - as laid out in a financial plan put together in collaboration with the ICC. "We've been walking through (a financial plan) with the ICC," Mukuhlani said. "We are on controlled funding and that has progressed very well. The restructuring of the organisation has taken place, so we think that other than this Covid, we should be in a good space with our finances and that should allow more programmes to take place."

ZC continue to walk a financial tightrope though, as evidenced by delays in paying the salaries and match fees of players. The next ICC disbursement is in July, which should ease some of those cash shortages, but India's visit remains essential. Should it go ahead, it will allow ZC to restart their cricket processes from the bottom up, and perhaps reinstate its own academy.

"We are hoping that once the pandemic tails off we will be able to resume club cricket, provincial tournaments, introduce a ladies cricket league and start an academy," said Mukuhlani. "In the past our academy intake has been through Tatenda Taibu's academy in the UK and then the one that Alastair Campbell is running. That has produced good results but we want a standalone academy for Zimbabwe Cricket."