Rounding up the Old; Bracing for the New

Indian cricket is a picture of contrasts at the moment. For one, right now, it is on a high. But it will not be long before the teams and indeed, the state of the game as a whole will once again be in the eye of the storm. Winning the second Test in Australia was the feather in the cap not just for Ajinkya Rahane as the stand-in captain of the Indian cricket team but also, a coup of sorts for very different reasons. Stage managing a tour in the pandemic is never easy. Cricket Australia are sweating it all the way through, awaiting anxiously the start of the New Year’s Test as confirmation to their decision that the tour would ahead despite a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Sydney. For the tour to not happen at all, it would have been egg on their faces as far as Cricket Australia are concerned. The board had, after all, bared its intent more obviously in choosing the tour of India over the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, stating blatantly that the return on investment was simply not worth the cost. The ICC could do little but become the inadvertently exposed party in the affair gone awry. It has to be said, in the same breath, that this tour of India – poised on the knife’s edge and eclipsing other tours such as Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa or Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand - would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Board of Control for Cricket India (BCCI). This is a far easier partnership for the big three than it would have been arranging the tours for the other cricket boards who have had to bandy together, in a manner of speaking, to ensure they too stayed on the horizon in the larger scheme of things, even if they did not fit or were not the first choice for the big three to come knocking. Although the fixture was mandated on the Future Tours Programme (FTP), few teams have been the beneficiary of having their itineraries met with satisfaction, often disrupted by either the pandemic outbreaks or by the exponential rising costs of maintaining a biosecure bubble which made it virtually impossible for teams outside of the big three. While New Zealand and South Africa – outside of the big three – attempted a resurrection, the former more successful than the latter, the future is far from certain given how the interrupted tour of South Africa by England is being perceived by the hosts as a way for the big three to sabotage, disrupt and then recreate a new world order. That they have their eye on Australia off the field even as they compete with Sri Lanka on it is evidence enough of how much the game has become a case of auditioning for contention, even more so as the next cycle of itinerary will be chalked out shortly. It is going to be an uphill battle, even as the dates on the calendar change for 2021 because the state of the world still remains uncertain at best and not all teams will be willing to acquiesce to tour requests, unless there is something mutually beneficial in the agreement, the FTP notwithstanding. Meeting on the ground in the prefixed World Cups might be their only move, if the World Cups stand lucrative and legitimate for the cricket boards that is, after the year that has been.