THERE IS irony in the fact that international cricket is taking place in a bubble at present because it always takes place in a bubble of sorts.
“You’re doing ever so well, all of you guys,” the television commentator Ian Ward somewhat ingratiatingly said to the England pace bowler James Anderson yesterday, referencing how the players are having to live at the grounds they are currently playing at.
“We had one blip with Jofra (Archer), but it must be quite restricted?”
It was an innocent enough question from the likable Ward, echoing a feeling from within the England camp that it is asking a lot of the players to be cooped up together, but one which unconsciously highlighted how sport exists in its own world at times –one often divorced from the people who watch it.
For it essentially comes down to this: in order to get cricket back on our television screens this summer, enabling the likes of Ward to relay it so skilfully (I can be ingratiating too, tha knows), incredibly well-paid sportsmen are having to do something that they love and are feted for (play cricket) while spending a few weeks apart from their loved ones in hotels where everything is done for them.
Outside of this cocooned environment, meanwhile, extremely low-paid/unemployed people are to be found living in often cramped, noisy, run-down accommodation – many having been apart from their loved ones too, remember – while having to fend for themselves with no such luxury.
Minor privation on the one hand versus major privation on the other.
Thankfully, Anderson has it all in perspective.
As England built a lead of 219 on day four of the second Test against the West Indies, a game from which Anderson is being rested, he rather baulked at Ward’s well-meant question and responded like this: “It’s been different, but I can’t say it’s been hard because we’re in a hotel.
“We’ve got nice surroundings.
“We’re looked after well and, yes, we’ve had to do things slightly differently.
“But we’re getting to play cricket, which is amazing really after the last few months, and we’re just grateful for that.”
For amid talk that the players may be allowed to leave the biosecure bubble and go home for a few days after the third and final Test that starts on Friday, and before the first Test against Pakistan that begins on August 5, Anderson’s words hit the right note.
For it is not much of a sacrifice when you actually think about it.
Indeed, as Ward’s Sky television colleague Michael Holding so pithily put it after Archer had been left out of this game for breaking the biosecure protocols by deciding that he would pop home anyway: “Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a little cell and he did nothing wrong – that is a sacrifice.”
And Mandela, as the former West Indian fast bowler might have added, was not being paid circa £45,000 in match fees simply for playing in these three Tests – more than the average annual UK salary.
After Archer couldn’t manage that small sacrifice, England spent much of day four wishing that he hadn’t been such a damned fool and was out there helping them in their efforts to win a must-win Test.
For on a pitch that got soft beneath sun-kissed skies, with conditions in stark contrast to those that had washed out day three, how England could have done with a bowler of Archer’s 90mph-plus pace as the tourists – 32-1 at the start of the day – passed the all-important follow-on figure of 270.
As the former England captain Sir Alastair Cook said on Test Match Special as the West Indies batted themselves out of immediate peril: “We’re certainly seeing why England are desperate for pace, because when it becomes flat you can see what pace can do. It gives the captain something different.
“There’s a big difference between a mid-80s mph bouncer and a 90-mph bouncer.”
Ben Stokes provided plenty of the former in an effort to compensate for Archer’s absence, but Stuart Broad was the most threatening performer with 3-66, all his wickets coming with the second new ball in a 14-ball spell.
That sent West Indies from 242-4 to 252-7, which became 260-8 when Jason Holder edged Chris Woakes to first slip.
But Chase and Kemar Roach took the tourists past 270, with West Indies finally bowled out for 287 – Kraigg Brathwaite top-scoring with 75 and Shamarh Brooks contributing 68 to go with Chase’s 51, Woakes returning England’s best figures of 3-42.
Needing to win this game to level the series and retain hope of winning the Wisden Trophy, England sent out Stokes and Jos Buttler to open in the quest for quick runs.
But Buttler fell for a third ball duck, dragging on a delivery so wide from Roach that he almost needed another pair of arms to reach it.
Roach followed up by bowling a driving Zak Crawley as England closed on 37-2, setting up the potential for an intriguing last day in the Old Trafford bubble within a bubble.
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