For the average cricket fan, it is an embarrassment of riches, or choices. The sheer amount of cricket played cross the globe today gives the discerning fan the option to pick and choose what match he or she wants to watch.
Last week, more than the India versus West Indies series, prosaic contest in many ways, what caught the eye was the T20 competition of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Edgbaston, home of Warwickshire county and a host to many riveting contests in the past was the proud host of the Commonwealth Games event. Cricket may not have been the showpiece event of the Games. Yet, in terms of viewership and following matches on television and across digital platforms, the introduction of cricket has become an instant hit.
On Sunday, when Indian fans had an overdose of sport to choose from and medals were not coming in a trickle but a torrent, the India versus Australia women’s final was high voltage stuff. There was no doubting the Aussie superiority in every aspect of the game.
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Tahlia McGrath plays CWG final despite testing COVID-19 positive
They play cricket hard, be it the men or women. They are aggressive and bring to the table high-quality cricket. It is ironic that a country which ejected Novak Djokovic from Australia over Novak Djokovic not being vaccinated in January included a player in the final who was Covid positive!
Yes, Tahlia McGrath being allowed to play in the final has set the cat among the pigeons. Said Cricket Australia in a statement: “We can confirm that cricketer Tahlia McGrath has returned a positive test for Covid-19. CGA clinical staff have consulted with the Commonwealth Games Federation RACEG (Results Analysis Clinical Expert Group) team and match officials, and McGrath is taking part in today’s final against India.”
Nobody had a problem with McGrath playing the final, or so we were made to believe. Not even the International Cricket Council, which is the guardian angel of the property. Twitter and social media exploded into expletives over the Aussie decision to play a cricketer who tested positive and had symptoms. Well, India did not lose the match because of this player’s inclusion but in the coming weeks there will be more debates on this topic.
Linking McGrath’s inclusion in the squad to Australia ejecting Djokovic in January from Melbourne makes no sense. From January 2022 till now, so many things have changed. The same Djokovic may well be taking part in 2023 in the Australian Open as the Aussies have realised lockdowns and keeping its sparse population cooped up like hens in the pen will not arrest Covid.
Maybe, what happened in Birmingham on Sunday was path-breaking. That Covid-19 testing will reduce in mega sporting events, unless the player himself or herself opts out. To be sure, even at The Championships (Wimbledon) in London, some players who tested positive pulled out on their own. The Wimbledon organisers very well cool about it. In fact, everything has been opened up in England and if you wear a mask, people look at you with a frown! And I am saying this after having spent 11 days in London during Wimbledon.
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Back to the match, India versus Australia was going to be a hard contest. The Aussies put up 161 runs in 20 overs, mainly due to an 82-run second wicket partnership between Beth Mooney and Meg Lanning. Mooney top scored with 61 from 41 balls.
In reply, India were bowled out for nine runs short. The openers Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma departed early. Jemimah Rodrigues and Harmanpreet Kaur attempted the rescue act, but fell short.
On the field, India lost and there can be no doubting the Aussie superiority. If the narrative will now revolve around including a Covid 19 positive player, Tahlia McGrath, then that is not going to be a discussion on cricket. We have seen several series held all over the world in strict Bio Bubbles since July 2020. What the Bubble has done is led to more player mental fatigue and some dropping out of the game for reasons other than cricket.
For fans to be allowed into the cricket arena, which itself can transmit the virus as it is still airborne like any other flu, is the new norm. Covid testing will happen and soon in bilateral series the boards may agree that if a player tests positive, let the game continue.
Mind you, this is the same England where in 2021 July, before the fifth Test, when a few Indian players tested positive, the match was called off. The resumed fifth Test was held in July 2022 and results pretty disastrous.
One has to look at the positives from the inclusion of T20 cricket in the Commonwealth Games. It shows there is room for innovation. It shows the growth of cricket continues. And if people are talking about the possible inclusion of cricket in the Olympics in 2028 in the United States of America, it could become a reality. The International Olympic Committee has included the T20 format in the short-list.
Maybe, now, cricket haters who feel the sport is killing other Olympic disciplines, especially in India, will accept how T20 has barged into the calendar. In Birmingham, it was the women who played instant cricket. If a sport like skateboarding can be part of the Olympics programme in Paris 2024, no harm if cricket grabs eyeballs by its inclusion in the biggest sporting extravaganza. A beginning has been made, and the prelim tests for cricket at CWG has become a hit.
That the Indian women’s silver team won a proud silver needs to be celebrated. After all, women do not get the same opportunities as their pampered/spoilt male counterparts. Hope the BCCI rewards the players lavishly.