For some weeks now, shortly before they headed out of hotel rooms to train in the sun, cricketers from England and West Indies have been taking their temperature. It had to be less than 37.5 Fahrenheit, or else. A walk down the corridor, and then only four of them in the lift at the same time, all four standing on the footprints etched on the elevator floor. Elbows to call the lift, elbows to press the lobby button and sanitising of hands as they stepped out to the ground for training. More rules awaited them there: No high-fives, no saliva on the ball, no close-proximity banter, no hanging around together in the evenings.
Before they reached Southampton, the quiet town where the Titanic once set off for that ill-fated trip and where now the cricket world hopes to stay afloat, the players did their own thing to keep the fitness and motivation up. And when England’s pacer Chris Woakes says matter-of-factly, “this is my day job, this is what I want to do,” in a promotional video from the England cricket board on the eve of Test match, it seems he, and other players, are saying they have had had enough. It’s time to play.
West Indies have had more challenges to face as they moved into a bio-secure bubble in England. As the game day approached, other issues had to be grappled with — like the Black Lives Matters flag they unfurled from the team balcony on a cloudy day. Somewhere, down below, Michael Holding gave a stirring speech about systemic racism on live television. And what the audiences, and fans? Even more than the players, it was the fans who were vocal about the need for the return of sport. Simple, everyday things that they had taken for granted have assumed an extraordinary air now.
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