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Corona, cricket and ground realities - Part I

21 Mar 2020 CricBuzz

Afghanistan by Kaushik Rangarajan

Afghans are no strangers to hardship, but even by their remarkable thresholds of resilience, their current state of flux has been disarming. It has been a little over two weeks since the country truly came to comprehend its latest adversary. To several Afghans, constantly hovering between peace and war, the effects of the novel Coronavirus hit hard when the price of wheat jumped by 72 percent over a 24-hour period. This forced the ministry to assuage fears by mobilising the police into action against any price gougers.

The ministry, led by incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, is happy to count that among his wins. Last month, he was declared the winner of an election campaign conducted in September 2019. Ghani was to assume office on March 9 but cancelled his coronation, along with the annual celebration of Newroz - the Persian New Year - which draws thousands of people to the Northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in light of the rapidly spreading virus. Thousands, however, were invited to the swearing-in of Abdullah Abdullah, who has contested Ghani's victory and vowed to form a parallel government of his own.

Amidst this political instability, the national cricketers including captain Asghar Afghan and belligerent opener Hazratullah Zazai shot 10-second video clips each to educate fans on the importance of using a hand sanitizer. It was but a small step towards scrambling awareness programs while the country sits on a health-care system inadequate to serve its 35 million population under normal circumstances, let alone a rapidly spreading virus.

Afghanistan's biggest problems stem from the Western province of Herat, closest to the Iran border. With few border controls and fewer medical checks, the return of refugees from Corona-debilitated Iran presents a grave situation. As on March 18, 22 people - all of whom crossed over from Iran - have tested positive, even as testing remains extremely limited. Social distancing and self-isolation will also prove to be difficult given the largely communal culture. In a chat with Cricbuzz, an Afghanistan batsman - the third born of 6 siblings - spoke of how he now lives in a joint family of 10 people.

Where cricket provided relief amidst the pain in the past, the sport has been placed firmly in the background for now. Afghanistan just completed a T20I series win over Ireland (in India) and had a return series planned in August which could face the axe given the developing situation in Europe. That would leave the national team featuring directly in the Asia Cup in the second half of the year as their only preparatory tournament for the T20 World Cup.

The cricket board called off a provincial Grade 1 tournament in the wake of the Coronavirus situation and has issued advisories to private cricket academies in the country to suspend their activities. The administrative head office of the ACB in Kabul though remains open for the time being, where the board and its legal team will look to tackle a million-dollar lawsuit hurled at them by Snixer Sports - the title partners of the Afghanistan Premier League - after ACB terminated their contract suspecting corrupt practices.

The APL, in all likelihood, will not be staged for a second year running. It is, relatively speaking, a no-issue as far as Afghanistan is concerned.

Bangladesh by Atif Azam in Dhaka

Although it initially appeared as though there was no need to panic when Coronavirus was exposed in China, things changed drastically in Bangladesh on the day that the government announced the country's first patient. The number of infected has now risen to 17, while the first virus-related death on Thursday (March 19) became the topic of discussion. That evening it was revealed that Shibchar Upazila as the vulnerable place, which was expected to be locked down along with some other places.

Bangladesh's government had to alter plans to mark the birthday of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with celebrations that included two T20s between a World XI and Asia XI along with other events for the month of March. They are instead now putting their focus on eradicating the fear that gripped the country, putting emphasis on buying food for the next three months.

The BCB already announced that all kind of cricket under their jurisdiction is suspended until further notice - a major blow to the large section of cricketers for whom the game is their only source of income. Some cricketers decided to use this unexpected off time to hone their skill while others are not interested in leaving their home. One thing looks sure: the memory of this pandemic won't leave them soon.

Indiaby Kritika Naidu in Pune

Bill Gates, in a TED Talk back in 2015, warned that the next big threat to humanity would not be war, but a global pandemic that would claim the lives of thousands and bring the economy to a grinding halt. His prophecy manifested five years down the line in the Covid-19 outbreak, bringing life as we know it to a standstill as governments across the world issue mandates to ensure social isolation. And yet, life as it was in India for many, didn't change. Suggestions about isolation were not taken too seriously for those oblivious to the severity of the virus and the state of affairs.

It took an address from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the public to understand the gravity of the situation. Amid the growing number of positive cases in India, which has now stretched over 200, Modi called for a "Janta Curfew" - a curfew for the people by the people - which will be observed on March 22 from 7am until 9pm. Barring essential services, nobody is to step out of their homes and congregate. In times as such, sport of any kind or any recreational activity for that matter seems insignificant in the larger scheme of things. However, the losses that will be borne by the governing cricket bodies will be inevitable.

The Indian Premier League was initially scheduled to begin on March 29, but in view of the restrictions for both visas and gatherings, it was suspended until April 15, after which a decision will be made. Maharashtra's government, where the BCCI operates out of (in Mumbai), has ordered a complete shutdown until March 31 with offices to remain shut until then. There is a possibility of a condensed tournament that could be devoid foreign players. The BCCI gets around INR 400 million annually from STAR India and its pool of sponsors, which could be heavily impacted this year. STAR too, was due to launch its streaming device - Disney+ OTT - during the IPL. A truncated tournament will mean a reduced central pool of revenue for the eight franchises.

Since the birth of cricket in 1877, cricket globally has only been brought to a halt on two occasions - during both the World Wars. However, even during those times first-class cricket went on almost uninterrupted in India. Now all sport is suspended, social gatherings of any kind are better avoided than attended, and the planet is recovering with a slash in CO2 emissions. Once the phase of isolation passes, albeit the uncertainty, any further decisions can be made.

Chris Lynn led Lahore Qalandars to the knockouts but then decided to leave for home due to COVID-19 threat

Pakistanby Aayush Puthran

It's been two weeks since the impact of Coronavirus started being spoken about in high decibels in Pakistan. However, the streets are still not empty, and there are claims that the government hasn't done enough to spread information about the virus, even as there has been a call to shut educational institutes, mass gatherings and even the Wagah border. The number of people testing positive for the virus has risen sharply to 400 in recent days, with Balochistan the hardest hit. Many of them had visited Iran on a pilgrimage.

Even when several sports activities around the world were coming to a halt last week, the PCB had chanced itself by going ahead with the Pakistan Super League in its Karachi leg, which was even then - and still remains - the worst affected region in the country, after speaking to the health authorities in Sindh. Several foreign players dropped out, the schedule was reworked to ensure an early end to the tournament but the knockouts had to eventually be postponed.

It was the first time in almost a decade that Pakistan was set to host such a lengthy period of high-profile cricket at home - with the second leg of Bangladesh's tour to follow the PSL. However, even that has been postponed for now.

The impact of the break due to the Covid-19 pandemic will even seep into the domestic structure, which is still in its first year since the revamp. The Pakistan Cup - the domestic 50-over tournament - has been called off along with a senior women's tournament that was set to feature the top players split in two groups. Even for the associations, who are being aided by the PCB to create their own revenue models, the process of bringing in sponsors has been halted. The effects of these, however, are unlikely to impact cricket in the long run.

Sri Lankaby Gokul Gopal

The number of infected in the subcontinent has neared 700, with Sri Lanka registering more than 60 of those, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt normal life the world over. Like many countries, Sri Lanka has sealed off its borders, closed down schools and universities, while also barring incoming flights to the country for a couple of weeks. The parliamentary election, which was scheduled for April 25, has also been postponed indefinitely.

Social distancing measures are being implemented, including a work from home week and a country-wide curfew till March 23. Some of the country's famous personalities like Mahela Jayawardene have been using their social media profile to educate people about good habits and showing discipline to keep the virus at bay.

The government has also extended visit visas until April 12 for foreigners still in the country while instructing those who have travelled from European countries between 1-15 March to register with the Police. It is still early stages in Sri Lanka as far as the virus is concerned, with the first reported case coming just over a week back. But measures are being taken to contain the spread, said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who urged the public to "act with great restraint and with the future in mind.''

Meanwhile, the sport has been put on hold in the country, including cricket. Last week, the ECB had discussions with Sri Lanka Cricket and decided to call back its players before the two-Test series got underway. The tournament committee of the SLC also decided to postpone all domestic tournaments indefinitely. As per the FTP, Sri Lanka are scheduled to host series against South Africa, India and Bangladesh from June to August. But the escalating Coronavirus situation has put the sporting world on indefinite hold, with health and safety being the only matters of significance.

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