It’s been a tough week for associate cricket. The global spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has been responsible for the cancellation of three tournaments in the space of 4 days.
First to fall was a hotly anticipated 50 over quadrangular series between the women’s teams of Ireland, Zimbabwe, Netherlands and hosts Thailand. With all four set to participate in the Women’s World Cup Qualifier in Sri Lanka in July, the loss of match practice will be a hinderance for the hopes of all four teams of upsetting the odds and qualifying for the 2021 Women’s World Cup
Thursday then saw the Everest Premier League, Nepal’s premier franchise T20 league, ‘postponed’ over coronavirus fears. The 4th edition of the tournament looked set to be the biggest in its history, with the likes of Chris Gayle and Corey Anderson lured to the country for the first time. Whilst organisers have endeavoured to reschedule the tournament for the earliest date at which it is safe and practical, the likelihood is that it won’t be before the start of the wet season in June, and so October appears to be the earliest possible date, in the start of the 2020-2021 season.
The third and most recent casualty was the postponement of the 2nd round of Cricket World Cup Challenge League A, set to be held in Malaysia later this month and feature Canada, Singapore, Qatar, Denmark and Vanuatu, alongside the hosts. As an ICC tournament as part of the 2023 World Cup qualifying process, the likelihood is that it will be replayed later in the year.
The loss or delay of these three tournaments will not be the last, but most likely the early warning system in what could be a tsunami of cancellations and postponements of sporting events across the world (and not just limited to cricket). Threats will be posed to the summer Olympic Games in Japan and even to the behemoth that is the IPL should the virus’ spread accelerate across India.
For associate nations, particularly those who have already confirmed and booked fixtures in the first half of this year, the threat is not only either to the cricket matches or the health of players and support staff, but also the health of the respective board’s finances. For the Netherland and Namibia, who were set to play a six-match tour in Windhoek over late March and early April, the boards may well find that the money spent on travel and accommodation arrangements may not be refundable should the tour not go ahead. Boards will effectively be spending money for matches they aren’t playing and when on shoe-string budgets as many associates are, the consequences will make themselves felt.
Such impacts could well be felt among the 5 associates – Oman, Scotland, Papua New Guinea and the aforementioned Netherlands and Namibia – who travel to Australia for the T20 World Cup in October. Whilst the worst of the virus will likely be long gone by then, the loss of match practice will be hurtful to the hopes and chances of these sides qualifying for the 2nd round of the tournament and springing upsets along the way.
Among the most threatened will be the European summer. As governments brace themselves and look to delay the worst of any outbreaks until warmer months in the hope that the presumed seasonal nature of the virus will make its spread and effect slower, it could have a knock on effect on the start of the cricket season in Europe.
Ireland plays host to its first two legs of their Cricket World Cup Super League campaign against Bangladesh and New Zealand in May and June. Should these matches be postponed, it could well inflict further injury to the financial woes faced by Cricket Ireland in the past year, which has left the board on shaky ground. Scotland and the Netherland’s flagship fixtures in June and July could also be impacted, which would be a huge loss as these board push for more high profile fixtures.
2020 was shaping up to be an explosive year of growth for European cricket; the impact of global international status in T20s, coupled with a series of World Cup qualifying tournaments and the expansion of the European Cricket League and nascent European Cricket Series had resulted in massive numbers of fixtures set to be played over the summer. COVID-19 could well mean that many of these fixtures are delayed or not played, stalling the impressive progress that was made in establishing the game in previous years.
Whilst the spread of COVID-19 is largely unpredictable, the shadow it casts will certainly leave the cricketing world reeling, but in the same way the least resourced governments are the least able to mitigate the impacts and spread of the virus, the least resourced crickets boards are likely to feel the greatest strain.
All we can do is wait with bated breath.