'The new normal' is a phrase that's being used all over the world to describe life during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Cricket too will see its share of 'new normal' when England take on West Indies in the first Test in Southampton on July 8, marking resumption of international cricket after a gap of 117 days.
We have a look at how different cricket will be from the norm we are used to.
No fans in stands
In a normal world, we'd have had the Barmy Army singing different tunes as James Anderson and Stuart Broad run in to bowl. The Ageas Bowl might not have been filled to the brim for an England - West Indies Test, but there would have still been a sizeable crowd.
For now, though, England will have to settle for this:
A rousing rendition of Jerusalem from @MAWood33! 🎶 Wait for the “Oh Jimmy, Jimmy” at the end 😂 Live Stream: https://t.co/nqtr9tEgoL pic.twitter.com/bOlc3vFbfx — England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 3, 2020
This won't be the first time an international match is held with no access to fans. The most recent example was the Australia - New Zealand ODI in Australia, which was held behind closed doors. With no spectators allowed into stadiums as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, many English football clubs are giving fans the chance to send in photos and have cutouts put on the seats instead. Will cricket take that route?
The new rules: No Saliva, Coronavirus substitutes
Applying saliva to shine balls is something bowlers are used to doing for ages. They can't do that anymore, at least temporarily, as the ICC has banned application of saliva on hands/balls. The governing body has asked officials to show some leniency given it's a new rule; a team can get up to two warnings for usage of saliva. If they continue to use it, then the batting team will be award a five-run penalty. Many bowlers around the world have asked the ICC to consider allowing external substances to shine the ball in the absence of saliva, but the ICC has not paid heed. The first Test will show if all the talk about saliva and swing is true - we expect James Anderson to swing the ball both ways irrespective of whether he can use saliva. But how about reverse swing? We'll wait and see.
"What if someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the middle of a game"?
This is a question that was asked in many quarters. Recently, we saw Sam Curran falling ill in the middle of England's intra-squad match. Fortunately, he tested negative for the virus. But in case someone does test positive, the ICC has approved a like-for-like substitute akin to concussion substitutes. Players are playing in a 'bio-secure' environment, so we hope the necessity doesn't arise.
Home umpires, additional reviews
Cricket moved away from home umpires for Test matches to 'neutral' country umpires with an aim to reduce bias two decades back. However, the COVID-19 situation has forced the ICC to move towards home umpires once again due to restrictions on travel in different countries. The ICC has thus offered teams an additional unsuccessful DRS review in each innings of a match. Thus each team will have three reviews per Test innings and two per ODI.
Bio-secure environment like in sci-fi movies
"The bio-secure environment in Southampton, where we are preparing for the Test series against West Indies, feels a bit like a sci-fi movie. When we first turned up, there was a huge tent outside the hotel, where we had to pass through to get our temperature scanned. We dropped our bags off so they could be sprayed before they were taken in. "Inside, there are no room keys - you open doors with an app on your phone. There is hand sanitiser at every turn, and on the floor there are arrows, lines and footprints to show the way to go." This is how Mark Wood described the bio-secure environment the two teams are under, in his BBC column. The environment is likely to extend to the field too. We already saw pictures of hand-sanitiser machines stationed outside boundary ropes, and substitutes carrying drinks wearing gloves. Expect more of the same in the Test match.
Headbands in demand
Our players are wearing black armbands in Southampton today in honour of Sir Everton Weekes. pic.twitter.com/DTg8FwYVZA — England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 2, 2020
Players are doing everything they can to reduce the probability of catching the virus. Interestingly, that includes a return to headbands becoming stylish again. Bowlers in particular are using headbands to ensure sweat doesn't drip down, in a bid to reduce touching the face.
It's not exactly a rule, but it's unlikely that we'll see cricketers jumping over each other or even shaking hands on the fall of a wicket. We're sure to have some exceptions though!