Back in March, as the global extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear, England pulled out of their tour of Sri Lanka. The players, as the Guardian reported, were understandably unsettled, and the ECB statement confirming the tour’s cancellation spoke of concerns over the "physical and mental wellbeing" of players and staff. The day of the tour’s cancellation was also the last day of international cricket, with Australia defeating New Zealand in an ODI. Since then, stumps have not been shattered, no boundaries smacked, and the normal gentle hum of cricket has been a saddening silence. On July the 8th, this should change, thanks to the bravery of West Indian cricketers and staff.
According to the Financial Times, the UK’s excess coronavirus death rate is the second worst in the world. Despite this harrowing fact, a 25-man West Indies squad arrived in the UK on June the 9th, along with 14 staff, with all testing negative for coronavirus. Although the decision of three players (including exciting batsman Shimron Hetmyer) not to tour loomed over the visitors, we should welcome the arrival of the squad, and, if complications are avoided, can look forward to the start of the three test series on the 8th of July.
Given the health risks to touring the UK, the bravery of the Windies’ tour group is to be commended. Deciding to leave loved ones and visit one of the worst hit nations for two months is a massive risk, one that popular Sky Sports commentator David Lloyd said he would not have taken on a recent episode of Sky's cricket podcast. Especially given England’s decision to leave Sri Lanka, and given that the West Indies Cricket Board will not make any money from the tour, the players, staff, family, and (for once) board deserve, at least our thanks, and something more.
By this, I suggest that the ECB prepare to tour the West Indies again in the near future. The next tour is pencilled in for March 2023, but given the rearrangement of the Sri Lanka series, likely rescheduling of the World t20 and the effect of Covid-19 on the future tours calendar, a visit to the Caribbean could easily be thrown into the long grass.
This would be wrong.
The ECB should show our gratitude to the West Indies by giving them what they need: more cricket, to make more money, to allow the game to flourish. This is crucial given coronavirus' effect on cricketing finance, and although England did last visit in 2019, the ECB cannot claim it wouldn’t be a worthy tour, given the limited overs run fests and 2-1 test series loss last year. Furthermore, the 2023 tour is set at just two tests and three t20s. These short series hurt financially weaker nations, giving them less revenue from broadcasts and tickets. To encourage a higher standard of cricket and allow the game to grow, tours need to be longer and more meaningful.
If all goes to plan in the next month and a fresh duke ball is bowled on the 8th of July, the West Indies deserve our thanks. As would the ECB, who have shown what they can achieve. It will be brilliant to see cricket back on TV, but we should not take the Windies for granted, and should be prepared to invest more in touring smaller cricketing nations for the future of the game. This means longer test series, and returning to Pakistan, something especially warranted in the hopeful event they can also tour this year. Yet no matter what the future holds, thank you to the West Indies and their bravery.