INTERNATIONAL cricket in Australia is back. But for fans and players alike, with most of the world still in the vice grip of COVID-19, the game, and its surrounds, is nothing like we remember it.
More than 86,000 people attended the Women’s T20 World Cup final between Australia and India at the MCG, with the coronavirus in its early stages of world domination.
Six months have passed since that record-breaking day in Melbourne, with both New Zealand and Australia experiencing extended periods of lockdown and cricket among several sports being put on hold as the world battled the pandemic.
This week the world champion Australian side welcomed their old rivals from across the Tasman for the first international match Down Under since the World Cup decider.
To say things have changed would be a huge understatement.
Journalists, including myself, covering the three-game T20 series between the two nations at Brisbane’s Allan Border Field were subject to more stringent checks before being allowed to enter the ground.
A video on how to behave in this new bio-security world in which we live in had to be viewed before gaining accreditation before a temperature check on a face scanner.
A barcode check on my mobile phone completed the check-in process and I was permitted to proceed.
It took a few extra minutes before I could head off for my seat in the press area.
But like everyone in Brisbane attending this game, I was grateful that I was getting to watch live sport again, so a few extra checks were no problem and I felt I was in a safe environment.
The players, too, now have extra things to add to their rituals before games.
Both squads had to go into quarantine ahead of the first game in the three-match series, while during games, players cannot polish cricket balls with saliva as has been the norm for hundreds of years.
When the ball goes over the boundary and into the crowd, the umpire must sanitise it. Again, something that did not have to happen pre-COVID.
But after six months not playing the sport they love, New Zealand captain Sophie Devine said both teams were glad to be out on the grass again.
“We are really grateful for the opportunity through Cricket Australia and New Zealand cricket to get this series up and running,” Devine said after the Kiwis won the final game of the series by five wickets.
“Even here in Australia, Victoria is still on a tight lockdown, so we are so glad we are playing cricket now.
“From the momentum built from the World Cup played earlier in the year, it is fantastic to see women’s sport and women’s cricket, in particular, out there and strutting its stuff. “Having a crowd here as well was pretty special.
“You only have to look back a couple of months ago and we were not sure whether any cricket was going to be played.”
In the English summer of cricket which finished earlier this month, the home side, West Indies, Pakistan and Australia, played in a bio-security bubble, with games played at Old Trafford in Manchester and the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
No crowds were allowed with the UK under a tighter lockdown than Australia.
Devine said any support at the venue was welcomed as the women look to entertain cricket fans around the world. She also added that players were happy to follow any new guidelines if it meant they could continue playing.
“The fact we are over here in Australia in front of a crowd is fantastic,” she said. “Kudos has to go to both boards for getting this going.
“It’s a different world we live in now, but I think that’s part of the deal.
“We are fortunate to be playing cricket and there are strange new rules that we have to abide by.
“But if we must sanitise our hands at every drink break, then so be it because that means we can get out on the park.
“It is a bit different to what we are used to, but we are just grateful to be here and playing cricket.”
Australia took out the three-game T20 series 2-1, with the team now set to go into battle for the Rose Bowl over three matches, again at Allan Border Field starting Saturday.
Devine side said a victory in the last game of the series, which ended Australia’s 13-game winning streak over the Kiwis in white-ball cricket, was welcome and gave the side a boost ahead of the 50-over clashes.
“It’s always nice to have a win on the board and particularly against Australia,” she said. “I thought they were dominant in the first two games although we probably let the first game slip. “It was nice to get over the line and show we can win against a strong Australian side. “It gives us a lot of momentum going into the Rose Bowl series which is a big one for us.
“Not winning against the Aussies been a bit of a monkey on our back. We have come close at times but in the last 12 months we have got a real sense of belief in this group and we know we can take games off teams like Australia, England or India. For us it is about building our own self-belief.
“As soon as you start giving power to the top players, you lose a bit of your own power. “For us it has been going back to what we are good at.
“The girls have worked really hard during lockdown and any time you put a Rose Bowl on the line then I think we are going to be a real threat.”