PAUL NEWMAN: Cricket is at risk of descending into chaos

PAUL NEWMAN: Cricket is at risk of descending into chaos unless isolation laws are given a rethink… while John Simpson’s five catches show England’s incredible strength in depth

  • Covid-forced abandonments are making the County Championship a lottery
  • Essex’s hopes of defending championship were unfairly taken out their hands 
  • Ashley Giles has already been forced to select an entirely new England selection
  • Big trouble lies ahead for the game unless a rethink is made over covid rules
  • John Simpson has made the very most of his slim opportunity with England 

It’s a lottery now. A hugely successful start to the first conference County Championship has been undermined by the Covid-forced abandonment of Derbyshire’s match against Essex.

It meant, unless the ECB are imaginative in their inquiry, Essex’s admittedly slim hopes of reaching Division One and defending their Championship and Bob Willis Trophy titles were ended without them having the chance to do anything about it. And it followed Kent having to copy England in replacing a whole squad on the eve of their game against Sussex when 13 players were forced into isolation.

Clearly, cricket remains on that knife-edge described by Ashley Giles when he had to name a new team to face Pakistan after Covid infected England’s camp in Bristol initially, I understand, through a member of their security staff. And the biggest fear the game faces now is that a Test series against India, worth £100million in broadcasting revenue, or the new Hundred competition the ECB have gambled so much on could be ruined by a single positive test.

Ashley Giles was forced to select an entirely new England team for a clash with Pakistan following a covid outbreak within his squad

‘It’s unmanageable as it stands,’ a senior Essex player caught up in events at Derby told World of Cricket. ‘The Derby players shared a bus to the ground, which didn’t help, but this is going to keep on happening with current protocols.’

Last week this column said that, with the country opening up, cricket had to open up with it. Certainly players will resist any attempt to force them back into the secure bubbles that allowed last year’s international programme to go ahead unscathed.

Their mental health won’t stand it. Any tightening of restrictions has to bear that in mind.

But the only real hope cricket has of avoiding complete chaos over the next few weeks is a rethink of the isolation laws the Government only plan to change on August 16.

Unless that date is brought forward and cricket is allowed to get as many players as they can rapidly double jabbed, big trouble lies ahead. 

Cricket remains on a knife edge due to the covid restrictions strangling the sport at all levels

At least the emergency call-up of a completely new England squad provided a platform for some of the incredible number of gifted white-ball players in the domestic game. All playing the expansive Eoin Morgan way, too.

How brilliant to see a virtual England third team winning a 50-over series against Pakistan. And what an endorsement this has been of a domestic structure the ECB seem determined to rip up and undermine by promoting the Hundred ahead of the hugely successful T20 Blast and relegating the 50-over Cup to a fringe competition.

Of all the successes of what might otherwise have been a series equally as forgettable as the Sri Lankan one — from Saqib Mahmood to Phil Salt to Lewis Gregory and Brydon Carse — one unheralded figure has stood out.

John Simpson has impressed following his unlikely call-up to play for England

John Simpson has long been one of the county game’s best all-format players and was a significant figure in Middlesex’s dramatic 2016 title triumph. But an international career? No chance. Not with the riches England enjoy in the keeper-batsman position.

What odds were there on Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Foakes and Sam Billings all being unavailable? And for James Bracey to have drifted out of contention because of struggling on his own emergency call-up against New Zealand?

So how heartening it was to see Simpson, who turned 33 on Tuesday, take five catches in the second ODI on his home ground, including a quite brilliant one anticipating a Faheem Ashraf sweep off Matt Parkinson. With the best will in the world England recognition is unlikely to come Simpson’s way again. But he will always have Lord’s.

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