When the British complain that there is no summer, they are often referring to the depressing weather that often hits the islands. But not this year, with sensational weather since April, and even less these days, when temperatures exceed thirty degrees and you can almost fry eggs on the asphalt, as if it were Écija. This year there is no summer because there is no cricket, or at least cricket as God intended.
Not even two world wars stopped the cricket as the pandemic has done, because the lower leagues continued to play, friendly matches with charitable purposes and even encounters in the European prison camps or the Thai jungle (in which German or Italian jailers were bribed to come and collect the balls that bypassed the fence). On Lord’s, the sports cathedral in the London neighborhood of Saint John’s Wood, giant balloons were installed at considerable height, tied to concrete blocks, so that the Luftwaffe planes could not approach like Pedro by his house, and despite this dropped some bomb than another. When the alarm sounded, referees and players would go to the ground on the grass, and after a while the game continued.
In both 1914 and 1939 they continued to play in India, and there were many friendlies in England.
The chroniclers of the time thanked Hitler to delay the invasion of Poland until the English championship was practically decided, and only the last days had to be canceled, after the declaration of hostilities on September 3 by the government of Neville Chamberlain. In India they continued to play as if nothing had happened, both after 1914 and 1939, and English stars transferred their skills there. Like Denis Compton, assigned with the Territorial Army to Mhow, who in a memorable game scored 249 runs. One vignette showed a British batter hitting a grenade thrown by Benito Mussolini. Stopping cricket entirely would have been a propaganda victory for Goebbels.
World War I coincided with a tour of England by the West Indies team (the Caribbean team), and also the resumption of the sport this year after lockdown. But without spectators in the stands. If the sound of football is that of the fans roaring with a goal or singing in the stands, the sound of cricket – much quieter – is that of the bat hitting the ball. But there is no one who can enjoy it. Not even in India, which this time has also fallen, and the thirteenth edition of its Premier League – the richest in the world – has been suspended. Stadiums such as the Eden Gardens in Calcutta, the Wankhede in Bombay or the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi (the second oldest in the world, dating from 1883) have the padlock on. There is only silence.
The last top-flight match to be played in 1939 pitted Yorkshire and Sussex counties in Hove, and visiting fans had trouble returning home as the government immediately confiscated the troops’ trains. For pitcher Hedley Verity it was also his last encounter, as he would meet his death in 1943 in Sicily, before cricket could be resumed. His grave in the Italian city of Caserta is the subject of pilgrimage by fans. There were many more victims – South Africans, Australians … – but even these personal misfortunes did not have as drastic an impact as the current pandemic.
Cricket is a game full of symbolism in the Commonwealth world, and in Great Britain it is the summer sport, when for football. Without it there is no summer. For a few weeks there has been, albeit half, because England has played (without an audience) against the West Indies and is doing so against Pakistan, but above all because they have returned at an amateur level to the greens (green esplanades) of the towns and neighborhoods, and the men dressed in immaculate white, bat in hand and legs covered up to above the knee, are once again part of the landscape. And the unmistakable noise of the wood hitting the ball is heard again.
Three hundred thousand cricketers are registered in England. And although the national team plays with empty stands, at club level spectators are allowed, yes, with social distance, hydroalcoholic gel, arrows on the floor to indicate a one-way system, bars and closed locker rooms, without handshakes or hugs . The ball must be washed, pasteurized and hydrophilized every time it changes hands. But something is something. What has been saved of the summer has been saved.