Today England men’s cricket team play the last of 18 fixtures inside biosecure bubbles in Southampton and Manchester. A series decider for Eoin Morgan’s World Champions against the old enemy Australia should be a fitting finale for what has been a triumphant, stirring summer that has exceeded expectations that were rock bottom just a few months ago.
England are yet to lose a series, but the real heroes have been those who planned so minutely, with no expense spared, and the four teams that have provided opposition, travelling to these shores as a pandemic raged.
TV money means these games have brought financial salvation for English cricket, and a compelling distraction for those watching at home. It has just been a shame those fans have been unable to fill the stands. The cricket is not quite done yet, though. Next week, England Women finally get their season under way, with the West Indies providing the first opposition. The pandemic has stunted the march of women’s sport, making these games doubly vital.
But it is possibly county cricket that has enjoyed the most rousing summer of all — and there is a way to run yet; for the first time ever, the season will go into October. At the peak of the pandemic, things looked bleak for county cricket, its 400-odd players, and its modestly-sized but fiercely-devoted following. The County Championship, which has only been interrupted by world wars since its inception in 1890, was delayed indefinitely. Only two counties did not furlough players and the very existence of some of the 18 first-class teams appeared at risk. But the counties and ECB pulled together to devise a new competition, the Bob Willis Trophy (named after the England legend who died in December), and managed to reshape a shortened T20 competition, too.
Time constraints meant the trophy’s format was necessarily imperfect but, after a thrilling pool stage, the two best sides in the country from last season — Essex and Somerset — will compete in a final at Lord’s. It has provided professional opportunities for young players and been watched around the world on streaming services. It has been such a success that the format is certain to be used next year. In 2019, when Ben Stokes served up unforgettable World Cup and Ashes miracles, was unquestionably English cricket’s greatest summer in a generation. For 2020, the outcome suddenly seemed so bleak but something has been salvaged.