Back in the spring, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its most deadly in Britain, there was a genuine fear that the England cricket team might not play an international game in 2020.
So, after a packed summer of test matches, to be in a position where England’s side is one victory away from clinching back-to-back series wins fills captain Joe Root with a sense of pride.
His message, therefore, was quite simple as he addressed the team on Thursday on the eve of the third and final test against Pakistan at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.
Enjoy it, and cherish it.
“We don’t know the next time we will play test cricket,” Root said in a video call. “So let’s make sure we throw everything into this week. Make sure we leave no stone unturned and give everything to each other and the badge.”
England came from behind to beat West Indies 2-1 in what proved to be a thrilling test series in July. Against Pakistan, England leads 1-0 after a victory in the first test in Manchester was followed by a draw in the second match in Southampton.
The schedule for the end of this year and early 2021 is still unclear for England, with no away games scheduled after this home summer and before Christmas after the limited-overs tour of India in September and October was canceled.
Doubts persist about whether an all-format tour of India can go ahead next year because of the high number of coronavirus cases there. England also wants to fit in two tests against Sri Lanka, which were postponed in March at the outbreak of the virus, but no dates have yet been set.
“We feel extremely lucky to get the opportunity to be playing right now and to have had the games we’ve had,” Root said of the test series against the West Indies and Pakistan that have been played in isolated environments.
“It’s been amazing to be a part of this experience. At the start of this summer, we were dreading the thought of no international cricket. To almost be at the back end of the test part of that is credit to everyone involved for getting these games to go ahead and hopefully we can have a great finish to it.”
A draw or victory in the third test would give England a first series win over Pakistan in 10 years and there is increased hope a result will be possible in Southampton after a frustrating, weather-affected second match last week.
Cricket faced accusations of being stuck in its ways during that test, when each day’s play was affected by rain or bad light. Play continued to begin at 11 a.m. even though it could have started earlier on some days when it was not raining. The tests are being played in empty stadiums for this series because of COVID-19 restrictions so there were no concerns about spectators getting to the venues on time.
A flexible approach to starting times was announced Thursday for the third test, giving teams an opportunity to make up for lost time by starting a day’s play 30 minutes earlier.
Captains and coaches of both teams have agreed to the changes, with the England and Wales Cricket Board saying “further consideration will be given to applying these changes at future series played in England.”
“This will enable us to play more cricket,” Root said. “It seems a sensible way of doing it. With the environment we find ourselves in and the times we are in, it seems a good way of maximizing hours of play.”
After the conclusion of the first day’s play, officials will meet to discuss the start time for the next day. An option to start play at 10.30 a.m. will be given and the final decision will be made by the match referee.
If there is a 10.30 a.m. start, 98 overs can be bowled in the day and the morning session would last 2 1/2 hours.
“The match officials will ensure that light is monitored to maximize playing time while it is still safe to do so,” the ECB said. “The safety of the players is still the No. 1 priority for this protocol.”
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80