Only 106 balls were bowled on the first day of the Southampton Test between England and West Indies.
This was the first match after the forced break of four months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rain played spoilsport but there was celebration from fans as their beloved game had returned.
It was played in the ‘new normal’. The team huddle was longer, with the two-feet social distancing norm.
There was intense screening and testing as cricket was the first game to be played in a biological bubble.
The action was typical Test cricket, attritional, dour and gritty.
However, there was action beyond the boundary which became the highlight of the day.
The broader context was not lost to the players on July 8. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was in the forefront of every West Indies and England player.
What followed was an exhibition that showed the power of sport when used in the right way. Both England and West Indies players knelt during the songs.
The Windies players had worn one black glove, highlighting the Black Fist salute in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City by Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The #BlackLivesMatter flag was displayed outside the dressing room.
Unprecedented in modern times
For many, this ensuing spectacle was nothing short of breathtaking. Cricket, a sport that has been insular from global events barring Apartheid, joined other sports in joining the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.
The conversation that former West Indies pacer and former England captain Nasser Hussain had was eye-opening.
Holding’s ‘dehumanising of the black race by society’ qualifies as one of the most eloquent speeches made by a modern-day sportsman. Hussain’s ‘looking away for far too long’ sentence was a mirror to society’s apathy in dealing with race issues.
That all this happened in England, the country with the colonial heritage baggage and that there was no censorship of any kind, showed how the country has come of age.
In the last two decades, England cricket, particularly the men’s team, has been a true rainbow nation when it comes to representation from other countries.
Be it New Zealand, the Caribbean nations, Australia, the sub-continent, many cricketers from those backgrounds have made their mark in English cricket.
It is a different story that such a representation is not there in the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and other apex cricket bodies, as highlighted by former England woman cricketer Ebony Rainsford-Brent.
Message must stick to ethos
Whatever was spoken and demonstrated on the first day of Test cricket in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic has shown that using sports as a medium to highlight major issues can have impact.
The onus is now on other nations to follow suit. But, one wonders how a country like India will react? In one instance, one journalist tried to give it an Indian context but was trolled royally. For India, her issues are far more complicated.
In India, any movement must have the Indian ethos and it must be rooted to the country’s ground reality. It simply just cannot copy the #BlackLivesMovement and expect results.
Holding’s stress on ‘education’ must be applied thoroughly in India, which is beset with colour, caste and other issues.
Cricket was back in grand style. The message was put forth brilliantly. July 8 was the day when sports was used as the right medium to highlight greater issues.
It was a day when the power of sport was realised. It was a day which reaffirmed that sports is a beautiful thing.