A week in Sport.

The 5th Test Match against India was cancelled.

It was a great shame to see the final Test match between England and India called off. The series had been set up perfectly for a barnstorming finish as India looked to complete a series win over England and add their scalp to that of Australia that they claimed earlier in the year. That was Virat Kohli’s demand of himself and his team; to beat Australia and England away from home in a calendar year. England were looking to end their home cricketing season on a high by drawing the series before switching their focus to the Twenty20 World Cup in November and then the Ashes down under in December. The cricket played had been superb and it had been played in good spirit. We’d seen wonderful batting displays and devastating spells of bowling, from both sides. India were deservedly in front but I felt England had a real chance of winning the final test of the summer. Unfortunately, that was dashed to the rocks by the news that there had been positives cases of COVID in the Indian camp. That was made worse by the fact that the cases were from both of the team physios. And as Nasser Hussain pointed out on Sky Sports, there is no such thing as socially distanced physiotherapy. They will have been in players faces while treating them and with the incubation period that occurs before the test will return a positive result, it is understandable that the players would be worried about coming down halfway through a Test Match.

When it was announced that the match would not go ahead, many pointed to the looming restart of the IPL as one of, if not the major reason why the match was called off. It is true that the BCCI had been worried about the timing of this match as it would be very close to the start of the rescheduled IPL. According to reports, they had been so worried about it that they had tried to get the fixture moved to earlier in the summer, but the ECB were reluctant to do so. Some have claimed that this is Test Cricket raising the white flag in surrender to the financial power of the IPL, and there is an argument to be made there. But the BCCI are going to make sure that the IPL goes ahead unhindered. Why? Because it is a major money-spinner for them, worth in the region of £360 million. The IPL is also the biggest and most lucrative of all the domestic T20 leagues in the world, so is it any surprise that the BCCI are doing what they can to protect it? The Premier League takes actions to protect itself, why should this be any different?

The real shame here is that Old Trafford had pre-sold three days of play completely. 21,000 would be been guaranteed through the doors for three days. For Lancashire Cricket Club, who were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, that would have been such valuable income. After not being able to have fans in for county games and not being able to use their facilities and hotels as revenue streams, to have that taken away is unfortunate to see. More than that, there were over 60,000 people who had paid for the ticket, travel, hotels, potentially had taken days off work to go to the cricket for the first time since restrictions were eased, who were denied the chance to do so. I also feel sorry for the players to a degree. I don’t doubt the Indian side would have wanted to play the game, but with the positive case in their camp, their fears would be heightened. It is also worth mentioning that many in the Indian camp are going to play in the IPL, which will mean entering a strict quarantine. These players have spent the last 18 months in and out of bubbles. The bubble for the T20 World Cup is reportedly going to be even stricter than the one in place for the IPL. It simply is not sustainable for the players to be constantly moving from one quarantine and bubble to the next. That is the reason Ben Stokes has taken a break; he hasn’t even been named in England’s squad for the World Cup. We all know how vital Ben Stokes is to England in every format of the game. He is sitting at home with his family, not even playing for his county because he has simply had enough of continual quarantine and bio-secure bubbles.  

There has been confirmation from both cricket boards that a one-off test at Old Trafford will be held between the sides next summer to make up for this one being cancelled. It doesn’t change the fact that everyone lost out on what looked to be a wonderful game of cricket.

Ronaldo and Romelu lead the line

It was a tale of two returning players grabbing the headlines in the Premier League last weekend. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku scored twice on their returns to the respective home stadiums of their clubs. But the stories were different. Ronaldo was returning to a ground where he had scored countless times for Manchester United over a six-year period. His transfer back to Old Trafford was a surprise to many, and was seemingly done as quickly as someone clicks their fingers. And he graced his return to English football with two goals that are so completely typical of the man. His first, a tap-in from five yards after Freddie Woodman spilled a deflected Mason Greenwood shot, showed all the predatory instincts Ronaldo has developed over the years. He was the only player in the penalty box who moved towards the goal as Greenwood shot and so put himself in the perfect position to capitalise on the goalkeeper’s mistake. It’s something we’ve seen so many times from Ronaldo that it honestly wasn’t a surprise that his first goal back in England was a tap-in inside the six-yard box. His second was helped along by some awful defending from Newcastle United and more questionable goalkeeping. But it was an impressive turn of pace for a 36-year-old, and the shot was on target. It’s being proved more and more that if they look after themselves, players can play in elite leagues well into their 30s. Thiago Silva is a great example of this over at Chelsea. At 37, he played extremely well against Aston Villa, having been released from Paris Saint Germain. Lionel Messi is also well into his 30s, Edinson Cavani is too, and so is Sergio Aguero. And a 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo is still a huge threat that is now in Manchester United’s arsenal.

Romelu Lukaku’s return to Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player was slightly different. Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford as a king and a legend. Lukaku was looking to score for Chelsea at the Bridge for the first time at the 15th time of asking. He did so, and fulfilled a dream for himself. Much was made of Lukaku’s love of Chelsea when he re-signed this summer. And he said after the game how much it meant to score for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. He truly announced himself to the Chelsea faithful on Saturday with two deadly finishes to take the game away from Aston Villa. Villa had been very much in the game, actually having the more regular and dangerous chances in the game. They were denied by a resolute and commanding performance in goal from Edouard Mendy, who has hardly put a foot wrong since signing for the club from Rennes last year. Lukaku’s first, off the back of wonderful work in midfield from Mateo Kovacic, showed his intelligence. Aware the defender was looking to block a left-footed shot, Lukaku shifted the ball across onto his right before confidently finishing under Jed Steer to rapturous reception from the Shed End. His second, a powerful, lifting shot into the net put some gloss on what was not a dominating performance from Chelsea. With the win, they maintain their unbeaten start to the season and sit second in the table, with a real chance of staying in that top four for a long time this season. Lukaku’s goals were the only shots he had in the whole game on Saturday and that is a welcome change from last season. Chelsea’s conversion rate last season was among the worst in the league. Four games in, it has shot up to among the best in the league. That will stand the Blues in great stead for the rest of the season. If you can take games away from the opposition, even when you aren’t playing brilliantly, you stand a real chance of success at the end of the season.  

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