Photo feature

Cricket, interrupted

We look back to times in the past when cricket has been disrupted, by war, terrorism and natural disasters

Deepti Unni  |  

During World War II, The Oval was requisitioned for use as a POW camp for enemy parachutists. Eventually, though, no one was interned there

During World War II, The Oval was requisitioned for use as a POW camp for enemy parachutists. Eventually, though, no one was interned there © Getty Images

These are strange times. All over the world the Covid-19 pandemic has brought life as we know it to a standstill. And that includes cricket. Until a few weeks ago matches were being played behind locked doors, in hauntingly empty stadiums - sixes echoing forlornly in silent stands, fielders clambering over empty seats to retrieve balls - until those too trickled to a stop. Cricket has hit pause.

It's not the first time, though. War, natural disasters and terrorism have brought the game to a halt before - though perhaps never as fully as now.

In August 1914, after the First World War broke out and in England droves joined the war effort, the County Championship continued for a couple of weeks, even as cricketers were summoned by the War Office mid-match. It took the Battle of Mons and a letter from WG Grace in the Sportsman, echoing the sentiment of the country at large, to bring the season to an early conclusion.

"I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing cricket by day and pleasure-seekers look on," Grace's letter said.

Though all first-class cricket in England was suspended for the duration of the war, a few charity matches and games between army regiments and representative service sides were played, like the one below.

Convalescing soldiers watch a ladies' cricket match at Hurlingham Park in London, in 1917

Convalescing soldiers watch a ladies' cricket match at Hurlingham Park in London, in 1917 © Getty Images

The next big break in cricket across the world came with the onset of the Second World War. England and West Indies had just wound up a Test series, the third and last match of which was played at The Oval, in August 1939, before West Indies were called back home in anticipation of the war to come. The Oval was requisitioned soon after for use as a prisoner-of-war camp.

Wicketkeeper Billie Hudd celebrates the wicket of his older brother John, as four-year-old Freddie Hudd fields, among the ruins of their house in Canning Town near London, blitzed by the Germans in 1941

Wicketkeeper Billie Hudd celebrates the wicket of his older brother John, as four-year-old Freddie Hudd fields, among the ruins of their house in Canning Town near London, blitzed by the Germans in 1941 © Getty Images

And while World War II disrupted cricket in England, matches were still played. Lord's had a packed schedule and crowds showed up for games, even as the Luftwaffe was bombing London and its surrounds. In 1944, Germany began deploying doodlebugs - V1 flying bombs - most of which found their targets in London. On July 29, a Royal Air Force side - featuring Wally Hammond - played the Army at Lord's, with over 3000 spectators in attendance. About an hour into play, Middlesex batsman Jack Robertson was in to bat for the Army, facing up to Bob Wyatt, when they heard the telltale buzz of a doodlebug - an indication that it was going to hit Lord's or somewhere very close to it. The players and spectators dropped to the ground, but fortunately the bomb landed 200 yards short of the match. The players rose, dusted themselves off, and resumed. Wyatt - earlier interrupted in his run-up - bowled to Robertson, who, with perfect nonchalance, lofted the ball into the stands for a six.

Army batsman Jack Robertson, RAF wicketkeeper Andy Wilson, and fielders Bill Edrich (bottom left) and Austin Matthews drop to the ground as a V1 flying bomb buzzes past Lord's mid-match

Army batsman Jack Robertson, RAF wicketkeeper Andy Wilson, and fielders Bill Edrich (bottom left) and Austin Matthews drop to the ground as a V1 flying bomb buzzes past Lord's mid-match © Getty Images

After England's 1968 tour of South Africa was called off over the Basil D'Oliveira affair, there was increasing resistance in the country towards South Africa's planned tour of England in 1970. In 1969-70, the Springboks rugby tour to England was met with widespread, and often violent, protests. As the protests, and consequently the cost of hosting the 1970 cricket tour, mounted, the cricket establishment found itself increasingly under attack and eventually the tour was called off just a few days before the first match. It was the beginning of South Africa's cricket isolation, which would last more than 20 years.

The

The "Stop the Seventy Tour" anti-apartheid activists picket outside the Grace Gate at Lord's in May 1970 © Getty Images

On Boxing Day in 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami battered Sri Lanka. More than 35,000 people lost their lives and over 1.5 million were displaced. The picturesque Galle International Stadium, surrounded on two sides by the ocean, took the brunt of the water and was levelled. The Sri Lankan cricket team were in New Zealand, playing the first of a five-match ODI series, when the tsunami struck. Worried for their families and shattered by the scale of the tragedy, the team sought to return home but it was five days before the rest of the tour was called off, because the ICC only had provisions for cancellation in case of a security threat or if the government summoned the cricketers back.

A fully refurbished Galle Stadium hosted its first Test match, Sri Lanka v England, in December 2007

Galle International Stadium was devastated by the tsunami, and most of its outbuildings damaged, but it was turned into a makeshift camp for survivors and used as a helipad in the immediate aftermath

Galle International Stadium was devastated by the tsunami, and most of its outbuildings damaged, but it was turned into a makeshift camp for survivors and used as a helipad in the immediate aftermath © Getty Images

In 2009, the Sri Lankan team was headed to Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to play the second day of the third Test against Pakistan when 12 gunmen opened fire on the team bus close to the stadium, injuring six cricketers. Terrorist attacks disrupting cricket weren't, unfortunately, a rare occurrence - in 1987 and 1993, New Zealand cancelled their tour of Sri Lanka after a bombing and an assassination in Colombo, and in 2002 their hotel in Karachi was the target of a suicide bomber. But Lahore was the first time a cricket team had been directly targeted by terrorists. Pakistan would not host another cricket match till 2019, when the Sri Lankan team symbolically returned to play two Tests after a decade of isolation for Pakistan.

A day after the Lahore shooting, people gathered at the location where Sri Lanka's team bus was attacked to pay tribute to the victims

A day after the Lahore shooting, people gathered at the location where Sri Lanka's team bus was attacked to pay tribute to the victims © Getty Images

Terrorism would come to haunt cricket again, this time in New Zealand, where a gunman opened fire at a mosque in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, killing 51. The Bangladesh team, who were to play a Test the next day at the Hagley Oval, were on their way to the mosque for Friday prayers before a training session at the stadium, less than a mile away, when the shooting began.

Hagley Oval and the park adjoining it went into lockdown after the Christchurch shooting, the Bangladesh team having escaped with just minutes to spare

Hagley Oval and the park adjoining it went into lockdown after the Christchurch shooting, the Bangladesh team having escaped with just minutes to spare Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / © AFP/Getty Images

The players managed to escape the team bus and make it to the stadium through neighbouring Hagley Park, from where they were escorted back to their hotel by the police. The tour was called off the same evening.

Deepti Unni is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Comments