Despite England's five-year unbeaten record in home series coming to an end when Australia's Mitchell Starc swept Adil Rashid for a boundary at Old Trafford in the third ODI on Wednesday, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) would still have been proud of what they achieved this summer -- cricket's first summer in a bio-secure bubble.
The summer was indeed a very successful one as it saw of 18 fixtures -- six Tests, six ODIs and six T20Is split into four series -- completed in just a span of three months with no major collateral damage. It goes without saying that what the ECB has pulled off is not only exemplary but also an inspiration for the rest of the world.
It is all the more remarkable because just six months ago, when the world was in the initial throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was probably beyond anyone's imagination that cricket, or any other sport, could return in a manner that would only draw plaudits.
From laying the blueprint for all the series, creating the bio-secure bubble, ensuring the highest safety measures for not only the home side but also for the visiting contingents -- West Indies, Ireland, Pakistan and Australia -- to scheduling repeated coronavirus tests, ECB left no stone unturned even without a frame of reference upon which to rely.
But now, thanks to the ECB, a model has been set which the other boards should seek to replicate. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has already taken steps in this regard as they sought advice from the ECB on creating a bio-secure environment for their series against Zimbabwe starting from next month.
However, the challenge may be steeper for countries in the subcontinent where the coronavirus situation is more threatening, population density higher and cricketing infrastructure not as developed. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) -- which has already refused to tour Sri Lanka under what BCB President Nazmul Hassan termed "historically unique" protocols set by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) -- will have to cope with greater challenges than ECB when arranging series.
ECB made players, coaches, administrators, backroom staff and even rights-holders commit to staying, eating, sleeping, playing and training on-site at suitably appointed stadiums. For ECB, one of the richest boards in a developed country, it was easier as they already had two venues -- Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford -- with hotels built into the stadium's infrastructure.
That is not the case here. What the cash-rich BCB can try and emulate is the extra mile that ECB went in creating isolated zones, testing and quarantine facilities, one-way systems and abundant supplies of PPE and sanitisers.
And it was not as if even ECB's largely successful measures had gone without a hitch, and there too are lessons for BCB, other cricket boards and players. England pacer Jofra Archer and Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez both breached bio-secure protocols -- Archer made an unauthorised trip to his home in Hove after the first Test at Southampton's Ageas Bowl and Hafeez posed for a photograph with an elderly fan at the golf course adjacent to the same venue on the eve of the second Test against England -- jeopardising the respective series. While Archer was levied an undisclosed fine and an official written warning, PCB took a rather lenient view of Hafeez's offence. But both players were immediately isolated till their next negative coronavirus tests.
Players have also said time inside the bubble was challenging and had an effect on their performance. England's Ollie Pope made an unbeaten 91 on the first day of the third Test against West Indies but only after struggling in the previous two games as he found it challenging to cope with the strict measures. And Archer, who has spent 87 days in the bubble -- most by any player during the summer -- is now considering pulling out of the Big Bash League saying that the mental challenge has had an effect on his performance.
What this teaches us is that the success of arranging a series would now depend on the collaborative efforts of the boards, players and all its stakeholders. While the boards would need to chalk out a detailed and safe blueprint for a tour and put mental health issues of payers and management staff high on the list of priorities, the players and staff also need to comply and adhere to protocols for their own safety and benefit.