Former England spinner Phil Tufnell has insisted Test cricket can survive a summer without crowds, as he admitted he is relishing the prospect of seeing England take on the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday.
Tufnell feared we may not see any first-class cricket played in England in 2020 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and while a behind-closed-door match to open the Test summer will be a strange sight, he believes the sport can attract a whole new audience craving some live sport.
This opening Test match would have attracted huge crowds in Southampton in normal circumstances, yet Tufnell is hoping the absence of fans will only be a temporary issue for the game.
“It will be strange to be at the Ageas Bowl for a Test match and not have any spectators there, but I don’t see it as a major problem as we are all so excited to see cricket back,” BBC Sport pundit Tufnell told Cricket365 in an exclusive interview.
“A lot of Test matches take place around the world with small crowds, but it will be strange to see an empty stadium down in Southampton for a big game against the West Indies. Hopefully, it won’t be too long until crowds are allowed back into all sports.
“Playing a big Test match without a crowd will be different for the players, but we all started playing cricket down the park with one man and his dog watching us so it is not entirely new. We should just be grateful we have some sport and I’m sure that when the players step on to the pitch, their pride will kick in and they will want to perform at their best.”
With England captain Joe Root missing the match to attend the birth of his second child, Ben Stokes will lead the side for the first time at Test match level and Tufnell suggests the excitement of seeing live sport on our screens will make for a great spectacle in Southampton.
“I wondered whether we would see any cricket in England this summer because it looked like everything would be cancelled at one point, but the summer can start now and I can’t wait,” he stated.
“Things are all a little bit different in our world for all of us, but I just can’t wait to get down to the ground, meet all the people associated with the sport and for summer to get underway for real. It will start to feel a little like normality again, even if we are some way off that yet.
“This time of the year in my eyes is all about sport springing into life with some Test cricket. A bit of sunshine and a bit of live cricket will give us all a lift. This is what people are crying out for. We don’t have Wimbledon this year, but at least we have the other summer sport of cricket and we are all eager to see the boys in action.
“I’ve enjoyed watching the golf and the football in the last few weeks, so the time feels right for cricket to return. There are only so many times you can watch Tiger Woods winning The Masters 20 years ago or FA Cup finals from the 1970s. Nothing beats live sport.”
Tufnell will be part of the BBC showing highlights of Test match cricket for the first time in over two decades and he believes that additional exposure can help the game.
England Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan and England’s record Test run-scorer Sir Alastair Cook will also be part of the BBC team, with the huge audience set to tune in giving the game a huge boost.
“Test matches always used to be on the BBC when I was playing and the audiences were massive,” he added. “We have assembled a fantastic team of analysts and hopefully the viewing figures will be massive.
“None of us really know how this series is going to go because we haven’t had any warm up games and the players will be going in not knowing how they will do, but it will be great to see them working it all out and once they are on the field and the adrenaline is flowing, I’m sure we’ll see some great Test match cricket.”
Highlights from the England v West Indies Test series will begin on 8th July on BBC Two from 7pm.
By Kevin Palmer, follow him on Twitter
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