The Women’s Cricket World Cup is belying expectations of a COVID-19 soaked showpiece, with organizers delighted to defy the pandemic.
So far, that is.
The tournament reached the half-way mark this weekend with a pair of marquee matches at New Zealand’s national stadium, Eden Park.
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On Saturday, Australia produced a World Cup record chase to down India with just three balls remaining, becoming the first side to book a place in the semi-finals.
On Sunday the hosts play England in a clash of two unexpectedly struggling sides, a storyline which has added to the tournament drama.
But you wouldn’t have blamed organisers if they weren’t there to see it, driven to drink or walking out on the eve of the event.
The ICC postponed the event from 2021 – when it would have taken place in one of the few coronavirus-free places anywhere in the world.
Instead, it’s on this month, unfortunately timed in the middle of New Zealand’s biggest outbreak of the pandemic.
World Cup chief executive Andrea Nelson says her team has not countenanced the counterfactual.
“It’s not a path we’ve gone done,” she said.
“There’s been several moments where things could have gone one of two ways. Best not to dwell.”
Nelson talks of “staying dynamic” when a layperson might say “our plans went out the window”.
And quite rightly, given players have waited five years for their chance to be world champions, Nelson’s focus is on the cricket.
“The cricket has been extraordinary. The pitches have been amazing. The venues have looked brilliant,” she told AAP.
“I’ve been working on this for two-and-a-half years and the product that we’re showing on the global stage is just next level.
“Any cricket fan or any sports fan would be finding it hard not to be rapt.”
Still, COVID-19 is leaving a mighty mark on the tournament.
No traveling journalists have opted to attend given quarantine requirements, which feels at odds with surging interest in women’s sport.
Crowds have been severely capped, and local interest is low for matches that don’t involve New Zealand or India.
It’s understandable Kiwis aren’t attending in their thousands given the local impact of COVID-19.
About three per cent of the country is testing positive each week and public health officials estimate the true spread is much greater.
However, just one player – Australia’s Ash Gardner – has contracted COVID-19 so far, a charmed run which defies belief.
Australia coach Matthew Mott said last week he was “flabbergasted” no other players had tested positive and Kiwi star Amelia Kerr said she was surprised.
“We’ve done pretty well to keep COVID out of it,” she said.
“The way people have gone about their business and living under the strict guidelines and keeping safe (and) to have this tournament go and run pretty smoothly has been awesome.”
Players are no longer being routinely tested, instead are encouraged to get tested if they have symptoms.
Organizers have arranged charter flights, hotel exclusivity and outdoor activities to attempt to keep players safe from COVID-19, but ultimately they’re relying on teams being sensible.
“The teams are really motivated to get to the finish line,” Nelson said.
“They’re happy to follow the protocols and to keep themselves safe, because they see that is a competitive advantage.”
Naturally, there is disappointment the tournament is being played in this window.
Australia’s players have spoken of their sadness they can’t compete in front of family, friends and traveling fans.
The New Zealand government is not opening the border in time for the latter stage of the tournament, though hopes are high it will relax crowd caps.
Nelson said the restrictions wouldn’t blunt the tournament’s legacy.
“We hope that the fans are able to come and enjoy the opportunity to see the world’s best athletes here on New Zealand soil (and) interest grows as we get towards the end of the tournament,” she said.
“I hope that young boys and girls watching it are inspired by these athletes to play sport, to play as a career and see what’s possible.”