On June 23, 2020, Boris Johnson justified the extension of a ban on playing cricket to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Other socially distanced sports, like tennis, had resumed. But as he explained to the House of Commons: “The problem with cricket as everybody understands (is) that the ball is a natural vector of disease.” The English summer was well under way – the parks full of bare arms, bucket hats and tinny speakers, but alas, no cricket. And as the writer Neville Cardus once told us: “There can be no summer in England without cricket.” Well we did get our cricket eventually and the summer was rescued – excellent weather in September did mean that a lot of play was fitted in.
Nevertheless, I remember how annoyed I felt when Boris called the cricket ball “a natural vector of disease.” I am willing to bet good money that virtually no one has ever contracted a respiratory virus from a cricket ball anywhere, in any time, in any place. I was annoyed too at the tone Boris had taken – he hadn’t argued from a sense of principle that cricket might lead to more people gathering after matches and therefore might lead to more disease transmission. He had invoked a faux-scientific justification to hedge the argument in his favour. “We’ve been round it many times with our scientific friends,” he told the House sagely. It took a couple of weeks for a scientific study to emerge that concluded that no, really, the ball was not a vector of disease. By that time, the story had disappeared from the papers.