Rarely can a series between India and England have tiptoed into view with less ceremony or anticipation than this summer’s meeting.
A five-Test series starts between the two sides at Trent Bridge on Wednesday. You would be forgiven for not realising, given the myriad other sporting distractions.
In the UK, the lingering come down from Euro 2020 is morphing into expectancy ahead of the new Premier League season.
The Olympics is still holding sway, while the ugliness created in the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa is curiously bringing with it more attention to rugby rather than less.
Even cricket is overshadowing cricket. England is currently distracted – happily, given it is supposedly designed to save the sport in the UK – by The Hundred.
Crowds and viewing figures for the new format have been promising so far. How many of the new audience created by the 100-ball competition will be ready to switch over to the oldest format? Hopefully more than a few.
Where the Test series fits into the grand scheme, though, is a moot point. And not just the general sporting landscape, but the cricket one, too.
A five-Test series between two of cricket’s best-supported sides should be celebrated. Plus, it marks the start of the next World Test Championship cycle, so there is added context there, too.
But such a lengthy tour seems out of kilter in the prevailing climate.
Steve Harmison, the former England fast bowler, was quoted this week as saying elite sports stars are being treated like “caged animals” at present.
Consider the case of India’s leading players. Sure, they are afforded all sorts of privileges, but it is fair to feel a little sympathy for them given the situation.
They must feel as though they are in one incessant Covid bio-bubble. India arrived in the UK ahead of the WTC final against New Zealand in June.
These five Tests will take them up to September 14, when the fifth Test is scheduled to conclude at Emirates Old Trafford.
Within five days of that, the stalled 2021 IPL season is set to resume in Dubai. That will continue until October 15, when their stay in the UAE will be swiftly followed by … an extended stay in the UAE, for the T20 World Cup.
If the likes of Virat Kohli are fit, firing, and raring to go when that World Cup starts, it will be one of their finest achievements yet.
Even before it has all started, they are counting bodies. Ahead of the first Test in Nottingham, India are without batsman Mayank Agarwal, who suffered concussion after he was hit by teammate Mohammed Siraj at nets.
Shubman Gill, Washington Sundar, and Avesh Khan had already ruled out of the whole series.
Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav have been flown to England as replacements, but they will have to navigate Covid quarantine before they can get out and train.
Their hosts, too, are without some of their most luminous names. For the second time in two Covid summers, Ben Stokes has taken time out to cope with issues beyond cricket.
Last year, it was compassionate leave. This time, he is looking after his mental wellbeing. “I just want my friend to be OK,” Joe Root, England’s captain, said, endearingly.
The absence of Stokes, Chris Woakes, and Jofra Archer, who is still recovering from his elbow injury, will mean a rejig to the way the home side go about things.
Sam Curran, the Surrey all-rounder, will have a pivotal role to play against a side who know him well, after his time in the IPL with Chennai Super Kings.
Ollie Robinson, the pace bowler, is also likely to be restored to England’s line up following suspension.