England managing director Ashley Giles said initial plans announced yesterday to get the country’s leading cricketers back training should be safer than going to a supermarket. But the former England spinner added that were international matches to take place amid the coronavirus it was “not realistic” for players to spend 10 weeks in squad quarantine away from their families.
The pandemic has delayed the start of the English cricket season until July 1 at the earliest. But the England and Wales Cricket Board are still planning to stage a full home international programme starting with a three-Test series against the West Indies, originally, scheduled for June, now set to get underway in July.
Three more Tests against Pakistan follow, as well as limited-overs matches with Australia and Ireland. Wednesday saw the British government publish guidelines on how elite sportsmen and women could return to training.
The ECB have responded by selecting a still-to-be announced training squad of 30 players, with bowlers leading the way at seven grounds from Wednesday of next week. After a two-week period, once the bowlers have reached their desired loading efforts, batsmen and wicketkeepers will start their programmes, with 11 venues in all set to host training sessions.
By starting with the bowlers, England’s attack should have seven weeks to get overs under the belts before the rescheduled first Test. Players will train individually on a staggered basis with a coach and physio in attendance.
“This is individual-based training so in many ways we should be able to get control of the environment right so it’s safer to go back to practice than it is to go to the supermarket,” Giles told reporters in a conference call yesterday.
Cricket West Indies chief executive Johnny Grave told the BBC there would be “no coercing players into touring, adding a UK death toll of more than 30,000 from the virus was a “massive figure” if you grew up in Caribbean country where that might represent half the total population.
“I would be nervous, certainly,” said Giles. “But we are doing everything we possibly can to answer all of the West Indies’ questions. We will be speaking to Pakistan as well and mitigating as much risk as we possibly can.”
Giles admitted, however, it would be difficult to prevent bowlers shining the ball as normal with saliva and sweat on health grounds. “How are we going to stop Jimmy Anderson walking back to his mark touching his forehead for example and then the ball? It’s going to be tricky to break those habits.”
Plans are being drawn up to play matches at ‘bio-secure’ venues with grounds such as Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford reportedly favoured because they have on-site hotels. But Giles stressed players would not be locked down in camp for over two months, with the likes of England captain Joe Root set to become a father again in that time.
“We have a good bunch of players, but it isn’t realistic to expect them to be in a bubble for 10 weeks,” said Giles. “Testing, tracing and tracking will have changed a hell of a lot by then and that should help us. Otherwise we are going to have to be smart with selection.”
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has warned a season without any matches at all could cost the board £380mn ($463mn). “We are a business like everyone else,” said Giles. “Businesses across the world are suffering right now and we have got to try and do our bit to protect the business.”
Giles added that while countries were all “fighting our own fires” at the moment, global cooperation would be needed amid doubts over October’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia and cricket’s future tours programme. “We are worried about getting our own deals done. It’s the same everywhere else around the world. But in the future it will be important we work together and there is a united front because we are not going to play without sides giving a bit to each other.”
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