England cricketers can look forward to a “bridge to the outside” if their home international season goes ahead.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic cutting short the start of their season by several months, the England and Wales Cricket Board remain confident they can stage three-Test series against both the West Indies and Pakistan, in addition to limited-overs internationals with Ireland and Australia, as they try to avoid a £380 million ($463 million) financial black hole.
Matches will be played behind closed doors at two ‘bio-secure’ venues, likely to be grounds with hotels such as Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl and Lancashire’s Old Trafford.
No more than 250 people will be present, with everyone subjected to testing.
Meanwhile another ground will be made available for training.
There had been suggestions players might be cooped up together for more than two months in a secure ‘bubble’ to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But it looks as if they will be allowed to spend some time with their families too, meaning England captain Joe Root could leave to attend the birth of his second child, due in July, if that happened when he was on international duty.
“This is what they’re calling, I think, the bridge to the outside,” the ECB’s director of special projects, Steve Elworthy, told a conference call on Friday.
“That protocol of moving in and out through that bridge is currently being worked at with the doctor.
“Clearly, the more people you have in and out of the bubble, the weaker the bubble is.
“But at the same time, there are going to be circumstances when people will need to leave. I absolutely get that.
“We will make sure that the protocols around leaving the bubble and coming back into the bubble are the shortest period of time but in the most safe and secure way possible.”
– ‘Everything in place’ –
The West Indies series was originally scheduled for June but the ECB hope it can go ahead in July, subject to British government approval.
“It’s effectively government guidance and clearance for us to get the (overseas) team into the country — that’s the last little bit,” said Elworthy.
The former South Africa fast bowler, a key figure in the staging of last year’s World Cup in England, added: “From a planning point of view we have got everything in place.
“We’re ready for it, but clearly we don’t want to stray outside of government guidelines and government decision-making.”
Earlier on Friday, England named a huge 55-strong training group designed to cope with all eventualities.
Asked what would happen if a player tested positive for the virus during a game, Elworthy said the match would not be abandoned.
“He will be placed in isolation,” said Elworthy, who added rules around for COVID-19 substitutes had still to be worked out by the International Cricket Council, the sport’s global governing body.
“The latest advice that I’ve got on this is that the medical team on site will make an assessment.”