ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Cricket West Indies (CWI) has approved the Test tour of England, paving the way for cricket’s first-ever “bio-secure” Test series to proceed behind closed doors in July.
In a statement late this evening, CWI said the decision was made following discussions between its medical advisors and the England and Wales County Board (ECB), and after pouring over detailed protocols already being engaged “to minimize risk and optimize the health and safety of all concerned”.
Under the current plan, West Indies will leave during the first week of June for the three-Test series scheduled to bowl off July 8 at “bio-secure” venues such as Old Trafford in Manchester and the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
The series was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak which has resulted in 271 000 infections and 38 000 deaths in the United Kingdom.
“The decision comes only after CWI medical and cricket-related representatives and advisors have been involved in detailed discussions with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and their own medical and public health advisers,” the regional governing body said.
“These discussions involve the local and international logistics and protocols which are already being put in place to minimize risk and optimize the health and safety of all concerned.
“CWI has also received and reviewed detailed plans for players and staff to be kept in a bio-secure environment for the duration of the tour, with all matches being played ‘behind closed doors’.”
The board said permission would now be sought from various Caribbean governments for players and officials to be transported by charter, and to also be tested for COVID-19.
Nearly all Caribbean nations have closed their borders to air passenger traffic due to the outbreak of the pandemic.
Players and officials will be flown from their various territories to Antigua from where they will then travel to the United Kingdom.
“CWI’s management is now in the process of seeking to put all of the approvals and logistics in place within the Caribbean, including seeking permission from the various National Governments to facilitate the movement of players and support staff, using private charter planes and conducting medical screenings and individual COVID-19 testing for all members of the touring party,” the statement said.
“CWI will continue to fine-tune the various arrangements with the ECB, whilst they await final UK government approval of their plans for a bio-secure tour with all three Test matches being played behind closed doors.”
A 30-man provisional squad was identified by CWI selectors recently, and began training this week in several territories.
Once the squad is whittled down to 25, they will fly by charter to the UK where they will undergo two weeks of quarantine, before being moved to a “bio-secure” playing venue.
Both teams will be prohibited from contact with the public during the series and will undergo strict social distancing protocols.
Selectors have been forced to increase the squad to 25 to allow for preparation matches and injury replacements, as the touring side will not be allowed to engage English sides in warm-up matches nor call up injury replacements. England have named a group of 55 that have been asked to return to training, including 14 uncapped players.
ECB director of events Steve Elworthy said that from a planning point of view, they had everything in place. “We’re ready for it, but clearly we don’t want to stray outside of government guidelines and government decision-making.”
Elowrthy said the venue criteria the ECB were looking for included grounds with hotels as part of the venue or very close by, enough space to allow for social distancing within changing rooms and media facilities as well as parking space for around 200 cars so people don’t have to use public transport.
“The rational of going to that [three venue model] from a medical plan point of view is to reduce the movement of people,” he said.
“Clearly, reducing the amount people move would reduce the the risk of infection. It would also reduce significantly the number of people required to deliver matches because we would only be in two venues to deliver these. We wouldn’t have to move different infrastructure and people around the country and cost is an element of that.”
Elworthy estimated that between 180 and 250 people would be required to deliver the matches within the “bubble” as he called it. Each person will be tested for Covid-19 prior to entering the bio-secure venue and will have to complete a health questionnaire too. There will also be regular thermal scanning and deep cleaning in place. People will be restricted to different zones within the grounds, with the players and officials being in one zone and other personnel in another.
“There would be zoning in each of the venues and that is really to reduce the interactions or the crossover of people in the inner core or in the green zone, if you will,” Elworthy said. “That would be your players, match officials, the field of play. If there’s a hotel on site, the hotel would be in that area so it’s a secure environment. That would be your green zone effectively. And then there would be a second zone on the outside.”
Elworthy said the planning included the principle that “players aren’t locked in a venue” for much longer than a month before they can have a break and reconvene at the next venue for the next set of games.
The ECB also hopes that all the touring teams will be able to practise during the 14-day quarantine period which the UK government is enforcing on international arrivals.
“When the West Indies arrive, they’ve got to go into a two-week quarantine period, so we would want them to be able to go somewhere where they would be able to train and quarantine at the same time,” Elworthy said. “But clearly, we’re working very closely with the government on that to make sure that they come in safely.”