The West Indies cricket team arrived in England in the second week of June attempting to break the global cricket deadlock forced by the Covid-19 pandemic. A 39-member touring party that includes an extended playing squad of 25 is set to become the first international team to resume elite competition.
The series, which was due to take start on June 4, will now begin on July 8 and will be played in bio-secure venues without spectators being present at the grounds. The 39-member contingent were all tested for Covid-19 and returned negative results before boarding a chartered flight from Antigua to Manchester.
The squad will be based at the Old Trafford Ground in Manchester for the first phase, which will include a two-week quarantine phase. The team will be based entirely at the ground, which also has a hotel on the premises where the players will stay. They will then travel to Southampton for the first Test match, under similar circumstances at the Rose Bowl Ground, before returning to Manchester for the second and third Test matches.
This is a huge step forward in cricket and in sports in general,” said West Indies captain Jason Holder. “A lot has gone into the preparations for what will be a new phase in the game.”
Bravo, Hetmyer and Keemo Paul pull out
Three members of the West Indies squad have declined the invitation to tour England under the special circumstances prevailing. Keemo Paul the young fast bowler, Darren Bravo, the left-hand batsman and Shimron Hetmyer, one of the more promising young talents from the islands, all divided against making the trip.
Johnny Grave, the chief executive of Cricket West Indies, assured that the players had communicated with their board and that there would be no repercussions following their decision.
“Keemo Paul is the sole breadwinner in his entire household and wider family. He was really concerned if something happened to him how his family would cope. He wrote passionately about how hard a decision it was for him and how much he loves playing for West Indies, but in consultation with his family he doesn’t feel he can leave them and doesn’t want to go on the tour,” Graves told ESPNCricinfo. “So, yes, perfectly valid reasons and the ones that we fully respect. We were never going to force or try to coerce and we didn’t ask them to reconsider. It is in everyone’s interest if you are not comfortable to say so and not tour and be certain that it is not going to be held against you. Rather than go, be worried, and ultimately don’t perform or want to come home. So it is a good decision all round. We are still taking a strong Test side to England
Bravo loss unfortunate, says legend
Michael Holding, the former West Indies fast bowler and popular broadcaster, said that the West Indies were unfortunate to be missing three of their cricketers on the England tour. “I think it’s unfortunate as far as West Indies cricket is concerned. I’m not going to tell anyone that they should be going to England because COVID-19 is around, someone may get sick or even worse,” said Holding. “But at the same time I think it’s unfortunate for the West Indies team because these guys have quite a bit of talent, and they’ll be missed. I’m sorry that Bravo in particular isn’t going because Bravo, I think, needs to resuscitate his career. He started off so brilliantly, everybody thought he was going to be another great West Indian batsman. He hasn’t really fulfilled that. I think the more cricket he can play now, especially for West Indies, the better chance he has of getting back on track and showing everyone the great player that he could be.”
But Bravo was not the only one who would be missed. “Hetmyer, again, I think he’s a very, very talented player. I think people have heard me talk about him in the past. Again, I’m sorry that he’s not going so that he can get more opportunity to express himself. But I ain’t blaming them for not going.”
Ian Bishop, another former West Indies stalwart, echoed Holding’s words. “You have to give players the option because it’s a world health crisis,” Bishop told the Trinidad Express. “If a player decides he does not want to take that health risk, you can’t hold it against him in this context. The players know they are taking a risk if someone who replaced them goes on to have great success. That’s a chance you take,” he said.
Covid Substitutes, saliva restrictions in play
When the West Indies take on England, it will be under the revised rules and terms of engagement that the International Cricket Council signed off on. The most major change is that teams will be allowed a Covid-19 substitute along the lines of a concussion substitute. This means that a player developing symptoms and requiring testing could be replaced by a like-for-like player (or closest) while results are awaited.
Exactly how this will affect the overall set up is unclear. After all, once a bio-secure environment is set up, any instance of a risk within that environment affects all the participants. The ICC will be monitoring developments closely to see what other changes need to be made, as the need arises.
Based on the recommendations of the ICC Cricket Committee, it was also agreed that the use of saliva to shine the cricket ball would be banned. The ICC announced that match officials would give the players a period of time to get used to the new regulation, offering some leniency, but, should the fielding team err repeatedly a penalty of five runs will be awarded to the batting team. ICC also said that the umpires would be tasked with cleaning the ball each time such an infringement occurred.
“Players will not be permitted to use saliva to shine the ball,” the ICC said in a media release. “If a player does apply saliva to the ball, the umpires will manage the situation with some leniency during an initial period of adjustment for the players, but subsequent instances will result in the team receiving a warning. A team can be issued up to two warnings per innings but repeated use of saliva on the ball will result in a 5-run penalty to the batting side.”
However, teams will be permitted to use sweat to shine the ball, after Dr Peter Harcourt, the ICC’s medical director, confirmed that perspiration was much less likely to cause the spread of the virus.
As for the substitutes or replacements, this would apply only to Test cricket and not One-Day Internationals or Twenty20 Internationals, the ICC confirmed. “In line with concussion replacements, the Match Referee will approve the nearest like-for-like replacement,” the ICC said in a release.
It was also agreed that the insistence on having only neutral umpires from the ICC Elite Panel standing in Test matches be relaxed. Too ensure that the level of decision making is not affected and to combat the perception of bias towards the home team, the ICC announced that the Decision Review System would be expanded. “The Chief Executives Committee has also confirmed an additional unsuccessful DRS review for each team in each innings of a match, keeping in mind that there may be less experienced umpires on duty at times. This will increase the number of unsuccessful appeals per innings for each team to three for Tests and two for the white-ball formats.”
Skerritt hails historic tour
The Cricket West Indies president Ricky Skerritt has lavished praise on his team for undertaking this tour of England in challenging times. “I am pretty confident the players and management understand the historic aspect of this tour. They understand it’s a great opportunity for them to play some good cricket in an environment [playing in England] that several of them are not very familiar with. It is also giving players the opportunity to grow their game. I tend to look at these things from a cricket-first perspective, and when all is said and done, this tour will be about good cricket and about defending the Wisden Trophy, which we won in 2019,” Skerritt told Espncricinfo.
While cricket was front and centre, Skerritt understood the significance of his team’s actions. “The world of cricket will be happy to see cricket restarting, but not at all costs. Covid-19 risk had to be addressed and we are confident that the key elements and protocols have been put in place. This is about two cricket boards doing the best they can to get international cricket happening.”