It was cricket in the shadow of fear. The world was in the grip of a virus that had snared more lives than mortuaries and morgues can handle and was, yet, far from done. In country after country, it had left an endless trail of death, turning bustling cities into ghost towns, putting millions out of work and making economies sink further into the mire.
Even as the world was racing against time to put a leash on this rampaging monster, the cricket fraternity decided to send out a bold statement. That it wasn’t to be cowed down by COVID. Sports had taken its first few steps to break out of the shackles of lockdown: the Bundesliga resumed and the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A were ready to follow suit. Likewise, cricket, too, ended it’s three-month lockdown and announced a return with England hosting the West Indies for a three-match Test series.
However, the biggest challenge for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) was to ensure that the players were, to the extent, possible, insulated from COVID-19. It was a Herculean task given that the nation was still not out of the corona shadow and its prime minister had barely resumed work after his recovery from Covid-19.
Despite the odds, England put in place a raft of health protocols, in addition to putting together a ‘bio-secure environment’ to make the series safe for players.
So, how did they pull it off? Read on.
The first thing to note here is that the ECB first got its tour plan cleared by the British government and all other stakeholders before it mooted a formal proposal to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). The wheels got rolling only after the Caribbean cricket bosses gave the green light to the tour.
‘Bio-secure’ environment is essentially a composite of measures the ECB took after holding prior consultations with their own medical and public health advisers. The series was eventually cleared after cricket and medical representatives of the WICB held exhaustive discussions with their ECB counterparts on the steps proposed to ensure that the series was held in a ‘bio-secure bubble’.
Steve Elworthy, ECB’s director of events, was quoted as saying ahead of the West Indies visit that the ‘bio-secure bubble’ would cover the ‘worst case scenario’ that may arise amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Elworthy said, “The way we have structured the ‘bubble’ is that it can operate under the most extreme circumstances. All our planning has been based on the worst case scenario, from an infection and a rate-spike point of view.”
As part of the protocols in place, the visiting Islanders were to camp under strict quarantine rules for three weeks at Old Trafford after their touchdown in London.
Template for others
While the United Kingdom recorded more than 2.5 lakh Covid cases at the time, Elworthy said, “external factors” wouldn’t affect the series. “If you’re secure within the venue, and don’t break the confines of that venue, then your game should be able to go ahead with no problems at all,” said the ECB’s director of events.
He said the players of both sides were to be put through a raft of tests and medical examinations before being eased into the ‘bubble’.
The 25-member West Indies touring party had arrived in chartered flights for the series. The entire touring party was put through rigorous medical screening and mandatory tests to ensure safe travel.
The ECB had also put in a strict set of measures in place to ensure the players of both teams stayed cooped up at the venue. England tearaway Jofra Archer was made to sit out the second Test at Old Trafford after he visited his house for an hour.
With the tour going off without so much as a hint of trouble, the ‘bio-secure’ bubble would surely be a template for other Test playing nations when it comes to a tour or hosting a series.