English authorities hoping to stage the first “bio-secure” Test matches since cricket shut down in the face of the coronavirus outbreak remain hopeful that the ICC will alter playing regulations to allow Covid-19 substitutions, according to Steve Elworthy, the ECB’s director of special operations.
Earlier this month, the ICC’s cricket committee recommended against allowing such substitutions, on the grounds that a player testing positive would require everyone involved in the match to go into quarantine. However, Elworthy was more optimistic that individuals displaying symptoms could be dealt with in a less disruptive manner, under the guidance of on-site medical teams prepared specifically for such eventualities.
The ECB has poured its efforts into contingency planning for England’s home international schedule, and is still awaiting a green light for proposed dates and venues to host West Indies and Ireland in July/August, as well as Pakistan later in the summer. Plans to put on behind-closed-doors Test matches are well advanced, but the issue of how to mitigate and deal with the risk of infection during a game situation is one that has not yet been fully mapped out.
“That is one of the areas that the medical team, through [ECB chief medical officer] Nick Peirce, is working up,” Elworthy said. “Clearly, part of this would be to isolate that individual as quickly as possible – we’ve got isolation rooms built into all of our venue planning. So as soon as anybody tests positive, they would be taken there. I know there are still some considerations from an ICC perspective about possible Covid-19 replacements, from a playing regulations point of view, so that still needs to be agreed. But ultimately it would be [down to] the medics on site.
“There are discussions ongoing about having a specific Covid-19 replacement protocol for Test cricket – one-day cricket, you test and you’re clear in the morning, you play the game and you disappear. This is specifically for Test cricket, and we would hope that would be in place well before the Test series starts in July.”
Under government guidelines covering the return to competition for elite athletes in the UK, England players will at some point move to stage two, which allows training in “small clusters” without the requirement of social distancing. Whether one player testing positive for Covid-19 would therefore necessarily compromise everyone else within that group would be down to the assessment of the medics, said Elworthy.
“Depending on the person and when they are tested and what they test for, what the test shows, that assessment will be made at that time; depending on who they have engaged with, where they are, how long they’ve been in the match, testing all of the players around them. Then that occupational health officer, or the medic on site, will then be able to make that assessment for us.”
The ECB has been working on its proposals to create a “bio-secure environment” in which to play international cricket for many weeks now, in consultation with government. Elworthy gave details on a number of measures that would cover the 180-250 people likely to be allowed into the venue, including testing everyone on entry, regular thermal scanning, a cleansing and hygiene protocol, daily questionnaires and the use of PPE sourced privately, so as to avoid putting extra strain on the National Health Service.
The “two/three-venue model” is aimed at having two grounds for televised matches – understood to be Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl – and another base to allow a third team to train – likely to be Edgbaston. Each of the venues will be configured to encourage social distancing, along with the use of different zones to separate groups such as players and match officials from those not staying on site.
“Everybody will be tested, everybody will be screened,” Elworthy said. “But it’s to try and make sure that we keep people as far away from each other as possible.”
He described the ECB’s discussions with other boards as “incredibly positive”, ahead of official confirmation of the West Indies and Pakistan tours. Ireland are understood to be keen to fulfil their ODI fixtures, while talks have also been held with Cricket Australia, as well as the BCCI and CSA over potential women’s series.
Elworthy also suggested that the ECB was looking into allowing players and other personnel to move in and out of the bubble around match venues – referred to as the “bridge to the outside”. With Joe Root, England’s Test captain, expecting the birth of his second child in July, the ECB has a delicate issue to manage, and this remains another area in which there is still work to be done.
“All the different elements of where a person is going, which household they are moving into, and when they’ll come back into the bubble – that protocol, of moving in and out through the bridge, is currently being worked up with the doctors,” Elworthy said.
“Clearly the issue is, 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 where people are going to need to leave. So we will make sure that the protocols around leaving the bubble and coming back are in the shortest period of time, and the most safe and secure way possible.”
West Indies batting form a ‘worry’, admits Estwick
Roddy Estwick, West Indies assistant coach, has admitted he is slightly troubled by the top-order’s form ahead of the Test series against England but insists there is no concern over captain Jason Holder‘s form.
While many have made scores of substance in the two intra-squad matches at Emirates Old Trafford in the last couple of weeks, there was some alarm when their frontline batsmen capitulated to the first-choice bowlers on Wednesday.
A top-five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope and Roston Chase subsided to 9 for 3 and 49 for 5 in their final competitive innings before next week’s first Test at the Ageas Bowl.
“I would have loved to see the batsmen spend a little bit more time in the middle,” Estwick told the PA news agency. “That would be one of the biggest worries, that none of the batsman in the Test squad got a score in this innings.
“In the first game players got scores so it’s not a major concern but I would love to see a couple getting scores in this match. They’ve still got a little bit more time.
“In England you’ve got to get used to leaving the ball, especially early on. The ball’s obviously going to nip around so you’ve got to be able to know where your off stump is, know what to leave and what to play at. We’re obviously going down to a different surface at Southampton, we’ve got to assess that surface as quickly as possible and hit the ground running.”
Holder’s woes with the bat continued on Thursday after his move to open the innings backfired when he was dismissed for 2 off 15 balls, leaving one from Anderson Phillip that nipped back in and clipped his off bail.
That means he has scored just seven runs and faced fewer than 30 deliveries in three innings while he has bowled only five overs across the internal matches after an ankle niggle. Estwick, though, believes Holder, No. 1 in the ICC Test allrounder rankings, will not be undercooked at Southampton.
“Anybody that knows Jason Holder well wouldn’t be worried. He is a strong and tough competitor and he’s mentally very, very strong as well. Jason knows how to prepare for Test match cricket, he’s been the number one allrounder for a number of years so he’ll be ready come July 8, no worries at all.”
Joshua Da Silva was the star performer with the bat for the Holder XI in the drawn four-day contest against a side led by Brathwaite, the 22-year-old following up his unbeaten first-innings century with 56 not out in the second dig as he amassed 189 runs without dismissal.
It will not be enough to be catapulted into the Test squad from the reserves but Estwick has been impressed by the youngster. “He played very well in the game and I’m sure that his time will come,” Estwick said.
Estwick had been leading the side this week as head coach Phil Simmons was self-isolating in his hotel room after recently attending his father-in-law’s funeral. Simmons was back presiding over the warm-ups on Thursday morning after testing negative for coronavirus for a third time, allowing him to link up with the rest of the touring party.
Estwick added: “We’ve missed him, obviously. But he’s back now with us and everything is good to go. It wasn’t a disruption because it happened in the game. You tend to miss more hands on deck in practice but if there’s a game going on, you’ve only got to monitor preparation and the odd person going into the nets.
“But as our leader, we’re happy to have him back and it’s very important that he’s back for us because now we can sit down, plan and prepare. We’ve been here now for three weeks so it’s all about good, solid planning and letting the players execute properly.”
Dom Bess leads as spinners turn up in force for England warm-up
It is hard to remember an occasion when England have gone into their first Test of the home summer with five different spinners all pitching a case for inclusion in the side, but these are unprecedented times.
England’s spin cadre have worked closely with Richard Dawson in the nets over the past week, and all have had the opportunity to bowl in this week’s intra-squad warm-up match.
Amar Virdi looks the least likely to play at the Ageas Bowl next week, having been parachuted into Team Buttler at the last minute when Sam Curran went down with a suspected diarrhoea and vomiting bug, while Matt Parkinson‘s relative inexperience may count against him, despite him luring Ben Stokes into a false shot on the stroke of tea on Thursday to have him stumped.
That leaves Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach: all three of them fingerspinners, with similar batting returns in recent years despite Moeen’s greater pedigree. All three have strong claims to the role, but it appeared instructive that it took 68 overs for Moeen to be brought into the attack on the first afternoon. When he did come on, newcomer Dan Lawrence found it easy to knock him about, and a 27-ball 5 on the second day did little to further his case.
Seemingly, then, England have a choice next week between Leach and Bess, the Somerset team-mates: the former was first-choice going into the winter before his various illnesses, while the latter took his unlikely opportunity with both hands in South Africa.
In this warm-up match, it has been Bess who has impressed more. Leach went wicketless across 15 first-innings overs while Bess took two in his 20 on Thursday; Leach also conceded 3.8 runs per over compared to Bess’ 3.0, and bowled one maiden compared to Bess’ six.
But the make-up of the West Indies batting line-up poses an interesting conundrum, given that there are 13 right-handers and only two left-handers in their 15-man squad. One of those lefties, Raymon Reifer, looks unlikely to play the first Test, while John Campbell is an opening batsman, whom England will hope to dismiss before the spinners come on.
It may be a simplification to look at fingerspinners only through the lens of whether they turn the ball into or away from a batsman, but raw statistics help illustrate the point. Across the last five English Test summers, offspinners average significantly more bowling to right-handers (37.58) than left (28.38), while the disparity is only slightly smaller among slow left-armers (36.42 to left-handers, 30.87 to right-handers).
What’s more, the players in West Indies’ middle order that a spinner may well be relied upon to dismiss have substantially better records against offspinners than slow left-armers, in particular the engine room of Jason Holder, Shai Hope and Shane Dowrich.
Bess played the issue down in his close-of-play press conference on Thursday evening, saying that he was comfortable bowling to whoever he needed to. He cited Moeen’s five-wicket haul at the Ageas Bowl against India in 2018 as evidence that it would not be a major issue – though with left-armer Curran self-isolating, it seems unlikely that there will be as many footholes created outside the right-handers’ off stump this time around.
“It’s funny, you talk about right-handers and left-handers, but a good offspinner or a good spinner is going to take wickets no matter what,” Bess said. “You’ve got to be threatening on the inside or the outside edge.
“I know a couple of years ago at Hampshire, there were big footholes and Mo took a five-for down here with footholes to the right-handers, and I don’t see any difference. If you’re bowling well, you’ve got footholes there, you’re going to be challenging to a right-hander, let alone a left-hander. West Indies have obviously only got one leftie – I wouldn’t mind a couple more lefties, but I’m very happy bowling at right-handers as well.”
While Joe Denly, Ollie Pope and Lawrence had managed to milk Leach easily enough on the first day, Bess proved effective against right-handers on the second, tieing down Zak Crawley (who scored 9 off 17 balls against him) and Ben Foakes (8 off 32) in particular. In fact, most of the damage to his figures was done by left-handers in the shape of Stokes and his rival Leach, both of whom hit him for a pair of boundaries.
“It was a really good challenge today, bowling against Stokesy,” Bess said. “I thought I genuinely did him on one of them, and he just somehow on the up hit it over extra cover for six. I was just thinking: this is why he’s probably one of the best in the world – [he was] absolutely nowhere near it and he still middled it for six.
“After such a long time off and doing so much this winter on it, I was a little bit nervous coming back into it. So I really wanted to make sure I nailed down those fundamentals and actually put myself in the best situation. But I’m really happy with how it’s coming out at the moment.”
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And regardless who England choose, it demonstrates a level of spin depth that has not been seen for several years that there is even a debate around the spot. “It would be quite an achievement [to be selected],” Bess said, “so with that it brings a lot of responsibility to make sure that actually I’m still bowling the best I can. I want to push for that spot and make it my own. That’s normal, because if you’re in our position, you want to be making that first XI, and we’ve got amazing competition.”
To add one final flavour to the situation, counties have begun to declare their interest in Bess in a development that could end the impasse that has come about at Somerset, where Leach is the first-choice spinner.
But Bess insisted that there was “no spitefulness or anything like that” among the spin group. “We help each other, we’re looking to improve each other,” he said. “It’s really nice to see Mo again and learn off him. We’ve got Parky as well who I’m really close with, Leachy I’m really close with, [and] Virds I’ve been on a lot of tours with. For that whole group, it’s great for us to intertwine with each other, chat about spin, and be back with a group of lads playing cricket.”
Recent Match Report – WI Holder XI vs WI Brathwaite XI Tour Match 2020
Holder XI 272 (Da Silva 133*) and 171 for 4 (Da Silva 56*) drew with Brathwaite XI 178 (Mayers 74*, Gabriel 4-42)
West Indies captain Jason Holder underwhelmed with the bat once more as head coach Phil Simmons officially rejoined the team after his latest negative coronavirus test on the final day of their drawn intra-squad match.
In a bid to get some time in the middle, Holder promoted himself to open the batting for the side he was leading against a Kraigg Brathwaite XI but the move backfired as he made just two off 15 deliveries.
Holder’s cheap dismissal means he has made just seven runs and faced fewer than 30 balls in three innings across these two intra-squad matches ahead of the start of next week’s first Test against England at the Ageas Bowl.
There was better news as Simmons rejoined the camp, having been self-isolating in his room at the team’s on-site hotel at Emirates Old Trafford after leaving the bubble to attend his father-in-law’s funeral.
He has watched the majority of this rain-interrupted four-day game from his balcony but he presided over the warm-ups on Thursday after his third negative test for Covid-19.
Before play, the Windies marked the passing of the great Sir Everton Weekes, who died on Wednesday aged 95, with a minute’s silence and wore black armbands when they took to the field under lights, which remained on all day.
Less than an hour of play was possible on the last morning because of overnight rain as the Brathwaite XI advanced their position from 112 for 7 to 178 all out, with Shannon Gabriel taking 4 for 42.
Gabriel will almost certainly be catapulted into the Test squad from the reserves list soon, and he ended the innings by disturbing the stumps of Chemar Holder, who broke his bat from the previous delivery.
Kyle Mayers counter-attacked his way to 74 not out from 56 balls but he ran out of partners, with Alzarri Joseph pinning Marquino Mindley in front from the third ball of the day and Kemar Roach bowling Keon Harding.
That gave the Holder XI a first-innings lead of 94, although at this stage getting under-cooked players middle practice seemed to take more of a priority than the result.
That was emphasised when Holder strode out alongside Shayne Moseley to commence the second innings. The allrounder survived a couple of tight lbw shouts off Phillip, who had his man with a peach of a delivery. Holder shaped to leave but the ball swung back in at him and trimmed the off bail.
Holder did at least bowl five overs last night, showing no discomfort after a recent ankle niggle, but while he struggled with the bat again, Jermaine Blackwood belatedly found some form.
Hoping to earn a first Test start in nearly three years, Blackwood timed the ball nicely in his 43 from 48 balls, which was ended when he was bowled by Roston Chase’s first delivery of the match.
ALSO READ: Batsmen need to look in the mirror – Holder
Blackwood’s knock means most of the frontline batsmen currently in the Test squad have had at least one innings of substance across these two matches, and perhaps underlined the lack of urgency in a sleepy afternoon session.
That continued after tea as the spin of Chase and Rahkeem Cornwall operated at either end. Cornwall accounted for Nkrumah Bonner, who departed three short of 50 after misreading a straight one and edging to slip.
First-innings centurion Joshua Da Silva picked up where he left off, following up his unbeaten century with 56 not out as he took his tally in the match to 189 runs without dismissal.
It is unlikely to elevate him from the reserves but if there is an injury over the next few days, then he is well placed to be called up after helping his side to 170 for 4 and a lead of 264 when an early finish was agreed.
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