Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, says he is committed to getting recreational cricket cleared for a resumption in time for “next weekend”, after backtracking from his latest comments doubting the safety of the sport in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Addressing the nation in the government’s daily briefing, Mr Johnson claimed that “the third umpire has been invoked” in the wake of his morning comments on LBC, in which he had played down his criticism of the cricket ball as a “natural vector of disease”, but instead claimed that “teas” and “changing rooms” were among the reasons why the game could not yet be considered safe to resume.
“Having been stumped on the radio this morning … I sought scientific advice,” the prime minister said. “We do want to work as fast as possible to get cricket back, and we will be publishing guidelines in the next few days, so that cricket can resume in time for next weekend”.
The U-turn will come as vindication for the ECB, which instigated a further meeting between Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, in the wake of Mr Johnson’s comments.
“We are delighted that the UK Government have given their permission for recreational cricket to return from next weekend,” the ECB said on Twitter. “We will shortly be publishing our approved guidelines to help clubs and players prepare for cricket’s return.
“The ECB believes that cricket is a non-contact sport, with very low risks of exposure, and that it can be played as safely as many other activities being currently permitted.
“The detailed submission we have shared with the Department For Digital, Culture, Media and Sport includes advice on how we can stage cricket safely and mitigate all potential risks.
“We believe this advice – allied with strict hygiene measures – means recreational cricket should be viewed as safe by the UK Government, which would be welcome news to our nation’s recreational cricketers.”
Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, went into further detail on the status of recreational cricket during the government briefing, saying that the principle concern was that it brought together more households than the maximum of six people who are currently permitted to socialise, even outdoors.
“It is perfectly possible to have cricket where people do keep their distance,” he added, “provided people don’t do things that are clearly not sensible, ranging from hugging the bowler if they’ve just bowled someone for a duck, to spitting on the ball.
“It should be possible to make the game itself really very safe as it is an outdoor sport at a distance. It’s not a contact sport in the sense that some of the high-risk outdoor sports are.
“There are, however, risks associated … the particular ones would be people going into a crowded space afterwards, for example in the pavilion, to have tea or a beer.
“The biggest risks are when lots of people from completely different households are brought together in close proximity indoors, and whether that’s in a pub or a cricket pavilion, that is a high risk activity.”
Under current regulations, socially-distanced training sessions are the only permissible form of cricket. The ECB recently announced the cancellation of a spate of national and age-group competitions in a bid to give clubs more leeway in what remains of the summer schedule. However, having been given the impression in their discussions with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that the recreational game could resume from July 4 – the same day that the government announced the reopening of bars and restaurants – the governing body remains unable to offer an exact start date.
Johnson’s morning comments had been met with bemusement across the recreational game – not least because the ECB wrote to clubs only this week stating that, in accordance with Step 4 of their guidance for cricket’s resumption, “no use of changing rooms” would be permitted, with players asked to arrive “ready to play”.
A tweet from Cricket Germany, where the recreational game has already resumed, added: “If this is the case then do what we and other European countries do; 1. no changing rooms, 2. no teas (everybody brings their own tea) #notrocketscience.”
In a bid to offset the massive financial impact of the pandemic to date, which has hit club subscriptions as well as existing overheads in pavilion and ground maintenance, the ECB made £20million available in grants and loans in April, with further assistance from Sport England and other local authority schemes.
Pakistan vs South Africa 1st Test
The Pakistan batsman looks back at his time in the wilderness and his road forward
Between 2009 and 2020, Pakistan have had as many as seven chief selectors. The common strand: none deemed Fawad Alam good enough to be picked for the national team despite his stellar domestic performances, season after season. During this 11-year hiatus from international cricket, Fawad made 26 first-class centuries and 33 half-centuries, amassing 7965 runs at 56.48.
As many as 40 caps were handed out, and Pakistan played 88 Tests in this period. But the reason why Fawad couldn’t get a look-in was because of perceptions about his technique. That he was vulnerable and that the presence of a packed middle order in Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq meant there was no opening.
He was eventually recalled after 11 years in August 2020, during the tour of England. Six months on, he’s now made a second hundred in the space of three Tests. On Wednesday, Fawad made a century in his home ground, and was asked later about this long wait. His answer exuded maturity of someone, who at 35, has made peace with how things have panned out.
“I’ve never blamed anyone,” he said. “I have always been saying that fate had this for me. That if it was in my destiny, then nobody could have taken it away from me. I was only focusing on doing well in whatever opportunities I get to the fullest, even if its domestic cricket.
“Cricket is our bread and butter and like they says in Allah’s home, there is delay but no denial. I don’t think about the 10 years going to waste. How can I say all the runs and records made in domestic cricket went in vain? I’ve got enough respect and I want to redeem myself in whatever time I’ve left in cricket. Maybe I may get more success than what I’ve earned, so I can’t complain and I’m happy about the success.”
Despite coming back after 11 years, Fawad was nearly dropped again despite the runs and records. He may have not made the New Zealand tour, but he somehow did. And he showed his steely resolve in making a gutsy hundred against some hostile fast bowling in the second Test in Mount Maunganui. This hundred against South Africa may have been all the more special, because it came at home, and also because he rescued the side from a precarious 33 for four.
“My two bad innings in England, I felt I could have been dropped for them but he (Misbah) didn’t loss his faith in me and kept on encouraging me,” Fawad said. “He knew the potential in me and gave me another chance in New Zealand, so this specific support from the coach, lifts you up and then that is the confidence you takes to the crease.
“When you are told that you are the one and you have to do it, then it gets easier. These little positive things from management can make a big difference and then you be able to focus on your game properly.”
Fawad played the anchor’s role, putting together key partnerships with Azhar Ali (94 off 228 balls), Mohammad Rizwan (55 off 113) and Faheem Ashraf (102 off 152) to overhaul South Africa’s 220 and give Pakistan hope of a sizeable lead and thereby a good chance of victory.”Its early to envisage the victory but we got us in a good situation,” he said. “We have a good chance if we managed to get 130-150 runs lead.”
As for the hundred, he felt “on top of the world.” And continued: “The runs I scored were needed for the team and it is really good that I was able to deliver. From 33 for four last evening, you can imagine what was on my mind all night. it was tough situation and team needed a partnership to bring stability. We wanted to go as deep as possible so that we idon’thave to score a lot of runs in the fourth innings.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent
India choose India A as warm-up opposition for England tour in 2021
The first practice game is due to begin on July 21 and the second on July 28. The first Test starts on August 4
India will warm up for their five-Test series in England this summer by playing two four-day fixtures against an India A side in July. Northamptonshire and Leicestershire were confirmed as hosts of the fixtures on Wednesday, with the first game due to begin on July 21 at Wantage Road and the second at Grace Road from July 28. The first Test starts on August 4 at Trent Bridge.
India A also have fixtures against Derbyshire and Essex pencilled in as part of their tour to England, as well as a four-day warm-up match against a ‘First-Class Counties Select XI’ at Grace Road from July 12, with the details of that fixtures unconfirmed. It is understood that an England Lions team could be picked to play in that game, though that would involve pulling players out of their County Championship commitments.
Tickets for the two India vs India A fixtures will go on sale in March. Leicestershire chair Mehmooda Duke said: “It will be a unique opportunity for cricket fans from across the region to see these global stars in action over four days in their final warm-up game before the Test series with England. We expect demand for tickets to be huge.”
India’s decision to play internal warm-up fixtures, rather than against county opposition, comes after Australia opted to do the same in their preparation for the 2019 Ashes, following a gradual decline in the status of tour matches over many years. While such fixtures were once a highlight of tours to England, in recent times, counties have tended to field weakened sides in order to keep players fit for competitive matches, which has resulted in touring teams growing sceptical as to whether they provide useful preparation.
On India’s most recent tour to England, in 2018, they had been due to play a four-day warm-up match against Essex at Chelmsford, possibly with first-class status, but instead opted to cut the fixture to three days and play it as a practice match in order to spend an extra day training at Edgbaston ahead of the first Test.
The other sides touring England next summer have all opted to schedule warm-up fixtures against the counties. New Zealand will play a four-day match against Somerset at Taunton starting on May 25, while Sri Lanka play 50-over and T20 warm-ups against Kent and Sussex respectively on June 18 and 20, and Pakistan are provisionally due to play Northamptonshire and Worcestershire on July 2 and 4.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98
Bangladesh news – Abdur Razzak to join BCB’s selection panel
He will join as a third selector and will join former captains Minhajul Abedin, the panel chief, and Habibul Bashar
The Bangladesh Cricket Board has named left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak as the third senior selector, to join former captains Minhajul Abedin, the panel chief, and Habibul Bashar. Razzak, who played 200 international matches between 2004 and 2018 and, at 38, continues to be an active cricketer, will have to retire from the game to take up the new job.
“My playing experience will certainly be valuable in this regard,” Razzak told ESPNcricinfo. “I used to play cricket, and now I have to help build the national team. I have been captaining in domestic cricket for a long time and I have often helped form teams. It has usually gone well. But the stakes are higher here, and the expectations are more. But still, I believe I can manage it.
“I am pretty sure I have to (retire). I haven’t mentioned it yet since I am awaiting the appointment letter but certainly when I join this new job, I have to quit (playing).”
Razzak was the first Bangladesh bowler to pick up 200 ODI wickets – he has 207 from 153 outings – and, despite not being a frontline batsman, is the holder of the record for the fastest half-century by a Bangladeshi in ODI cricket – 21 balls, joint with Mohammad Ashraful. He also made a comeback in the Test team against Sri Lanka in 2018 after a four-year break, which turned out to be his last international outing.
Over the years, he has been a domestic giant, with 137 first-class appearances. He has taken 634 wickets in them with 41 five-fors. He is also the first Bangladeshi bowler to bag 600 first-class wickets and has won nine domestic first-class titles with Khulna Division and South Zone.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
Pakistan vs South Africa 1st Test
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