West Indies will be the first touring cricket side amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic as it sets foot in the UK on June 9 to prepare for the three-Test series against England — subject to government clearance — in July.
Before the first Test, scheduled from July 8 at the Hampshire Bowl, the three-week stay at Manchester, Old Trafford — under strict quarantine guidelines — will be a challenge. It is going to be only practice and no entertainment for the flamboyant Caribbeans.
“They will be here, they will be able to practice and use the cricket facilities but I am not sure what other entertainment that we can provide. West Indies will have a cocoon arrangement for a couple of weeks. Once that period is over, then they will have a small degree of freedom but I don’t think that will be huge,” Paul Allott, Director of Cricket, Lancashire, told Sportstar on Thursday.
The Lancashire ground is being prepared as a bio-secure site as it will also host the second and third Tests. Having a hotel on site, Hilton Garden Inn, is an advantage. “We will host both the teams, England and West Indies, at Hilton which means, the players and the officials, can be on site prior to the match and throughout,” said the former Test bowler.
Though behind closed doors, the officials at Lancashire and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will be restricting the number of people on site. “We have to make sure we restrict the number of people within the stadium, test each individual for COVID-19. Those tests will be done by the ECB and everybody who enters the site will be tested. We are working in conjunction with ECB to ensure all the zones [for teams, match officials, ground staff et al] are created appropriately,” said Allott.
Red Rose in full bloom
The iconic Lord’s is the only cricket ground in the UK to host three Tests in one English summer. Cricket has rarely moved out of London but now, Manchester and Southampton [Hampshire] seem to be hot properties for the facilities in the times of the global pandemic.
On top of that, Lancashire had a record turnover of £34m and record net profit of £5m in 2019. “It is partly due to the cricket activities at the Emirates Old Trafford. There were World Cup matches, India and Pakistan being one of them, and also the Ashes Test. We have a flourishing hospitality, conference and events business along with a hotel. The success of last year, in a lot of ways, helped us survive the current crisis so far. If we hadn’t had such a good year, we would obviously end up in a much worse state. We are in a decent position to be able to carry on functioning as a multi-functional sports facility,” said Allott.
On the other hand, club cricket is likely to return to the UK as the lockdown eases over the coming weeks. The ECB may introduce shortened format games with restrictions on fielding positions to ensure social distancing.