The ECB are considering testing all participants in their new competition, the Hundred, for Covid-19 every day throughout the tournament in order to minimise the impact of the virus on the tournament.
Coronavirus wreaked havoc in English cricket this week when the men’s national team had to replace a whole ODI squad and management to face Pakistan after recording seven positive tests following the series against Sri Lanka.
The ECB are alive to the threat the virus poses their new tournament, which has men’s and women’s arms, and are adapting their protocols.
The women’s tournament begins at the Kia Oval on 21 July, with the men following 24 hours later. The finals are at Lord’s on August 21.
This is problematic for the ECB, because the government’s rules around “close contacts” are not due to change (for those double-vaccinated) until August 16, meaning teams could be decimated if players test positive and have been in contact with their team-mates.
There is little wriggle room in terms of personnel in men’s or women’s cricket for the ECB if swathes of players were ruled out by contact tracing.
In the men’s game, further players could be called up from counties, but that would make the Royal London One-Day Cup – the only men’s domestic 50-over cricket – even more second string (which would enrage counties and their fans). Some counties, such as Surrey and Sussex, are missing more than 10 players to the Hundred already.
Cancelled fixtures because players are not available is unthinkable for the ECB, with every game broadcast on Sky and some on the BBC. The BBC are showing 10 men’s matches on their main TV channel but – oddly, given the tournament is aiming for gender parity – the majority of the women’s matches will only be streamed on iPlayer.
Under the ECB Covid-19 considerations, every player and staff member would take a lateral flow test each day throughout the tournament, which would allow them to identify any spread of the virus.
They are also considering a range of measures to reduce the number of close contacts in a squad, such as laying on extra buses for teams as they travel around the country.
In terms of biosecurity, it is likely – but not certain – that the tournament will begin with players living in similar strength environments to those currently used by the England teams. With the tournament a travelling roadshow, it is difficult to be much more stringent.
The ECB will learn in the next week after a government announcement on Monday, and conversations with the eight local authorities in the host cities, how big their crowds can be.
Covid-19 has already caused huge problems for the ECB in organising the tournament, with a raft of overseas players in the men’s and women’s game withdrawing due to logistical difficulties caused by the global pandemic.
The ECB will also reveal the playing conditions for the tournament next week, including how they plan to keep the pace of play swift.
Over rates are a problem across all formats, especially in the men’s game, and the Hundred is determined to have its matches completed in three hours. Recent trial matches are reported to have over-run, concerning broadcasters.
Its is understood that the ECB plan to punish fielding captains on-field if the game is not moving quickly enough. If the bowling side has not begun its final five deliveries of the 100, 65 minutes after the innings begins, the captain will have to bring an extra fielder into the 30-yard circle for all remaining balls. This would allow batters to take more risks at the end of the innings.
While this is a solution that may pass the ECB’s cherished new audience by, it does seem a practical way of keeping cricketers on their toes. It has been part of the playing conditions for the Vitality Blast since the start of the 2020 competition.