The England and Wales Cricket Board and leading figures from the club game have angrily hit out at Boris Johnson's claim that tea breaks and changing room access are preventing the return of grass-roots cricket.
In comments described by the head of the club game as "totally bizarre" and "ill-informed", the Prime Minister on Friday backtracked on his previous statement that concerns a cricket ball is "a natural vector of disease" were behind the ban on club cricket.
Instead, Johnson told LBC: “The risk is not so much the ball - though that may be a factor - it’s the teas, it’s the changing rooms and so on. There are other factors involved which generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis.”
With clubs already stating they will not take tea and do not intend to open changing rooms, Johnson's comments sparked a furious backlash from the sport.
“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,” said an ECB spokesperson. “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."
Simon Prodger, the managing director of the National Cricket Conference, the voice of the club game, also criticised the Prime Minister.
“The issues that he raises have been covered in the discussions between the ECB and DCMS a long time ago,” Prodger said. “These kind of issues were covered off a couple months ago. There's no one in the recreational game that I'm aware of that hasn't acknowledged already that traditional cricket teas are not going to be possible this year.
"It's totally bizarre. We do wonder whether he's taken any reference from DCMS about the discussions and negotiations that they're having with the ECB.
“I don't know whether he's ill-informed, or whether he hasn't taken any advice or whether he's been briefed, I don't know. But I do know, with the government ministry that the ECB has to work with these issues would have formed very much of the general negotiations and general discussions about getting the game back on.
“I just don't know why the Prime Minister isn't aware of that. If he's offering comments on cricket and why cricket can or can't be played, you'd like to think that he is referring to his ministry that's responsible for this. And all I can say is that I know unequivocally that these issues have been covered in the discussions between the ECB and the DCMS. And the whole game is ready to play without cricket teas being involved, and without changing rooms being involved.”
Telegraph Sport has led the campaign for club cricket to resume, and with Johnson making his comments the day before pubs and shops reopen, Prodger reiterated that with appropriate hygiene measures in place, “there are no barriers whatsoever to getting the game back on.”
“I don't understand what the hang-up is on the one team sport that has probably got the most natural social distancing in it, and comes at a low risk - on the premise that there is no such thing as zero risk,” he said.
“It is a question of looking at cricket in the context of the opening up of society and community. We're opening pubs and other indoor environments, why the hell can we not be playing cricket right here, right now?
“The whole game is getting deeply frustrated and getting very worried now about the impasse,” Prodger added.
“There could be young people that haven't been able to play cricket this season that just won't bother anymore. They'll find other distractions.
“It’s the same with adults as well - if they don’t get to play then you do risk losing people to the game.”
Clubs in England had originally been targeting a return to play this weekend after epidemiologists said the risk of Covid-19 transmission was minimal, but while the game in the UK is on pause, Netherlands will on Saturday become the latest country to allow the sport to resume. It can already be played in countries including Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Cyprus.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that the trust which has been placed in a number of sectors throughout the economy isn’t being replicated for recreational cricket clubs,” said Sam Burge, the chairman of East Molesey Cricket Club.
“The thought of us being able to visit pubs and travel on airplanes but not play a game of cricket will be puzzling and very frustrating to our members and the wider cricketing community.”