Covid-19, ICC new rules and challenge for cricketers
By Muhammad Hasnat Mughal
Islamabad (TP) July 28, 2020: Since when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it has upended all spheres of life including sport, which had come to a standstill, before sporting bodies resumed activities under strict SOPs.
The good news is that sports activities have also resumed in different parts of the world as English Premier League, LA Liga and other football leagues are now being played in close doors.
Cricket is no exception as it will also be played from its land of the birth as England will face West Indies by putting in place new rules for the game.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has issued a new set of rules which has stirred a curiosity within the cricket circle with some asking the question of its practicality and the overall impact on the game itself.
A ban on the use of saliva to shine the ball and the Covid-19 substitutes (replacement) in Test cricket is among the interim changes made in cricket regulations.
The ICC has also introduced a system of issuing two warnings per innings to players found violating the saliva ban. Any further violation will result in a 5-run penalty.
When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced that they will host the West Indies for a Test series in July, one of the main concerns raised by several players was ‘what if a player tests positive for the novel coronavirus?’ The ICC has come up with an answer: a like-for-like replacement like in line with the concussion replacement.
“Teams will be allowed to replace players displaying symptoms of Covid-19 during a Test match. In line with concussion replacements, the match referee will approve the nearest like-for-like replacement,” the ICC said in a statement.
Players and umpires — social distancing at all times
“Players and umpires should maintain social distancing on the cricket field and that includes no handing over of player items (cap, towels, sunglasses, jumpers) to the umpire or teammates. Consider adopting a process that will assist the bowler in managing his/her items. It may also encourage umpires to use gloves when handling the ball,” the ICC said.
Social distancing, the ICC said, would need to be followed even during training where players will need to keep a 1.5 metre (or what the government in the country recommends) distance between each other. Players have also been asked to come in training gear and told to use change rooms sparingly.
The ICC also said that “celebrations with body contact” along with sharing drinks or drink bottles, towels and equipment could “pose a risk” and hence should be “strongly discouraged”.
The ICC also reiterated the recommendation of the ICC Cricket Committee that no saliva should be applied on the ball. The committee had recommended earlier this week that only sweat should be applied to shine the ball and not saliva or any artificial substance. Despite cricket not being a contact sport, the ICC said there were “several risks”.
The ball, the ICC said, “is a potential transmission medium” and there had to be “rules” governing the “management” of the ball. “Provide players with clear guidance on the safe management of the ball. This will include regular hand sanitising when in contact with the ball; do not touch eyes, nose, and mouth after making contact with the ball; saliva should not be used on the ball.”
Some former cricketers have questioned the ICC’s set of rules terming it ‘impractical’ and ‘premature’.’
Legendary paceman Wasim Akram while talking to AFP said: “It will make bowlers robots, coming and bowling without swing. They would have to be patient and wait for the ball to age naturally. It’s a quizzical situation for me as I grew up using saliva to shine the ball and to swing it.”
He said: “I am all for precautions in these tough times, so bowlers have to wait for the ball to get old and rough for them to get a swing.”
Sweat alone was unlikely to generate swing as in some countries it was too cold,” Akram said adding that sweat is just something of an add-on, a top-up. Too much use of sweat will leave the cricket ball too wet.
Former Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan said: “Social distancing is very doable in an individual sport but very tough in a team sport like cricket and football. If you need a slip during the game, would you not employ it?
“If the team is going through a 14-day quarantine and is being tested for Covid-19, I am fine with that process. Now, after that, if we have more guidelines for the players during the game, then you are making things complicated. Then there is no point of a quarantine period,” he said.
Nasser Hussain, the former England captain-turned commentator, believes players will have to let go of their old habits and re-train their brains in the current scenario.
Subject to the government approval, cricket is set to resume next month when England hosts West Indies for a three-match Test series. The series will be played at two bio-secure venues in Southampton and Manchester behind closed doors.
Hussain believes that teams will have to create their own atmosphere while playing in front of empty stands but he reckons that letting go of shining the ball with saliva or indulging in celebrations like high-fives, hugs, all of which are banned due to the COVID-19 threat, will be difficult.