Cricket West Indies has outlined some of the strict protocols which will govern the proposed tour of England, stressing it would not have backed plans for the three-Test series unless it was totally convinced the novel measures could keep players and staff completely safe.
Speaking last weekend, CWI chief executive officer (CEO) Johnny Grave said both the regional governing body and the host England and Wales Cricket Board had gone to extreme lengths to develop and implement critical social distancing and sanitisation protocols for the seven-week tour, to mitigate against the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pointing to an increased touring party, a private charter to the United Kingdom, guaranteed “bio-secure” facilities, and the addition of a medical doctor to the touring party, Grave reiterated that the health and safety of players was the utmost priority and would not be compromised at any stage.
“The plan at the moment is to depart from Antigua where most of the LIAT aircraft are based at the moment so we have one charter that will come across from Kingston [with the Jamaican players] to Antigua and one aircraft will fly from here in Antigua down to Guyana and then work its way back up [with players from the southern Caribbean],” Grave told i95FM Sports host Andre Errol Baptiste that all 25 players and members of management would be tested for COVID-19 in the Caribbean before flying out.
“All of the players will immediately get on a transatlantic charter to the UK. It’s a private charter, the aircraft being completely remodelled with only 40 business class seats, with social distancing between each seat.
“It’s a big plane but only 40 seats so there will be plenty of room and very safe, and it will only be the players and team management that are accompanying them on that flight.”
He added: “Because we’ve got 25 players – and obviously we don’t want anything to happen medically – we’re travelling with an extra physiotherapist and extra massage therapist.
“There are two reasons to have an extra massage therapist and physio because they’re absolutely key especially for our fast bowlers in what will be three back-to-back Test matches.
“We’re also travelling with a doctor from the Caribbean as well so we’ll have a doctor/physician assigned to the team, full time dedicated to us. He will travel with the team and be with them all the time.”
Grave said the other reason for the including the extra physio and therapist was simply to provide backup personnel.
On arrival in the UK, the touring party will be transported in three to four separate coaches to Old Trafford in Manchester where they will then undergo quarantine in a hotel located at the storied cricket ground.
During that time, players will kick off their final preparations for the first Test which is scheduled for the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. The last two Tests have been carded for Old Trafford, subject to final approval.
“They will be the only team that’s there [at Old Trafford]. It will be completely private – private use for the West Indies team for three weeks,” the Englishman explained.
“We’re flying over with as many as 25 players so we’ll be able to play practice matches and train during which will be a two-week official quarantine, followed by another week of training before we head down to what we think will be the venue for first Test at Southampton.”
The tour had been scheduled for last month but became a casualty of the ongoing pandemic which has already forced the cessation of all cricket globally.
If it comes off, the series will the first set of international cricket played in nearly three months, and the first-ever “bio-secure” tour behind closed doors.
For its part, the UK has been particularly hard hit by the virus, with 276 000 recorded infections and just over 39 000 deaths.
But Grave said with the cases in the UK on a “sharp downward spiral”, CWI were convinced the tour could be success.
“We wouldn’t have contemplated this tour at all, we wouldn’t have taken any recommendation to our Board of Directors [last Thursday] unless our medical advisory committee made up of some very experienced doctors who poured over hundreds of pages of detailed plans [hadn’t thought it was safe],” he said.
“If this wasn’t safe, if we thought the players were going to be at any greater risk than they would be if they were staying at home in the Caribbean, then we wouldn’t have contemplated this tour.
“I think the cases in the UK seem to be on the sharp downward spiral so we hope that by the time the team get there the week after next, the situation in the UK is better and obviously throughout the tour it continues to improve.”
He continued: “But within this bio-secure environment, on these private charters, staying in a cricket ground where this is a hotel where no one else will be able to get in unless they’ve been tested, I think they players will be very, very safe.
“I’ve had assurances from very experienced doctors from within the UK and our whole medical panel here in the Caribbean.”