Covid-19 substitute is the “new normal” as cricket moves into the most challenging phase that has confronted the game in a long time.
When announcing the ban on the use of saliva in May, the ICC cricket committee chairman Anil Kumble had termed it “only an interim measure” with expectations that things could return to “normal” once the viral outbreak was brought “under control.”
Accepting the need to embrace new playing conditions, the ICC, by deciding to allow a “Covid substitute” has indicated it is keen to get on with the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“In the current scenario, the players are to be tested before the matches and this Covid substitute is only applicable for Test matches. In an ODI, if a player plays with infection and is found to be showing symptoms, he is out for the match. Same applies in Tests too. A player with symptoms will be ruled out for the duration of the match. In a Test, the player may test negative before the match, pick up symptoms in a couple of days; could be common flu, fever, and in the process expose the others to infection. This Covid substitution would allow the team to carry on with the match,” Kumble told Sportstar.
“We have to accept the challenges that have come with the pandemic,” said Kumble. Earlier, the substitute was allotted for an external injury. For internal injury, the team had to be without a substitute for the same period of time the player would have been away. The penance time (for internal injury) for the same then became 30 overs. “We don’t want the game to suffer and the idea of Covid substitute is aimed at encouraging the matches to resume in these extraordinary times,” Kumble added.
Administrators worldwide have shown great urge to resume cricket activities with the West Indies already in England to play a Test series. Covid substitution is, according to Kumble, “an idea to eliminate the infected person from the remaining part of the game. The medical team would confirm the infection.”
Would it not be a risk? The ICC is aware of the risk factor but as Kumble explained, “we are trying to create an environ in reducing the risk. We were told by the medical team (of ICC) that saliva was an easy way of carrying the virus. We considered the protocols followed by various countries. The protocols would be different in different countries. But we have to ensure the risk is minimum. There would be protocols to be followed in the dressing room and on the field. We will try whatever is possible. The ICC can give guidelines. It is for the teams to follow them.”
Kumble emphasised the move to ban saliva was driven by medical advice. Other measures, like home umpires for international matches, have been brought in keeping the “safety factor” in mind. “We don’t want the umpires to risk flying across the world. Since some of them would be short of experience, we have allowed an extra DRS. The objective is to ensure cricket is played. We don’t know what other risks could be confronting resumption of matches but we shall deal with them as they come.”
On the impact of saliva being banned, Kumble observed, “Maybe in future we might be told that saliva is not risky but the idea of the applicator to maintain the shine of the ball is not good. We would be better off playing without using saliva. Cricket is a game of uncertainties and we have to make adjustments. Uncertainties in the past have come from the weather, the pitch, the bounce, the field placements. We can look at making changes to the pitches. They can be bowler-friendly. We have to look at things practically as cricket resumes.”
Insisting that these were interim measures aimed at resumption of matches, Kumble noted, “We shall know soon how difficult would these measures be to maintain. There could be challenges from the fielding positions, say, wicketkeeper in close positions, close-in fielders. The authorities will be taking the call with umpires and match referees responsible for what happens on the field. Like disinfecting the ball. We don’t want to dictate.”
There are going to be challenges. In case of a big number of players showing Covid symptoms, the match obviously would have to be called off. “Players’ safety is paramount,” said Kumble. “We are taking the precautions. Players are staying in a bubble and not exposing themselves to these risks because they are also keen to resume competitive activities. We expect them to follow the protocols strictly. We are hoping they strictly adhere to the guidelines from the medical team. ”
As Kumble observed, “Only when we play shall we discover the new normals. These instructions are not written in stone and we know we would have to be flexible. We have to get the game going. The players have to be responsible and embrace the changes, have to adjust. There would be a different element of skill arising out of the new challenges. We would take the call as the challenges emerge but the criteria for the game to resume are safety and health of the players. There would be medical experts guiding us. I know cricket is going to be different. Not just cricket, general life is going to be different. We can only hope for things to come back to normal even if it may be new normal. Let cricket begin at least.”
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