Eng vs WI: How Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford prepared for bio-secure Tests

The England-West Indies three-Test series, starting on July 8, will see many firsts — bio-secure venues, no fans, no saliva on the ball and more.

The Ageas Bowl in Southampton will host the first Test between England an the West Indies starting from July 8.   -  AP

Cricket is set to return amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is a coincidence that the baby steps to normalcy will begin in South East England in Southampton. Children living in the Weald that cuts through Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent are believed to be the early inventors of the sport in the 1600s.

If there is no further spike in coronavirus cases in the UK, the Ageas Bowl, Hampshire, will host the West Indies starting July 8 in the first of the three-match Test series. Old Trafford in Manchester, the home of Lancashire, will host the second and third Tests.

There will be a series of firsts in the first international cricket match since mid-March: bio-secure venues, no saliva on the ball, no fans. Even a crowd simulation idea, to build atmosphere, was discussed.

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‘Nobody goes home’

Hampshire, like most counties, is going through financial stress due to no sporting action and COVID’s wrath on the economy. Salaries have reduced since April and some players have been furloughed.

But the county is hopeful of turning the tide as TV rights of an international cricket match could help them recover. Hampshire and Lancashire earned the gig for their on-site hotel, Hilton, which ensures all stakeholders are spread out within the premises.

“The whole idea of a hotel on-site and a gated ground is bio-secure, so no one leaves the premises. The hotel staff will be serving the players, officials and the media. They will be tested regularly. There will be select few from the UK media and they will have to stay at the hotel for the duration of the match. Nobody goes home after the end of day’s play,” Giles White, Director of Cricket, Hampshire, told Sportstar.

There will be separate zones for players, officials and the broadcasters along with other operational staff.

England’s Barmy Army during a Test match. There is still no clarity on the concept of crowd simulation and a decision is likely to be taken closer to the date. “Joe Root is keen to have recordings of the Barmy Army playing in the background. I don’t know if he was being serious. I am sure TV will put something around for the atmosphere,” says Giles White, Director of Cricket, Hampshire.   -  Getty Images

 

The Caribbeans will arrive on July 4, three days prior to the Test. “They come down to the Ageas around July 4 ahead of the first Test. While they return to Old Trafford for the second and third Tests, the England white-ball side is going to be training at the Ageas from July 16 to prepare for the ODI series against Ireland, scheduled from July 30 [provisionally]. There will be two teams working between two different venues, training and preparing, and then playing,” he said.

There is still no clarity on the concept of crowd simulation. A decision is likely to be taken closer to the date. “Joe Root is keen to have recordings of the Barmy Army playing in the background. I don’t know if he was being serious. I am sure TV will put something around for the atmosphere.”

“I know they are playing football in Germany to empty stands. It seems a little eerie without any background noise. Even we can’t imagine an IPL without the crowd, how strange is that going to be,” said White, adding that the head groundsman, Simon Lee, is working throughout this period to prepare the wicket.

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White is pinning his hopes on the television coverage. “Lot of money comes through TV rights. Getting international cricket on TV is a big part of helping the game as a whole in this country. Every county will benefit from international cricket. It is good for us that we are also hosting a Test match. Hopefully, the hotel will also be full for the next three months,” said the former Hampshire batsman.

If things go as planned, Ageas will also host Pakistan and then Ireland for the ODIs. “At the end of the summer, we might be hosting Australia. There is a hell lot of cricket, potentially six Test matches and 12 One Day Internationals. There is a lot of dialogue with the government and medical team, it is a big operation. If things change, it remains to be seen if that has an effect on the staging of cricket.”

How the venues earned it

Biosecurity:

Venue perimeter, access and access control

Hotel accommodation (onsite or nearby)

Medical screening/testing provision:

Designated areas for isolation of anyone presenting symptoms

Car parking requirements (approx. 200)

Medical Screening and Testing sites (approx. 1500 m2)

Footprint to enable social distancing:

Extendable Players and Match Official areas

Extendable space for broadcast compounds, studios and written media

Venue/Cricket operations:

The number and suitability of TV pitches

Provision for warm-up matches

Indoor and outdoor practice facilities

Courtesy ECB

‘Cocoon’ arrangement at Old Trafford

When the West Indies arrived in the UK on June 9, it became the first touring cricket team during the pandemic. They headed to Old Trafford for quarantine and training while maintaining social distancing. The three-week stay, with strict guidelines, will hopefully toughen them for the series. The team will return to the ground for the remaining Tests. Even then, it is going to be only practice and no entertainment for the flamboyant Caribbeans.

“They will be here, they will be able to practice and use the cricket facilities but I am not sure what other entertainment we can provide. The West Indies will have a cocoon arrangement for a couple of weeks. Once that period is over, then they will have a small degree of freedom but I don’t think that will be huge,” confirmed Paul Allott, Director of Cricket, Lancashire.

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“We will host both the teams, England and the West Indies, at Hilton which means, the players and the officials, can be on site prior to the match and throughout,” said the former Test bowler.

Though behind closed doors, the officials at Lancashire and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will be restricting the number of people on site. “We have to make sure we restrict the number of people within the stadium, test each individual for COVID-19. Those tests will be done by the ECB and everybody who enters the site will be tested. We are working in conjunction with ECB to ensure all the zones [for teams, match officials, ground staff et al] are created appropriately,” said Allott.

Isolation rooms

There will be temperature checks and health questionnaires, which will be completed by medical professionals, and if anybody tests positive, they will be sent to isolation rooms.

“We are able to strictly monitor access and egress into the site, as well as restricted zones within the ‘bubble’ environment. We’re ensuring every aspect of the venue is as clean as possible before staff and players arrive and we will continue with regular, rigorous deep-cleaning measures throughout the period [of the Test] as well.

“For those needing access to the site, there will be stringent health checks in place, including COVID-19 testing, temperature checks and health questionnaires. We’re also delivering our food service with minimal staff to ensure we’re implementing this service in the safest manner possible,” said Steve Davies, Director of Operations at Emirates Old Trafford, Lancashire.

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“The health and safety of everyone on site is our No. 1 priority, so we have isolation rooms in place, alongside strict cleaning measures. This is also the case for our own staff and team because we want to make sure we’re delivering these matches to the highest possible standard,” he added.

To ensure social distancing at the hotel, the authorities have “separated the different areas of the hotel into designated zones for specific groups”.

A bus carrying members of the West Indies cricket team arrives at the Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester. “We’re ensuring every aspect of the venue is as clean as possible before staff and players arrive and we will continue with deep-cleaning measures throughout the period [of the Test] as well,” says Steve Davies, Director of Operations at the venue.   -  AFP

 

“There will also be only one person staying in a bedroom. In terms of catering, we have made the decision to split food service across multiple areas to ensure there is no overcrowding. As a hotel and venue, we benefit from contactless door access and digital room keys that you can access via your smartphone. We also have over 3,600 square metre of intelligent conference and events space, so we’re able to utilise every area for a different purpose,” said Davis.

The 150-bedroom Hilton also provides over 700 car-parking spaces.

“Our intelligent event suites and innovative bridge links are connecting the venues, so essentially you don’t even need to step outside. This has allowed us to prepare very thorough operational plans, all of which helps drive confidence and reassurance for guests when they are able to visit in what we hope will be the near future,” he said.

All will be well if Hampshire maintains a clean sheet. No player or official should test positive during or after the first Test.