Cricket faces another summer of logistical headaches after India was placed on the so-called “red list” for travel to the UK – a decision which could have knock-on effects for England’s international fixtures and the World Test Championship final.
Elite sportspeople and support staff have an exemption that allows them to travel to the UK from an otherwise banned red-list country. However, this still requires a 10-day stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel upon arrival, with no special dispensation to leave for training or to compete.
Both the England and Wales Cricket Board and International Cricket Council have been braced for the possibility of India being added to the red list – something confirmed on Monday – with the country experiencing a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has seen it record more than 200,000 cases daily since Thursday 15 April.
The question now is how this affects the England and New Zealand cricketers who are currently at the Indian Premier League and intend to fly in for the two-match Test series that starts at Lord’s on 2 June, as well as India’s arrival for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in Southampton later that month.
Steve Elworthy, the ECB director of events who led last year’s “biosecure” summer, is currently liaising with the UK government on the matter, with an ICC source saying the inaugural World Test Championship final could potentially receive an exemption as an “event of national significance” that would allow some flexibility over logistics.
Chiefly this would mean the Rose Bowl and its on-site hotel being cleared for red list arrivals by reverting to the full biosecure setup that enabled it to successfully stage international fixtures last season, along with Old Trafford and Derby.
The ECB’s track record here – no positive cases recorded in any of those 2020 bubbles – certainly helps its case, and the Rose Bowl was chosen ahead of Lord’s as the host venue for the showpiece match in the event of a contingency plan being required. However, the England v New Zealand Test series that comes first at Lord’s and then Edgbaston – where teams will stay in hotels off-site – could well lead to players on both sides being ruled out unless additional exemptions are granted.
Elite sportspeople travelling from countries not on the red list can undergo their 10-day isolation anywhere and train or compete off-site during this time. Those from red list countries must stay in a government-approved hotel at a cost of £1,750 per person and cannot leave, with PCR tests on day two and day eight. Test and release, the fast-track scheme for overseas arrivals, does not apply here either.
England were already planning to be without those players who reach the IPL knockout stages but with the group stage ending on 23 May – 10 days before the first Test – India being on the red list could rule out Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran and Moeen Ali either way.
The bulk of New Zealand’s 20-man squad will be travelling from their home country – neither on the red list or expected to be – but their captain, Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Mitchell Santner are similarly at the IPL and so could face an initial 10-day hotel isolation away from their teammates.
An ECB spokesperson told the Guardian: “We are currently discussing with Government the impact of countries being on the ‘red list’. By working collaboratively, we demonstrated how we can stage international cricket safely in the middle of a pandemic and hope to be able to do so again this year.”
India’s smooth arrival may well hinge on the Rose Bowl’s status – an ICC spokesperson has said the global governing body is “monitoring the situation” – but further arrangements would then need to be made for when Virat Kohli’s players return in July before the five-Test series against England that starts the following month.
The India women’s team is also due in the UK for a multi-format series against Heather Knight’s side that begins on 16 June. Pakistan, already on the red list, are also sending over their men’s team for six white-ball matches against England in July.
An ICC spokesperson said: “We are currently discussing with the UK Government the impact of countries being on the ‘red list’. The ECB and other Members have demonstrated how we can stage international cricket safely in the middle of a pandemic and we are confident that we can continue to do that and that the World Test Championship Final will go ahead as planned in June in the UK.”