Closed-doors cricket: “a logistical nightmare”

A detailed view of the square at Lord's Cricket Ground

Playing matches behind closed doors may not be a practical solution to solve the financial crisis facing county cricket as a result of the coronavirus.

Fixtures in front of empty stadiums has been suggested as one of the favoured options to avoid a summer without domestic cricket.

But in an exclusive interview with The CC, a leading figure at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) outlines just how challenging and potentially expensive, closed-door fixtures across all formats might be.

With player safety at the forefront of any plan, the list of necessary precautions counties would have to implement may render the option impossible.

“You want to prevent the increased likelihood of the virus being passed and because there are a lot of asymptomatic carriers, this is one of the major problems we have,” says Dr Alex Bowmer, a research fellow at LSHTM.

“To play any games behind closed doors you need to take any athletes, the coaching staff, the operations staff, the medical staff, everyone, including chefs and hotel staff, and isolate them together for two weeks.

“You need to minimise the risk of exposure to anyone who may have it or be an asymptomatic carrier. By keeping them together for two weeks you can see if someone develops symptoms. Or, if they are symptomatic, the likelihood of them still having it in two weeks’ time is further reduced.

“The problem is that you would need to ferry athletes from the hotel to the training ground, to the stadium. They can’t see their families, they can’t see their friends. Everyone lives together 24/7 and they can’t leave the premises because of the risk to their health and the health of everyone else they’re essentially locked down with.”

“It’s a logistical nightmare. It’s not practical but money talks. It would be a hugely expensive exercise, particularly if you’re not making any money from the paying spectator and everything associated with that.”

That’s the process that would be recommended to play the opening match of any series of closed-door fixtures, but that’s only the start. In order for fixtures to continue in empty stadiums it would, Bowmer says, be necessary for all teams to follow the same protocol. Otherwise that two-week isolation process would have to kick-in again.

“As long as the exact same team did the exact same protocol rigorously then you could play matches sooner (rather than two weeks apart),” says Bowmer, who also works in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars. “But the problem is the travelling teams have to do in between.

“If county cricketers have to stay in a different hotel to the one they had previously stayed in, then every member of the staff who will be serving and interacting with them would also have to be in isolation for two weeks beforehand.

“It’s a logistical nightmare. It’s not practical but money talks. It would be a hugely expensive exercise, particularly if you’re not making any money from the paying spectator and everything associated with that.

“It’s understandable that people want to get the economy going and particularly the sport economy, but what you have to remember is that these athletes are people. We have to protect everyone’s health, not just theirs but the grounds-people’s, the operations staff. We have to make sure that everyone involved is safe and that’s why we need this increased testing and this isolation.

“It’s a complete minefield to direct yourself through.”

That said, it’s one that many involved in the game would throw their hands up and offer to do in an attempt to ensure that the summer doesn’t slip away without a single ball being bowled.

Either way, the prospect of cricket-starved fans actually being able to watch their heroes in action in 2020 seems remote.