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West Indies board approves UK tour in principle

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Cricket West Indies (CWI) has approved the scheduled tour of England in principle following a meeting via teleconference on Thursday. The Test series, part of the World Test Championship, was scheduled to start from June 4 but was pushed back because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The boards are now looking at an early July start, with the West Indies team arriving in June and isolating prior to the series which will be played behind closed doors.

The board’s formal approval comes days after CWI chief executive Johnny Graves told ESPNcricinfo that he was “increasingly confident” that the tour would take place. A CWI release said the decision was made after detailed discussions between its medical representatives and those of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), including plans around logistics and creating a bio-secure environment during the tour.

It now awaits approvals from the various national governments in the Caribbean region for player and staff movement – which will be through chartered planes – and that of the UK government itself. Players and staff will be screened regularly through the tour.

The decision follows weeks of discussions between the two boards, including a phase where CWI wasn’t as confident as they have been this past week, given the marked difference in Covid-19 cases between the two regions. But the ECB’s safety plans have made CWI confident.

“What has changed is the ECB have got more confident that they’ve got a robust and safe plan to deal with cricket in a biosecure environment behind closed doors,” Grave had said during the interview. “Our medical team are getting more confident and comfortable with those plans. Our players and support staff who we have met with [on conference calls] are beginning to understand what a seven-week tour behind closed doors might look like.”

Subject to a negative Covid-19 test result, the squad is expected to be chartered to Antigua from various parts of the Caribbean, following which they will fly together to the UK. Upon getting there, the team will spend three weeks in their quarantine and training facility.

“If someone tests positive at any stage in the tour they would be removed from the main squad and will be placed into isolation within the biosecure environment and will be treated by the team doctor along with the other on-site medical support staff. Should any player have more serious symptoms, they will be treated in hospital at pre-arranged facilities,” Grave said.

It is also expected that player replacement during a match, along the lines of a concussion substitute, will be mulled by the ICC Cricket Committee when it meets in June.



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Can Jay Shah attend BCCI Apex Council meet on July 17?

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Alka Rehani Bharadwaj, the representative of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG,) has asked the BCCI to “ensure” that only “eligible” office bearers attend the board’s Apex Council meeting on July 17. Although she has not spelt out any names, Bharadwaj’s letter puts a question mark over the participation of BCCI secretary Jay Shah, whose tenure has reportedly come to an end under the provisions of the current board constitution

In an email sent on July 4, Bharadwaj has asked BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and joint secretary Jayesh George to check the eligibility of all those attending the July 17 Apex Council meeting. Bharadwaj pointed out that any office bearer whose tenure (six years) is complete would need to provide legal backing to justify their participation.

“The President/ Joint Secretary BCCI (who would be presumably officiating as Secretary after vacation of Secretary BCCI post) need to also ensure that 4th Apex Council meeting is attended by only members, el(i)gible as per the Constitution,” Bharadwaj said in her email, accessed by ESPNcricnfo. “Any decision on this matter may please be backed by facts and endorsed legally. This is being reiterated only to ensure compliance with Honourable Supreme Court approved Constitution.”

Bharadwaj was responding to an email from Shah on July 3, where he had listed the agenda for the July 17 meeting, which would be held over video conference. There is expected to be a discussion on finalising India’s domestic and international calendars for the 2020-21 season and another on the tax exemption issue for the 2021 men’s T20 World Cup. The ICC had threatened to take the 2021 T20 World Cup away from India if the BCCI does not secure a tax exemption from the Indian government.

Along with Shah, Ganguly and George are due to finish six years as an office bearer soon. In April, the BCCI filed a second request with the Supreme Court, following the first one last December, asking it to consider a few radical amendments to the board’s constitution. Among them is a proposal to allow office bearers to continue for six years at one place (BCCI or state) which would ensure Ganguly, Shah and George remain in their posts until 2025, effectively bypassing the mandated cooling-off period.

The court, which is currently in recess, has not yet heard the matter.

Bharadwaj said that with five out of the nine members being office bearers, the Apex Council needed to be “reconstituted”. In fact, the Apex Council has been reduced to eight after Mahim Verma stepped down as BCCI vice-president recently. “In view of pending Honourable Supreme Court hearing on cooling-off period clause, the reconstitution of Apex council warranted due to ending/ coming to end of tenure of Vice President/Secretary/President BCCI needs to be kept as an Agenda item.”

The Apex Council is the second-most powerful wing of the BCCI after the general body and governs all cricket-related activity in India. The Lodha Committee had recommended the Apex Council replace the working committee, which comprised representatives from state associations who could be vulnerable to the power politics in the board. The presence of the CAG official in the Apex Council, the Lodha Committee had said, would provide transparency and accountability in the world’s richest cricket board.

Ganguly entered cricket administration at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) in 2014 as a joint secretary under the late Jagmohan Dalmiya. In 2015, he became the CAB president after Dalmiya’s death and was re-elected for a second term last September before taking charge at BCCI. At the time, Ganguly had said he had 10 months as BCCI president until July.

As far as Shah is concerned, it is not yet clear when his cooling-off period should begin. He was elected as joint secretary at Gujarat Cricket Association in September 2013. ESPNcricinfo has written to Shah twice in the last two months to check on when he would finish six years as an office bearer, but has got no response.

As for George, who was the secretary at Kerala Cricket Association, his six-year term as an office bearer is due to end in August.



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Ngidi says South Africa must take BLM stand like the rest of the world

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South Africa’s cricketers will discuss how they will join the Black Lives Matter movement when they have the opportunity to meet as a group according to Lungi Ngidi. The fast bowler, who was named Cricket South Africa’s T20 cricketer of the year on Saturday, indicated he would be in favour of supporting the anti-racism cause, especially given South Africa’s history of segregation.

“As a nation, we have a past that is very difficult, with racial discrimination, so it’s definitely something we will be addressing as a team and if we are not, it’s something I will bring up,” Ngidi said, at a virtual press engagement on Monday afternoon. “It’s something that we need to take very seriously and like the rest of the world is doing, make the stand.”

Issues of race are ever-present in South Africa, a country with a history of colonialism and Apartheid, and have been hot-button topics in sport since readmission in 1991. Prior to South Africa’s isolation in 1970, national sports teams were made up of white players only, effectively excluding people of colour from participating at the highest level. In the last 29 years, that has changed, but questions of representation remain. To date, only nine black Africans have played Test cricket for South Africa and Ngidi is the most recent. There remain concerns over the pace of transformation and especially the continued occupation of senior positions by white men.

The national team has been largely silent on race, apart from Temba Bavuma, who found himself at the centre of a storm mid-season, when he was dropped from the Test squad. South Africa’s then-Test captain Faf du Plessis said the team does not “see colour,” and that Bavuma, who had been through a lean patch, needed to force his way back into the team through “weight of runs”. Du Plessis suffered from poor form himself, which earned the wrath of Bavuma supporters, and then stood down as captain. Bavuma was back in the team by the end of the summer and spoke openly about the pressures that came with his skin colour.

For that reason, Ngidi asserted that the team is “well aware” of race dynamics but he explained that they have not had the opportunity to discuss recent events as a group. “I feel we are not together so it’s hard to discuss but once we get back to playing that is definitely something we have to address as a team,” he said.

That may not be for a while with South Africa’s calendar shrouded in uncertainty as they await the ICC’s decision on the T20 World Cup and the rescheduling of their two-Test, five-T20 trip to the Caribbean, which was due to get underway this month. West Indies are currently in England for three Tests ending on July 29 (and both teams will wear the Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts) so the earliest South Africa could hope to play against them could be in August. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic expected to peak in South Africa around the same time, and the players having only just returned to training, it is likely the visit will be delayed further.

A high-performance squad of 45 players was given the greenlight to resume training last week and are currently practicing in groups of no more than five players at their domestic franchise grounds. Next Saturday, 24 of them will play in an exhibition match featuring three teams in the same game, but Ngidi explained they have not had much time to connect, given the restrictions in place.

“We have to book sessions now so there are certain groups of guys that come in at a certain time and when they are done, another group comes in,” Ngidi said. “As the bowlers, we each have our net. We each have our balls. There is no touching and hardly any communication as well. Before going to gym, you have to let them know so they can sanitise the area before you come in and sanitise once you leave for the next group. There’s temperature checks at the gate, there’s hand sanitisers, we fill out forms, it’s a whole process before you can actually bowl a cricket ball. It’s very frustrating but also very necessary at this point.”

Much like England’s Mark Wood, who likened training to a “sci-fi movie,” Ngidi said the situation is taking some time to get used to, not least because he feels like he is playing a group sport, on his own. “It feels like some bio-hazard kind of event has happened. There’s no touching, you barely ever take your masks off other than when you are within a certain distance of people. We no longer go into the change rooms. You get changed in your car and you go straight to the field or straight to the indoor nets. We don’t gather in groups anymore and it feels weird since it’s a team sport. You’re playing by yourself but everyone is still there. It is very different.”

And for bowlers, it will stay different as they are no longer allowed to use saliva to shine the ball. Ngidi and the rest of the pack have yet to strategise how they will counter that, but he has a few ideas. “Once they said there’s no saliva, a few of the batsmen posted on the group that now they are going to be driving on the up so already we can see what type of mentality the batsmen are coming with so now we have to find a game plan to get the ball to swing. Probably a damp towel is the best thing but you’ve got to find something somehow, to shine it.”



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ECB confirms schedule for Pakistan, Ireland visits

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England have confirmed Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl as the venues for fixtures against Ireland and Pakistan this summer. Ireland will visit later this month for three ODIs, while Pakistan have already arrived in the country ahead of Test and T20I series.

The ECB has been working to salvage as much of its home international programme as possible after the Covid-19 shutdown, and said that discussions remained ongoing about the possibility of Australia touring, and a proposed women’s tri-series featuring England, India and South Africa.

Ireland had been due to play their series, part of the World Cup Super League, in September but agreed to move the games forward, with all three ODIs to be held behind closed doors in Southampton from July 30 to August 4.

The first Test against Pakistan will begin a day later in Manchester, with the teams then moving down to Southampton for the second and third matches at the Ageas Bowl, starting on August 13 and 21. They will return to Manchester for T20Is at Emirates Old Trafford on August 28, 30 and September 1.

“Confirmation of these matches against Ireland and Pakistan is another important step for our game as we begin to safely stage international cricket again, but also to minimise the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had, and will continue to have, on cricket at all levels,” ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said.

“It has taken significant effort and expertise to allow us to reach a position where cricket is now ready and able to return to the field of play from the elite level to recreational cricket.

“We owe a significant debt of gratitude to the players, staff and administrators of the Cricket West Indies, Cricket Ireland, and the Pakistan Cricket Board for their willingness and co-operation to get international cricket back up and running and allow these matches to be staged.

“Sports fans across the world will benefit as international cricket returns to our screens while it will also provide much-needed financial aid at all levels of cricket in England and Wales as we aim to withstand the challenges in front of us.

“It must be reiterated that there is still much work for the ECB and the cricket network to do as we try to plot a path through this pandemic. Chief amongst our priorities is to build on our commitment to support and grow women’s cricket and at the elite level discussions continue to progress to determine the best and safest way to host a tri-series against India and South Africa.

“We also continue to explore options for our England men to play white-ball series against Australia this summer and hope to have news on those series soon.”

The majority of Pakistan’s 29-man squad flew to the UK in late June, despite disruption caused by a number of positive Covid-19 tests. Ten players did not take the initial flight, but all but one have now returned the two negative tests required to participate in the tour.

Like West Indies and Pakistan, Ireland’s players are expected to given an ‘opt out’ by the selectors in case any have concerns about Covid-19 in the UK.



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