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‘Bio-bubble’ for Proteas vs India T20s in August

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It would be a sanitised cricket biosphere, with strict entry standards, testing would be conducted before anyone enters in the bubble and there would be limited movement in and out of it.

JOHANNESBURG – Cricket South Africa’s plans to get its sport rolling again includes the creation of a special “bio-bubble” where its principle money-maker – the men’s Proteas team – could play.

The organisation’s chief medical officer, Dr Shuaib Manjra said yesterday such a “bio bubble” could be set up at any time regardless of the SA government lockdown level (although it would still require government’s permission), and virtually anywhere. He highlighted Potchefstroom as an ideal location given the proximity of hotels, training facilities and the stadium.

SA cricket wasn’t as severely impacted by the national government’s lockdown regulations as was the case for rugby and football, with its international season having already been completed by the time the regulations were enforced.

Tours by the SA A team to the West Indies and the senior national team to Sri Lanka have already been postponed, as has the women’s national side’s series against Australia and the West Indies.

The next major assignment for the Proteas men’s team is a series against the West Indies –comprising of two Tests and five T20s – and CSA admitted yesterday they were looking at all aspects, even playing those matches in England, where the West Indies are scheduled to tour.

The big money spinner on the horizon for CSA is a three-match T20 series against India, scheduled for August, which the governing body’s acting chief executive Jacques Faul said had been negotiated earlier this year outside of the Future Tours Programme, ostensibly as a means to alleviate some of the financial pressure on the organisation.

Talks between CSA and the BCCI on Wednesday were positive, said Faul. “We were encouraged by their willingness to honour their agreement to play the three T20,” Faul said, adding that even if lockdown regulations meant India could not come to SA in August, the BCCI were happy for them to fulfil the commitment in 2021.

If the matches could go ahead in August – and that looks doubtful given the SA government’s modelling which shows a likely spike in Covid-19 infections around August/September – they could take place in a “bio-bubble”.

“It would be a sanitised cricket biosphere, with strict entry standards, testing would be conducted before anyone enters in the bubble and there would be limited movement in and out of it,” said Manjra. “It requires regular testing and we will create a cordoned sanitaire, where people wouldn’t be allowed to leave or come in unless strict criteria are met.”

While inside the “bubble”, everyone would still maintain the regular social distancing practices.

Potchefstroom, which has a hotel next door to Senwes Park, is an ideal venue said Manjra, with players able to walk just a few hundred metres to get to the ground.

The practical implications are big. Currently a 14-day quarantine period is required before and after travel, and having players and officials in quarantine for a total of 28 days, just so three matches can be played isn’t logistically sensible.

Hence in CSA’s case their talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board about possibly playing the West Indies matches in England. England’s bowlers returned to training yesterday, under strict regulations with an eye on conducting some part of the international season in that country starting in a few weeks times.

“We have engaged with the ECB, through (chairman) Tom Harrison and Steve Elworthy, about making sure we are following the correct protocols if the Proteas end up playing in a bio-secure environment,” said Faul.

Meanwhile, Faul said CSA’s Board agreed to cut the grant allocation to provincial affiliates for the next financial year by 14%, while stadium allocations will be cut by 33%.