Thirty England cricketers, their coaches and one or two of their bosses are exploring unknown territory. They have all been to the Ageas Bowl before but not in these circumstances, where they will move from training ground to hotel and back day after day – a distance of no more than 200 yards – and go nowhere else. They may, initially, be nervous about the next two months.
“Leaving home feels strange, and packing your bags again,” Ashley Giles, the ECB cricket director, said. “It is quite a weird feeling not to be so sure when you leave your front door.” He also pointed out staff and players should not think they are heading off to a holiday camp.
Giles anticipates the players understand the importance of keeping to the unusual constraints that now apply, which could soon become far more stringent than those in the outside world. “It will be down to all of us to police it,” he said.
“The players are all very aware of the seriousness of the situation. At some point we could have protocols within the bubble that are very, very different from those for the general population. It is just about removing as much risk as we can.
“We have been in constant dialogue with the players. There is a lot of detail and people will make mistakes – we all will. But for the sake of everyone and cricket we need to operate within these protocols. It will be weird. Anyone who thinks this is going to be a holiday camp is going to be seriously mistaken.
“There could be an opportunity for the guys to play golf on the course next door but apart from that and two sessions of cricket and some gym work there will still be social distancing, wearing of masks and probably spending a lot of time on your own. It’s not a lot of fun and I think it will be a bit of a culture shock”.
It seems England intend to trust the good sense of their players rather than outlining severe threats of what may happen if protocols are breached. For example, away from England’s bubble the pubs may soon be opening.
“We haven’t talked about banning them [from pubs] but we ask them to be sensible as they have been throughout this whole process over the last three months,” Giles said.
“If you come back into the environment and you haven’t been adhering to the guidelines then you put everyone else and the series at risk. Our main responsibility is to get this series on the road and keep everyone safe, especially the West Indies team who have done so much to come here.”
He recognises it will be hard to replicate the intensity of a normal Test series. “That’s going to be very challenging but it’s the same for both sides. It is not a perfect scenario but there is a bigger picture and that is the business of cricket around the world and in this country. It is important we get back to playing Test cricket.
“I also think the players are keen as mustard to get on with it now. There’s been some nervousness about the situation but they’re cricketers and they’re dying to get out there and play. I’m sure that when someone is trying to knock your head off at 85-90mph you’ll find a way to get your intensity up pretty quickly.”
Giles kept stressing that nothing is certain but remains hopeful about the Pakistan series and also the proposed visit of Australia to play some white-ball internationals in September. “We had a really good conference call with Australia last week. They’ve been one of our strongest partners for years and it continues that way. It would be great to have them here.
“Clearly if you were an Australian cricketer or member of staff looking on at the moment, there would be some nervousness. But we are doing everything we can to allay those fears. Again September is a long way away right now and a lot could change in that time. Are we confident they will come? Yes, quietly confident.”