CA considering disinfecting the ball to adapt to Covid-19 risks

May 20, 2020

  • Andrew McGlashanDeputy editor, ESPNcricinfo

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      Deputy Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England’s batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

Disinfecting cricket balls during a match could be part of the future as the game looks to adapt to the risks posed by Covid-19. Maintenance of the ball has become one of the key topics as the sport tries to map a way back from its pandemic shutdown given shining has traditionally involved saliva which is deemed a significant risk of transmitting the virus.

Earlier this week the ICC cricket committee recommended a ban on using saliva at international level but said that sweat would be permitted as it was deemed lower risk.

Guidelines issued by the Australian government on a return for sport from community to elite level banned the use of saliva and sweat at training. Cricket Australia’s head of science and medicine Alex Kountouris said that it was a constantly evolving picture as more was learned about the virus, but the option of using disinfectant – which was done in Australian rugby league before the shutdown and will be considered in other football codes – is likely to be discussed.

“Disinfecting the ball is a consideration. [We] don’t know the impact on the ball as we haven’t tested it yet,” Kountouris said. “The ball being leather it’s harder to disinfect because it’s got little nooks and crevices so we don’t know how effective it’s going to be, we don’t know how infected the ball is going to get and we don’t know if it’s going to be allowed. It is an absolute consideration. Everything is on the table and everything is being considered.

“From an Australian cricket perspective, probably other countries are going to play before us so we’ve got a chance to work with the ICC and the other countries to see what they come up with and take whatever steps we need to for making sure there’s a lower risk.

“The sweat, saliva and the ball itself is only one risk factor. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff: hygiene, sanitising, physical distancing, not sharing equipment are going to be part of the overall risk. So we’re going to take our time and consider all those factors then work with the ICC to try to come up with whatever the final outcome is for elite cricket and community cricket.”

Professional cricketers in Australia will be returning to training over the next couple of weeks – the CA contracted players finished their annual leave on Monday – with guidelines in place to manage the risk factors although they will vary from state to state depending on the level of activity allowed as restrictions continue to be eased.

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The baseline is that equipment should not be shared – that is less of an issue at elite level – and that training should be done on a ‘get in, get out’ principle to minimise contact.

Kountouris acknowledged that some habits ingrained in players, such as licking their fingers then touching the ball, will be difficult to break.

“There’s going to be a steep learning curve and hopefully we’ve got time to practice some of that stuff but there are going to be mistakes at some point,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve worked out how we are going to deal with those mistakes, what the outcome will be. I imagine we are going to take a common sense approach and understand that people make mistakes and things are not going to be perfect. But if we can do most things right, most of the time, we are going to be okay.”

He added that Cricket Australia “was not even close” to considering when the national squads would be able to join up for any training camps – there are suggestions the men’s limited-overs tour of England could take place in September – and they will monitor the country’s response to easing of restrictions over the next couple of months. However, there is increasing confidence that if the current progress is continued then the season will be able to start as scheduled in September.

“We’re at the moment really happy with the fact that we can get back to training. So, a month or so ago, things looked bleak. The country has done really well,” Kountouris said. “From a sport perspective, there’s obviously a long way to go. If things don’t go wrong here, of course we are on track to gradually move through each of the different stages.

“It’s dependent on whether we are allowed to travel, domestically, and whether borders are open between countries and we don’t have an outbreak and a cluster. There’s a whole bunch of factors but certainly if everything goes well, we are on track and we’re quietly confident that things will go to plan and we’ll be ready at the start of the season.”