Jun 9, 2020
Nagraj GollapudiNews editor, ESPNcricinfo
- Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
Cricket West Indies president Ricky Skerritt believes West Indies are not taking any “bigger risk” than England by agreeing to play the three-match Test series scheduled to start on July 8. It will be the first time international cricket will be played in a bio-secure environment and, according to Skerritt, it will be a “cricket challenge” rather than a health-related challenge.
Skerritt spoke to ESPNcricinfo hours before Jason Holder’s Test squad departed for the England tour.
How significant is this tour?
I am pretty confident the players and management understand the historic aspect of this tour. They understand it’s a great opportunity for them to play some good cricket in an environment [playing in England] that several of them are not very familiar with. It is also giving players the opportunity to grow their game. I tend to look at these things from a cricket-first perspective, and when all is said and done, this tour will be about good cricket and about defending the Wisden Trophy, which we won in 2019.
The world of cricket will be happy to see cricket restarting, but not at all costs. Covid-19 risk had to be addressed and we are confident that the key elements and protocols have been put in place. This is about two cricket boards doing the best they can to get international cricket happening. Is this of financial value to England? Everybody says it is, and I’m sure it must be. For Cricket West Indies it is of cricket value and reputational value.
Are West Indies taking a bigger risk by travelling to England?
I don’t think we are taking a bigger risk. The way international cricket commerce is currently structured, we have much less to gain [financially] than England has, but the players [from both teams] will face the same risks. The English players and management are not going to be in a better position than we are under the protocols that have been set up. That is one thing which I made very, very clear as well – that those protocols must apply to all. We have been assured of that by highly qualified medical officials.
It is also an opportunity for our major sponsor Sandals to get their brand exposed to the English market. But that’s not why we are going to England. We are going because we are convinced it is going to be safe to do so and because we are committed to make the future tours arrangements work, if possible.
Look, just waking up every day is a risk. But the medical people on both sides of the Atlantic – in the UK and the Caribbean – have been engaged in several conferences on risks specific to Covid-19. We were assured that the risk would be minimal, and I believed it could be done. If not we wouldn’t be doing it. It does merit concern, but all of the concerns have been addressed.
“These are young, healthy cricketers. The normal risk with Covid-19 for that category is already relatively low. If you start from that point and then take the risk downwards, you will understand why we got the final approval.”
As the CWI president, what was the one thing you needed assurance of?
We had to have secure and safe travel unencumbered by other non-cricket participants, so the travel arrangements are by private charters. I thought the highest risk was going to be in the travel segments. Once they get into the protected bubble that’s been created, I’ve been assured the squad would be very, very safe.
The key thing for me was our medical people saying, “Yes, it’s a go.” Once the medical people said that the risk was no greater than the normal risk living here in the Caribbean and that the environment that was being put together for our squad in the UK was safe… They assured me they had looked at it from all angles.
These are young, healthy, enthusiastic cricketers. The normal risk with Covid-19 for that category of individuals is already relatively low. If you start from that point and then take the risk downwards everywhere you can, you will understand why we got to the final point of agreement and approval.
The other thing, which was actually one of the first things that the CEO [Johnny Grave] and myself discussed was, in no way any player be arm-twisted into participating and in no way any player be punished for deciding not to go. I was manager of West Indies 18 years ago when there was a civil war in Sri Lanka. And there was a similar situation of assessing risk, but we went on the tour.
West Indies cricket is about playing exciting cricket and entertaining fans all over the world. Obviously, safety and security are two pertinent and relevant ongoing issues that always need to be dealt with scientifically, pragmatically and thoroughly, and we think we have done so in this case.
And hence it was easy for you to convince the CWI board?
The board discussed it thoroughly and agreed that we should go ahead. This was not a Ricky Skerritt decision. This was a Cricket West Indies decision based on the best possible advice and inputs that we could muster.
Have you addressed the squad?
I addressed the 36 players and management who participated in a group call last week on Monday [before the final squad of 25 including reserves was picked]. I basically confirmed to them that the CWI board had only approved the tour once we had received the recommendations from the key medical people. I assured them that if we had felt in any way at all that there was a higher risk than reasonable, we would not have agreed. We saw this tour as a commitment because of the ICC Future Tours Programme and the World Test Championships that is ongoing.
I encouraged all of the players to use this as an opportunity to grow their own game and to do what they do best: play positive and exciting cricket. Although the world of cricket is changing dramatically and they are facing an uncertain future because of Covid-19, I congratulated them for being part of history.
This is an unprecedented tour in that it would be played in a bio-secure environment. Due to the many unknowns, the mental aspect for players becomes very important. What are the measures being taken to keep the players positive in this bubble that they will be in for seven weeks?
We have put together a management team made up mostly of the best West Indian professionals available to us. It includes a medical doctor accompanying the team, Dr Praimanand Singh, who is from Jamaica and has been on the frontline dealing with Covid-19. He also has a significant sports medicine background, having worked with cricketers for at least the last 20 years. We also have a mental coach in Donald La Guerre along with two physios and two massage therapists.
So the management team has been beefed up to be the largest that it has ever been with a West Indies team. And it is not about size, it is about making sure that the players can get the kind of personal, physical, medical and emotional attention they may need. Also, the ECB has assured us that there will be a significant line-up of key medical people available if need be. We are confident that once the players get into the bio-secure environment and develop a sustainable preparation routine, the focus will be more and more on cricket.
Do you reckon this tour is a good opportunity for West Indies to do something special?
Exactly. West Indies are defending champions of the Wisden Trophy. Players who are now travelling to England, for no doing of theirs and for no fault of theirs, will find themselves in the middle of history. To me, the psychological concerns about Covid-19 will lessen as the players get settled in. Their bigger pressures would be related to playing their best cricket and getting to a point, within just three weeks to be precise, to be ready to put out their best efforts, having not played any competitive cricket for three months. That is not easy for any cricketer, much less a young cricketer without vast experience. So it will soon become more of a cricket challenge than a health-related challenge, in my opinion. But I know our squad will rise to it.