Sri Lanka has proposed to host India in a six-match limited overs series in July end, and BCCI says the team is open to travel, if permitted by the government. It could mark the return to competition for Indian cricketers—it could even herald the return of international cricket, predating the only other cricket tour that’s being planned in these times, West Indies’ tour of England. Yet, there has been no word from BCCI about Team India cricketers returning to training. Unlike for Olympic sports, where the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has, in consultation with the various sports federations, submitted a detailed document outlining new protocols for resumption of training, BCCI has not approached the sports ministry with a plan.
Indian players have been confined at home since March 25. Training has been restricted to whatever they could manage with resources at home, which means no nets, and no field drills.
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“We will wait till the next directive comes from the government, on the nature of lockdown 4. If we reach out, an impression is created that we want cricket to resume, when health situation hasn’t improved,” a senior board official, who did not wish to be named, said. But, he said, there has been some talk internally in the BCCI about the need to draw up plans for resumption of cricket. One idea that’s currently being explored is to try and get a pool of cricketers together at a single training base in a “green zone”—which means a training center or a cricket ground in a district which has recorded no Covid-19 cases for at least three weeks.
The obvious choice for a training base would be the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru, but as the city is in a “red zone”, BCCI will have to take a call on that in consultation with the state authorities.
“If the (new) government directions do not permit inter-state travel, the option of allowing players to train near their homes will be considered,” BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal said.
That will come with its own challenges, said a BCCI official who is part of the group deliberating on the resumption of training.
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“A player in Mumbai can drive down to the training ground, but he would need coaches and ground staff to help,” he said. “It’s not that a player will pick the ball and put it in the bowling machine and bat. Most of the ground staff in Mumbai live in cramped spaces and crowded areas. One mistake can cost dearly.”
Mumbai is currently the worst hit city in India, with XXXX number of cases recorded. Both captain Virat Kohli and limited overs vice captain Rohit Sharma live in Mumbai, as do a number of Team India players, including Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw.
Though the official involved in the planning does not think sanitization of equipment will be a problem, he said, “we do not want what happened with Bundesliga, where two players tested positive in training. We have to be extra careful.”
If the players are allowed to come together at a camp, they will all be tested at least twice before they are allowed to join.
“One test would not be enough, as there can be false negatives. So, you test again, wait for the reports to be out, then start training. Everyone at the hotel or the facility they stay in would need to be tested also. We have to make sure no one there is going out of the campus. Also, everyone assisting in the training base will need to be tested. It would be an exhaustive exercise,” he said.
The England Cricket Board’s (ECB) plans for the West Indies tour is an example of how intricate things can get—the proposal is to hold the three back to back Tests at a single venue, possibly at Old Trafford at Manchester, which will undergo a massive sanitization exercise to make it “bio-secure” and where players and staff will essentially spend a few weeks together in quarantine, and be tested repeatedly.
“The players would be very much in a bubble,” said Cricket West Indies chief executive Johnny Grave to BBC.
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Team India players have spent the lockdown under the online supervision of the coaching staff, who tailored drills for them according to the resources available to each player at home. All of BCCI’s centrally contracted players have been given an app through which their fitness drills are being monitored by the national physio and trainer.
But physical conditioning is one thing, skills training quite another.
Rohit Sharma spoke about his apprehensions in an Instagram chat with Mohammed Shami. “I haven’t held a bat for three months,” he said. “We live in apartments in Mumbai. We don’t have big spaces. I do fitness training that I can, in the balcony. I hope we get a month, one-and-half month to train.”
Shami in response said he was better placed at his village in Amroha, where he has space to run, has a swimming pool and a gym.
“For fast bowlers, when we run on the treadmill, the lower body gets a work out. As far as hand-skills go, it will take another 10-15 days. But I agree, batsmen will need more time,” Shami said during the chat.