Ashley Giles says he is “very confident” that no England player or staff breached the team’s Covid-19 protocols, but believes they will have to beef up their message after seven positive tests led to an entire new squad being called up to face Pakistan from Thursday.
Having played exclusively in extremely stringent biosecure bubbles last summer, the England and Wales Cricket Board have shifted to more relaxed arrangements this summer as Coronavirus restrictions across the country have been eased.
The men’s team are playing matches at nine different venues across the country, with fans in the ground (including their first 100 per cent capacity crowd since 2019 at Lord’s this Saturday).
They have not had sole use of their hotels, allowed players to exercise and have a coffee outside (in some venues, such as Cardiff), and used varied modes of transport to cross the country, including trains. Some players’ families have been with the squad (subject to testing).
While Giles, the Managing Director of Men’s Cricket, believes no individual has done anything wrong, the arrangements may need to be tightened.
“We are very confident the players haven’t breached any of those protocols,” said Giles. “We can’t say where it originated, that is an almost impossible task from what I’m told amongst that many. We can identify how some of this has developed through close contact but given the size of the infection of the group it would be impossible and too risky to take any of the group forward.
“Can we get any tighter? We’re still going to be in shared spaces in hotels and things like that so there’s still risk. But I think we need to be all over our protocols and our living areas and our team spaces. And, you know, whilst I don’t think we’ve been slack, I think we just need to reinforce that with a new group of people, some of them have never been in these environments. And so we also need to look after them.”
Giles does not believe the ECB have been too lax, and hopes that circumstances may change after July 19th, when restrictions are due to be lifted in England. That could perhaps mean that not every close contact would need to isolate after a positive test. Every member of England’s party has had at least one dose of the vaccine.
“I don’t believe we’ve gambled at all,” he said. “We are fully aware of the risks - no one is more than us. That is the knife edge we are working on all the time. As well as looking after our people and keeping them sane as much as anything, we’re protecting the revenues of the whole game. And it’s a really difficult balance to strike.
“But we’re also hopeful that post July 19 [when restrictions in England are due to be lifted], some things may change. We may have more freedoms in the event of a positive case to treat things differently. That’s what we are hoping for and I think that’s what sport needs going forward.”
Pakistan have been understanding about the situation, and Giles is confident that the five Tests against India later this summer are not at risk.
“I haven’t got that far, but I’m not worried right now. I think it’s important we work closely with the BCCI. We’re all hopeful that as this summer moves forward we will be able to reduce the restrictions around the teams and one of the important things around that is getting everyone double vaccinated then we should be able to enjoy more freedoms.”