Boris Johnson has performed a remarkable reverse sweep to allow club cricket to return next weekend – just hours after suggesting play would be unable to resume because of the dangers of the traditional tea in the pavilion.
The prime minister’s initial comments about the risks of cricket compared to tennis – made on LBC’s breakfast show – were derided as “palpable nonsense” by Simon Prodger of the National Cricket Conference, which acts as a voice for the club game. However, between lunch and tea Johnson made a rapid U-turn after consulting the government’s scientists.
Speaking at a special news briefing on Friday afternoon, Johnson explained his change of heart. “Having been stumped on the radio this morning, I sought scientific advice and the third umpire has been invoked,” he said. “And what I can say is that we do want to work as fast as possible to get cricket back. And we will be publishing guidelines in time for cricket to resume next weekend.”
The news was welcomed by cricket’s governing body, the ECB, which said it would shortly be publishing its “approved guidelines to help clubs and players prepare for cricket’s return”.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, told reporters that playing cricket was safe provided people did not spit on the ball or celebrate wickets too extravagantly.
“One of the issues in cricket is that it brings a much larger number of people in terms of linking households than the six people that is laid out as the maximum that should be meeting even outdoors,” he said. “But it is perfectly possible to have cricket where people do keep their distance.
“And providing people don’t do things that are clearly not sensible, ranging from hugging the bowler who has just bowled someone for a duck through to spitting on the ball, it should be possible to make the game very safe as an outdoor sport.
“There are, however, risks that we need to deal with,” he added. “The particular one is people going into a crowded space afterwards to a cricket pavilion to have tea and a beer.”
The change of heart is already being welcomed by clubs, with Prodger promising that they will be ready to play in a week’s time. “Clubs have already come to terms that the game when it returns will have to be played with no teas provided and with the players already changed,” he said.
“And while there is no such thing as zero risk, playing cricket is a low-risk activity – balls can be wiped at the end of the over and fielders can clean their hands with gel.”