Concerns among Australia’s players about potential exposure to coronavirus in front of large crowds of spectators were a factor in Cricket Australia’s decision to play the one-day series against New Zealand behind closed doors, with the T20I matches at the end of the month in New Zealand are in doubt.
A few hours previously it had been confirmed that the Australia Women’s tour of South Africa would not be taking place. The two ODIs in Sydney on Friday and Sunday and the final match in Hobart on March 20 will take place as scheduled but spectators won’t be admitted.
The final round of Sheffield Shield matches which start on March 17 and the final from March 27-31 will currently take place as planned. After the New Zealand tour at the end of this month the next trip for Australia is the two-Test tour of Bangladesh in June followed by a tour to England in July. A significant number of Australian players are due to take part in the IPL which starts on March 29 that appears set to take place behind closed doors.
Kevin Roberts, the CA chief executive, said on Friday that players has raised questions about the potential for exposure to the virus before the call was made to shut the gates at the SCG and Bellerive Oval over the next week.
“The feeling from the men’s team was there was some apprehension based on the experience of Sunday night, partly, and the uncertainty of the situation and the developments around the world,” Roberts said in Melbourne. “Some apprehension around playing in front of large crowds over the next week. The safety of our players is paramount.
“We’ve offered all our people the opportunity to work from places where they feel most safe, like most employers have around Australia and no doubt other parts of the world. And it was only right we afforded the same flexibility to our players and worked through that with them.
“They’re comfortable to play the matches. They’re looking forward to taking on New Zealand this afternoon and they’re feeling safe by virtue of playing in unusual situation of empty stadia but the situation that enables them to go about their business on the field and inspire Australians with the bat and ball this afternoon.”
All spectators who had previously bought tickets to the series – Roberts said CA had been expecting a small crowd for Friday’s first SCG match but a larger crowd of more than 20,000 for the second on Sunday – will be provided with refunds.
“Everyone who’s bought a ticket for these matches will have the ability to receive a refund,” Roberts said. “And certainly we’re expecting good crowds, particularly on Sunday, well in excess of 20,000 on Sunday, else people there today being Friday but all those people will have the opportunity to receive a refund, which is the right thing to do.
“We’re really using our best judgement based on the information that we have, to deal with these situations and I guess it’s rapidly unfolding and we just need to remain calm and take the information on board as we go.”
Players have been briefed to change customary behaviour on the field, whether it be handshakes or embracing at the fall of a wicket, while the use of saliva to polish the ball has also been part of discussions about player health and safety.
“We’re briefing players on changing some of the standard on-field behaviours such as not shaking hands. Obviously sharing the same sentiments that you feel when you do shake hands with someone to make sure players keep a bit of distance from each other,” Roberts said. “In playing the game today what’s happening is they’re inspiring a nation by getting out and playing on the field but they’re not putting themselves at risk.
“We’re working through all elements of the experience that players have on the field and we’ll be briefing them accordingly. The briefing to players is going on. The discussions with players started yesterday. We advised of the decision that was made this morning and this is an ongoing communication with players, starting yesterday and leading up to the start of the match this afternoon.”
As for the IPL, Roberts said that in a fast-moving environment, CA would give advice to players depending on how the broader situation developed, as was the case with the decisions around the men’s matches in Australia this week and the scheduled women’s tour of South Africa.
“We’re taking this one day at a time and perhaps then one week at a time,” Roberts said. “We’ve made decisions on the situation as it relates to the next nine days ahead of us. We’ve all experienced in our work and general lives the last week a rapidly changing situation. What that tells us is it would be premature to make decisions now based on what’s happening in the coming months. But it’s not premature to make decisions for today and the next week. We’ll keep an eye on the situation.”
Alex Kountouris, CA’s Sports Science and Sports Medicine Manager, said the actions taken were in keeping with advice received about the coronavirus pandemic. “These were not decisions taken lightly, but they are the most responsible courses of action based on expert advice,” Kountouris said. “The health and safety of everyone in the cricket family is paramount and our actions reflect that.
“This is an unprecedented global health situation and, as we’ve seen around the world, serious measures have been taken by many organisations to limit the spread of coronavirus. We are among those. We will continue to monitor the situation and consult with relevant experts in relation to future matches and series.”