Kolkata: It will be quite a challenge for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as they are ready with the bio-bubble at a seafront luxury hotel in Chennai to host both India and England teams for the upcoming high profile Test series. The coastal city, capital of Tamil Nadu and witness to many a rivetting India-England contests, will see a ‘first’ as they will host the first two Test matches - a common practice to cut down the logistics of travel and quarantine during the pandemic.
The first Test will be held from February 5-9, but the entire England team flew in directly from Colombo on Wednesday on completion of their two-Test series against Sri Lanka. Ben Stokes, their star allrounder, checked in two days earlier alongwith Jofra Archer and Rory Burns - as they were rested from the Lankan tour.
“Day 1 quarantine, I have done a fair bit of quarantine, have to try to make my bed every day, not the best job, but have to do it. So that’s basically me for the next five days,” Stokes said in the Instagram post. All the England players, according to a media report, have tested negative for the RT-PCR tests conducted on arrival but they will access to practice facilities only for three days on completion of the quarantine.
Meanwhile, the Indian players were also joining the bio-bubble over Wednesday-Thursday, subject to submission of negative reports for COVID-19 tests. Members of Virat Kohli’s team returned home from their triumphant tour of Australia last week where they were in a bio-secure bubble since mid-November. Upon their return, they were advised to remain in home quarantine before assembling in Chennai for the England home series.
It had been a tough ask for most of the Indian cricketers, who have been living in a bio-bubble since August last year for the IPL 2020 in the UAE. The experience had been only marginally better for England players, with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) opting for a rotational system to give the star players some respite from the bubble-fatigue and monitor their workload in a busy year during which they will be playing as many as 17 Test matches and the T20 World Cup.
The tourists will, hence, be without Jonny Bairstow for the first two Tests of the four-match series and Jos Buttler for the final three. “Any captain will tell you they want their best players fit, firing and at the top of their game all the time. Unfortunately, because of the world we are in right now it’s not feasible and we have to manage that as best we can,’’ Root had said after their whitewash of Sri Lanka.
According to informed sources in the BCCI, their success in hosting the Test series without any hiccups will provide them the template and confidence for hosting the IPL in India with limited venues. Both the Chennai Tests will be played behind closed doors and will be out of bounds for the media - apparently at the request of the ECB.
“No one should enter the ground during match or practice. Even I cannot be inside the ground,” S Ramaswamy, secretary of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), was quoted as telling the media. Interestingly, the mini-auction of IPL, which will have representatives of the eight franchises converging in Chennai, will be held at a separate hotel on February 18.
The action shifts to Ahmedabad after first two Tests where the remaining two contests will be held at the new-look Sardar Patel Stadium. The series is part of ICC’s inaugural World Test Championship and India need to win it at least by a 2-0 margin to qualify for the final set to be played later in June this year.
The Tests will be followed by five T20Is and the tour will end with a three-match ODI series.