BORIS JOHNSON has announced that recreational cricket would be allowed to resume next weekend, after consulting with the “third umpire”.
In a radio interview on Friday, the prime minister angered thousands of club cricketers by saying the amateur game was still not safe to play amid the coronavirus pandemic because of issues surrounding communal teas and dressing rooms.
“It’s the teas, it’s the changing rooms and so on and so forth. There are other factors involved that generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis,” he said.
Johnson had already provoked furious responses from the likes of former England captain Michael Vaughan by saying last month a cricket ball was a “vector of disease” despite recreational tennis and golf having already resumed amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, at a Downing Street briefing on Friday that took place several hours after his radio interview, the prime minister made a U-turn from his reservation of return of recreational cricket, saying he “sought scientific advice” after being “stumped”.
“The ‘third umpire’ has been invoked, 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 the next few days so that cricket can resume in time for next weekend,” he said.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Johnson, added that one problem for cricket was that it brings together far more people than the six deemed the maximum number who should be meeting outdoors now.
“But it is perfectly possible to have cricket where people do keep their distance,” he added.
England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison, who insisted the government had been “supportive” in wanting to see recreational cricket return, welcomed the change of heart by saying: “It will come as great news to our nation of recreational cricketers that the UK government has given the green light for the game to return from next weekend.
“They now agree that with appropriate measures in place to mitigate the risk, it is safe.
“As the nation’s summer sport, we believe we have a role to play in getting people active across the country, especially young people, and it is heartening to know that club cricket – albeit with social distancing in place and some other adaptations – will soon be back across England.”
The ECB added that it had “positive discussions” with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden about the return of recreational cricket with groups of more than six people being able to gather.
“Pleased to confirm grassroots community cricket is coming back,” Dowden wrote in a tweet.
Meanwhile, a delighted Vaughan tweeted: “Finally sense … GET IN NETS all you recreational players.”
International cricket is set to resume for the first time since lockdown on Wednesday, with the opening day of the first Test between England and the West Indies at Southampton.