Deteriorating virus situation in Lahore leaves PCB worrisome for upcoming tour

Khalid Hussain
Photo: AFP

The deteriorating Covid-19 situation in Lahore has forced Pakistan’s cricket chiefs to work on contingency plans ahead of this summer’s tour of England.

A top Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) official told The News on Monday that the Board is keeping an eye on the rapidly changing Covid-19 situation in Lahore following announcement by the provincial government that it was enforcing lockdown in various parts of the city.

With its own headquarters in Lahore, the PCB had planned to gather the 29-man squad selected for the tour of England in the city later this month but that plan could be changed.

That’s because in recent days there had been an overwhelming increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the city, forcing the authorities to seal various localities there. There are now fears that the entire city could be placed under a strict lockdown in the near future in a bid to curb the spread of the infection.

“This is a big cause of concern for us,” said a top PCB official. “We will have to rethink our plans as a lockdown (in Lahore) can affect the departure of the national team to England,” he added.

The Board is concerned because a lockdown might also mean that no flights would be allowed to fly in or out of Lahore. Keeping such a scenario in mind, PCB is mulling the option to gather the England-bound squad in Islamabad ahead of their departure to England.

According to plans, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will send a chartered flight to Pakistan which will take the national team to England. The decision is part of creating a completely bio-secure environment for the players and officials before and during the upcoming series.

Meanwhile, top PCB officials had a telephonic discussion with their ECB counterparts on Monday to discuss the forthcoming Test and Twenty20 International series between the two teams.

According to the PCB official, the interaction went well with discussions on several key issues including Pakistan’s departure plans, their training schedules and itinerary of the Test and T20I series.

The Pakistanis want to send the squad to England on June 30 more than a month before the opening Test of the series will tentatively begin at Old Trafford in Manchester on July 5.

“We want our team to reach England well ahead of the series to that the players have ample time to prepare for it,” the official said. Pakistan’s players have been out of action since March when he country went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After the opening Test, the two teams will move to Southampton which will host back-to-back Tests. The tour will conclude with a three-match T20I series which will completely take place at Old Trafford. All six matches of the series will be played behind closed doors in bio-secure environment. The last T20I is expected to be played on September 1.

Pakistan were planning to making Birmingham their training base during July but it is now more likely that they will instead train in Derby ahead of the three Tests.

“ECB has told us that Derby is perhaps the best option as our training base in England,” the official said. “It has a hotel close to the ground. The venue has very good training facilities including indoor nets. So I think once it arrives in England, our team will proceed to Derby for its pre-series training camp.”

The official said that PCB and ECB are expected to finalise the tour schedule within the next few days. “We will announce the itinerary as soon as it confirmed,” he said.

Deteriorating virus situation in Lahore leaves PCB worrisome for tour