Sri Lanka players are likely to start training from June 1 subject to clearance from the country’s government. The fast bowlers will be the first set of players to return to training once cricket resumes with plans also to train in a biosafe environment taking shape.
Mickey Arthur, Sri Lanka’s head coach, said that plan was part of the discussions he had last week with Dimuth Karunaratne and Lasith Malinga (who share captaincy across formats) during a face-to-face meeting which was also attended by the top brass of Sri Lanka Cricket and Grant Flower, the assistant coach. Also present at the meeting were SLC chief executive Ashley de Silva and chairman of selectors Asantha de Mel along with SLC’s medical expert.
“Last Wednesday we had a quick meeting [to talk about resuming cricket] because we are starting to get out plans in place for June 1,” Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. “Once we get the official go-ahead from the (Sri Lanka) ministry of health I will start putting meat into that structure with the captains and my support staff. It is looking good with the health ministry, but it will be a smaller group. We’ll probably prioritise our fast bowlers because they are the ones who are going to need more time to get back into it.”
Arthur admitted that the players had “slight apprehension” about returning to the field keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic which has infected close to five million people worldwide with over 323,000 deaths officially recorded. Sri Lanka, though, has been relatively unaffected with fewer than 500 active cases. That figure has remained steady for two weeks and the Sri Lankan government believes the pandemic is under control.
Arthur agreed that SLC will need to adhere to the parameters being finalised by the ICC based on the recommendations from the ICC Cricket Committee (of which he is a member) before players can return to train. “Once we get some assurances from the medical staff around the world that biosecure [environment] is fine and what the virus could do to you potentially if you got it. Once the players understand and digest they’ll all be good.
“And then hopefully after the first 20 days of June we could virtually have our whole squad back training. That’s the time for me where, if we could be in this biosecure environment, we could go in may be Hambantota or Kandy just for a week and try and rekindle that trust and check where we want to go with our goal setting.”
Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to be affected by the pandemic when England aborted their tour six days before the two-Test series was scheduled to begin from March 19. Arthur was present at the ground watching the warm-up match between England and the Sri Lanka Board President’s XI when he was asked to rush to the SLC headquarters in Colombo to be told the Test series was off.
Why then did he opt to stay back? “After the England tour I was going to go back home to Perth,” Arthur said. “April was our leave time as coaches because that was during the IPL. And then we were going to come back for a really exciting programme: South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Asia Cup, World Twenty20, Zimbabwe then we were going to come here, then we were going to Bangladesh for three ODIs, then South Africa in December. So it looked a really good programme, we could really get our claws into this. And then, suddenly bang, nothing.
“It just got worse and worse so much so that is when I decided to stay in Sri Lanka because I wanted to be here. To make sure that I saw the players through this crisis, to make sure I was only a phone call away and I wasn’t in another country. It’s been mind-blowing.”