BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Justin Langer is ready to embrace change to keep his Australian cricket squad on the road. Bigger squads, a lot of compromise on schedules, and even less time with families.
The COVID-19 pandemic will mean a lot of time in so-called bio-security hubs for his coaching staff and players once the 21-man squad leaves Perth on Sunday for England.
As he sees it, “We’ve got to make some sacrifices for the greater good of the game.”
Langer said the Australian men's squad was better equipped than most to handle the isolation because of the amount of time they routinely spend away from home.
Senior batters Steve Smith and David Warner and the veteran bowling group of pacemen Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood and spinner Nathan Lyon are all very experienced tourists.
Uncapped players, such as wicketkeeper-batsman Josh Philippe, Tasmanian fast bowler Riley Meredith, and Daniel Sams, an allrounder who bowls left-arm pace and bats right-handed, have been selected in the extended group to ensure Australia has enough cover in case of illness or injuries.
“A lot of us will be ready for it. I guess some of the the younger guys coming in, it’ll be a challenge for them,” he said. “We’ll have to educate them. Put an arm around them, get around them and make sure they’re OK, and just keep an eye on them."
Langer, a gritty former test opener who took over as national head coach when the Australian team was in turmoil after a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018, was preparing for a COVID-19 test “in 34 minutes" as he spoke in an online news conference Thursday.
That's just a small part of the new regime.
There'll be more testing for players assembling in Perth before departure, and more again when the squad arrives in England for warm-up games in Derbyshire before the international series starts next month. The players will be living, practicing and playing — without crowds — in secure venues.
Some will be involved in the series against England — three Twenty20 and three one-day internationals — then playing in the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates and then returning to Australia for a test series against India. At each stop, there’ll be periods of quarantine.
Langer said none of his players needs reminding of how important it is to avoid coronavirus infections. All international cricket was shuttered for three months from late March because of the pandemic. The West Indies toured England in cricket's global comeback, and the game is slowly reopening.
“Absolutely the guys will know the rules," Langer said. "As they should be, the government requirements .... are going to be incredibly strict. We all know the importance of it. We’ve been reinforcing it over the last couple of months.”
The football codes led the way out of the lockdown in Australia, with the National Rugby League, the Australian Football League, soccer and rugby union resuming revamped domestic competitions under strict quarantine guidelines. NRL and AFL players have been heavily fined and sanctioned for breaking the guidelines for breaches seemingly as minor as eating in a cafe or attending the opening of a barber shop. Any threat to the bio-security bubbles have been taken seriously.
The cricketers have been watching, and taking head.
“We’ve realized the impact it can have if we’re not really disciplined with everything we do.” Langer said. “I’m really confident our blokes will be able to maintain those disciplines to keep us playing."
The schedule for Australia's summer of cricket hasn't been finalized. Some parts of Australia are in lockdown because of COVID-19, others aren't. Restrictions on travel and crowds at games vary from state to state.
Langer is anticipating a lot of disruptions, and possible strain on players.
“We might not be able to see our families because we need to keep the show on the road. Some of our best players might have to miss some international cricket so they can spend some time seeing families," he said. “Those are some of the compromises we might be looking at. It’s so complicated ... we are going to need our depth.”
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