Ireland’s cricketers have adapted seamlessly to the ‘new normal’ which, in their case, is an Ageas Bowl bio-bubble where they face England in the first of three ODIs this Thursday.
The squad and support staff arrived at the Southampton venue on Saturday via chartered flight and will remain in a sporting version of splendid isolation throughout the series, splitting their time between the on-site hotel, the various practise facilities and the main pitch itself.
England’s one-day international squad is also resident in the same hotel for the duration but the sides are housed on separate floors and are only scheduled to meet come the designated match day on the field of play.
There will be no deviations from this script, no trips to local restaurants or time off on shopping excursions until the squad returns to Dublin next Wednesday week, but Cricket Ireland performance director Richard Holdsworth insists that the visitors have settled quickly.
“We’re very fortunate to be here. As many people may be aware, there is a nursery ground here, there is an abundance of nets, two blocs of nets on the pitch, a huge outfield and we have been training on the main outfield as well.
“There’s an indoor (cricket) school, not that we’ve had to use it the weather has been so good, a gymnasium at the back of the pavilion as well. So we’ve been well looked after here in terms of facilities and the ground staff have been excellent.”
The Ageas Bowl has already played host to the first England-West Indies test match earlier this month while Graham Ford’s Ireland team has stepped up preparations with an intra-squad game and a warm-up defeat to England Lions over the weekend.
All of those contests have been played behind closed doors, as have the second and third tests between the hosts and the Windies at Old Trafford. Add in the extra health and safety protocols and it amounts to a very different experience for the players.
“Training and practise and the warm-up game we had was pretty normal,” said Holdsworth. “Obviously guys aren’t wearing masks training. They are getting on with business as they normally would, just sanitising regularly, as we would be doing back home.”
The series in England comes after four months of inaction at all levels for Ireland’s men while the drought goes on for the women’s team who were due to be participating in a World Cup qualifying tournament in Sri Lanka this summer.
That latter event is still down for decision in a changed early November slot but the damage done to the cricketing calendar was apparent again just last week when the men’s T20 World Cup, due to kick off in Australia in October, was finally pushed back as a result of the coronavirus.
A number of countries have already been in touch with Holdsworth to discuss when other series postponed earlier this year might now be facilitated given the dates that have now been freed up but uncertainty still reigns.
“In an ideal world things would get back to a little more normality,” said Holdsworth, “we would feel safe travelling and we would get in a decent winter of cricket ... We have to ensure that our players are ready for everything.
“Unfortunately what that means at the moment is that lots of plans may or may not come to fruition but we are trying to ensure that we have a Plan B and Plan C. We can’t have a crystal ball and we don’t know how this pandemic is going to go.”