British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said that he had called in the “third umpire” as he announced that recreational cricket would be allowed to resume next weekend.
In a radio interview earlier on Friday, Johnson angered thousands of club cricketers by saying that the amateur game was still not safe to play amid the COVID-19 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 a furious response from the likes of former England captain Michael Vaughan by saying last month that a cricket ball was a “vector of disease,” despite recreational tennis and golf having already resumed.
However, Johnson, at a Downing Street briefing that took place several hours after his radio interview, used cricket terminology in a U-turn that signaled the club and youth game was on its way back.
Johnson said that the reversal of his position by saying he had called in “the third umpire,” who in professional cricket can overturn decisions made by either of the two on-field match officials.
“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,” Johnson said.
Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Johnson, said 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.
However, “it is perfectly possible to have cricket where people do keep their distance,” Whitty said.
England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison, who insisted that the government had been “supportive” in wanting to see recreational cricket return, welcomed the change of heart, 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,” Harrison said.
Meanwhile, Vaughan tweeted: “Finally sense ... GET IN NETS all you recreational players.”
International cricket is to resume on Wednesday for the first time since a lockdown in the UK, with the opening day of the first Test between England and the West Indies in Southampton.
Both sides played out draws in intra-team warm-up matches this week.
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