England batsman Dawid Malan narrowly avoided becoming a Covid-19 close contact but two confirmed cases among Ashes broadcasters have created more headaches for Cricket Australia and the networks.
Radio broadcasts returned to remote calls and in-person interviews were off-limits at the second Ashes Test on Sunday, after a member of the BBC crew tested positive to the virus. The confirmed case left both the ABC and BBC boxes empty given the organisations share callers, eventually both using a feed of callers based in Perth brought in at the last minute.
Glenn McGrath was also missing from the Seven Network given he works with the BBC, while Isa Guha could only return to the Fox coverage after returning a negative test. Hours later a Fox Cricket staff member also tested positive in an unrelated case, wiping out their “lab segment” he worked on in a different part of the ground.
It could have been far worse for cricket officials, with the BBC crew member having interviewed Malan after play on Saturday night. There was brief concern that Malan would be classed a close contact and unable to play on Sunday – just as Australian skipper Pat Cummins was prevented from playing in the Test.
However, that fear was allayed when Malan was deemed only a casual contact because the confirmed-case interviewer had worn a mask and socially distanced.
There could also be longer-lasting implications, with close contacts of the two positive cases set to be forced to isolate in Adelaide hotels rooms for the next week, a period which would include the first day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne,. Confirmed cases must isolate in South Australia for 14 days.
There are also issues beyond that for broadcasters and cricket officials should more cases pop up among key staff. The Ashes roadshow heads to Melbourne and Sydney next, with daily Covid case numbers in four figures in both cities. The impact of less technological staff on site proved an issue at the Gabba, where there were DRS problems and the world feed went down for almost half an hour.
Broadcasters must also find a way to keep their commentary teams and key staff operational. One option could include employing tactics used during the football seasons, where they were split into two separate crews. That would ensure that, if one member caught the virus, the entire group of commentators and support crew would not be ruled out in one go.
It comes after Mitchell Starc revealed on Saturday night that only an old-fashioned “piss-take” prevented more Australian bowlers being ruled of the Test. Starc said he and Nathan Lyon did not sit with Cummins at the fateful Wednesday night dinner in Adelaide for one reason.
“It was almost a bit of a p***-take because Pat didn’t reply to our message,” Starc said. “We thought we would sit away from him and sit outside. So it has been a lucky one.”
Starc and Lyon dined outside while Cummins was inside The Little Hunter steakhouse in central Adelaide. Another diner near Cummins was notified he had tested positive to Covid-19.
Due to Cummins’s proximity inside the restaurant, the skipper was deemed by South Australian Health as a close contact of the confirmed case but allowed to return to New South Wales. Under a health system quirk, he will not have to continue isolating in Sydney as NSW Health is yet to list the Adelaide steakhouse as a venue of concern.
Restrictions will become slightly harsher for players at the Tests in Melbourne and Sydney, ruling out indoor dining as well as activities like hair cuts and mixing with fans.
Cricket AustraliaCA chief executive Nick Hockley has stressed the need to be “extra vigilant” with the rise in cases and emergence of the Omicron variant.
“That’s where we need to make sure there’s social distancing, so we ask everyone to be respectful in the public,” Hockley told SEN. “That’s the real shame because what we have seen is players wanting to interact with fans.
“But we’ve now got very clear protocols. As it comes to those on the field of play we need to make sure that people are operating in a really biosecure way.”