Boris Johnson carried out an impressive inverted sweep to allow the club’s cricket to return next weekend – just hours after suggesting that the move would not be resumed because of the dangers of traditional tea in the pavilion.
The prime minister’s initial comments on the risks of cricket compared to tennis – made on the LBC breakfast program – were ridiculed as “palpable nonsense” by Simon Prodger of the National Cricket Conference, who acts as a voice for club game. However, between lunch and tea, Johnson made a quick U-turn after consulting government scientists.
Speaking at a special interview on Friday afternoon, Johnson explained his change of opinion. “Having been played on the radio this morning, I sought scientific advice and the third referee was invoked,” he said. “And what I can say is that we want to work as quickly as possible to recover the cricket. And we’ll publish guidelines in time for cricket to resume next weekend. “
The news was received by the ECB, the regulator for cricket, which said it would soon publish its “approved guidelines to help clubs and players prepare for the return of cricket”.
Chris Whitty, England’s medical director, told reporters that playing cricket was safe, as long as people didn’t spit on the ball or party in extravagant shutters.
“One of the issues with cricket is that it attracts a much larger number of people in terms of linking families than the six that are defined as the maximum that must be fulfilled even outdoors,” he said. “But it is perfectly possible to have cricket where people keep their distance.
“And as long as people don’t do things that aren’t sensible, from hugging the player who just bowled for a duck to spitting on the ball, it should be possible to make the game very safe as an outdoor sport.
“However, there are risks that we need to deal with,” he added. “What is particular is that people enter a crowded space afterwards to a cricket pavilion for tea and a beer.”
The change of opinion is already being welcomed by clubs, with Prodger promising that they will be ready to play in a week. “The clubs have already agreed that the game, when it returns, will have to be played without teas and with players already changed,” he said.
“And while there is no zero risk, playing cricket is a low-risk activity – the balls can be cleaned at the end of the game and the field players can clean their hands with gel.”