IRELAND’S contracted players return to training this week as cricket eases itself out of the lockdown. It is now 91 days since the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a pandemic, the day after Ireland completed their three-match Twenty20 series against Afghanistan in India.

Yesterday, though, after approval from the Irish and British governments, the island’s elite cricketers returned to the three dedicated hubs at Stormont, Bready and the National Performance Centre in Dublin.

All but two of the 19 contracted male cricketers were involved yesterday in 1:1 sessions as per the approved protocols in this phase of the easing restrictions; William Porterfield who is living in England and Boyd Rankin who was travelling ‘home’ to Birmingham yesterday after running his father’s farm for the last month.

(William Porterfield and Boyd Rankin)

Four of the Women’s squad, Kim Garth, Mary Waldron, Una Raymond-Hoey and Eimear Richardson, are all currently abroad but the home-based players, including four on Emerging Contracts, start training today.

“We have trained COVID-19 Safety Officers to manage these hubs, held online education sessions with the players and coaches over the weekend, and provided support for the three venues in implementing many of the essential hygiene and compliance measures,” said Cricket Ireland High Performance Manager Richard Holdsworth.

“Everyone is aware of what is required to comply with the safety protocols, now it’s just up to the weather to play its part!”

Holdsworth insisted that it was imperative that the men returned to training as soon as possible if they were to travel to England in the middle of next month for the three one-day internationals, scheduled for Southampton on July 30, August 1 and 4.

“Clearly the approval of those matches is a matter for the ECB and the UK Government,” he added, “but in terms of getting ready for those matches with a 6-8 week period regarded as essential from the standing start of lockdown to being ready for international cricket – particularly for our bowlers – it was crucial that out players did not lose any more time with the England squad already back in training.”

All the Cricket Ireland coaching staff were also involved yesterday but there is still no bowling coach, following the departure of Rob Cassell in March.

(Former Ireland Bowling Coach Rob Cassell)

Although an appointment was made, it has been deferred because of the financial impact of Covid-19.

There is still the possibility of a T20 World Cup being held in Australia but a final decision on that is set to be made tomorrow at the ICC Board Meeting which will also make a decision on the Women’s World Cup qualifier, due to be held next month in Sri Lanka. Unless that can be rearranged by September, then a new host country will be needed.

The odds are still on the postponement of the T20 World Cup as although Australia is now considered one of the safer countries, the logistical challenge of 15 teams flying in remains “very difficult”.