England to use 'contact cluster' plan to put on summer Test series

Under detailed plans seen by the Observer, the proposed series against West Indies and Pakistan in July and August will be staged behind closed doors at “bio-secure” venues that are split into zones, with movement between these kept to a minimum. Players and support staff will make up what is known as a “functional area” – one of a number of such groups working on site – and have the option to create smaller social pods within this called “contact clusters” that allow individuals to further relax in the company of others who have committed to it. There remain myriad details to work through before the ECB can get government approval, and the proposed tours will ultimately hinge on how the national picture looks in the coming weeks as lockdown measures in the UK begin to be relaxed. Drafted by the ECB’s science and medicine team, an introductory outline circulated to the counties explains the process of a return for professional cricket that, from Wednesday, will see the first of 30 England players report back for individual training under phase one. Ashley Giles, England’s cricket director, has confirmed they are looking at ways England’s players can leave and re-enter the so-called “bubble” given a block of nine weeks away from friends and family that covers preparation time, practice games and the six proposed Tests, starting at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl on 8 July. However when the squad is together in the ground and part of a regular testing and screening programme it forms what is called a “functional area”, one of a number of separate personnel groups that also include venue staff, the ECB events team, groundstaff, broadcasters/media and match officials within an overall headcount of around 300. England’s players have had a number of the details above explained to them already – one told the Observer it was “mind-blowing” – but much will hinge on convincing West Indies, the first set of tourists, they will be safe to leave the relatively untouched Caribbean to fly to one of the pandemic’s hotspots. Giles has already admitted the plans have a number of “pinch points” that need fully ironing out before they can be put back to the government, while the bill for creating these bio-secure venues and flying two touring teams into the country on charter flights will run well into seven figures.