Belt and Braces Bubble.

For most sportsmen and officials who have experienced life inside a ‘Covid Bubble’ it is not necessarily the rules and regulations of living such a limited life but the lack of choice. Many of them are perfectly happy to spend days in their hotel room on tour, and have done so in the past, but not being allowed to leave is very different from choosing not to.

I had my first experience of security of Bubble Security when I visited Newlands during the week to test my broadcast kit. I cleared my visit with the media manager and the stadium manager, making it clear I would go nowhere near the pavilion end of the ground, only the media centre on the opposite side of the stadium. I would not set foot on the playing field and would leave before the England team even arrived for their first practise session.

There was plenty of skittishness around the place with it being the first practise session for both teams. Lots of people checking and double-checking. I was told I was ‘fine’ when my temperature reading was 33 degrees. I said I ‘probably wasn’t’ if that was accurate but it was no time for humour. It felt a bit like a bomb joke in an airport.

Earlier I drove past the Vineyard Hotel where both teams and all the match officials are staying for the next 20 days. There were uniformed police outside and plain-clothes men with walkie-talkies. The man in overall charge of the bubble blueprint is CSA’s chief medical officer, Doctor Shuaib Manjra. He happily admits that some of his measures might be described as ‘extreme.’

“The first point to make is that it is wonderful place to be locked down – I couldn’t think of a better venue,” he told me. “The expansive grounds and gardens means you don’t feel trapped, you don’t get that impression. There is even a walking or jogging track around the perimeter alongside a river, so there is plenty of opportunity to escape,” Manjra said.

“But the teams do not eat together, they have separate dining areas. The tables are separated by two metres and there are Perspex screens between them. We have separate gym times but the swimming pool is open to all because it is large and open air.

“The two squads are occupying approximately 100 of the 200 rooms in the hotel with the ‘green zone’ staff occupying many of the other rooms. Green zone staff will stay onsite, inside the bubble, for the duration of the tour and the ‘red zone’ staff will be outside the bubble and have no contact with the players. Every precaution is being taken. The players rooms will only be cleaned when they are out of the hotel and there will be systematic deep-cleaning of the common areas in the hotel.”

A common question for Manjra has been ‘why?’ If both squads and the match officials have all tested negative for the virus, and will have no contact with anyone outside the bubble, why are so many extreme measures in place inside the bubble?

“We are taking a belt and braces approach. We would rather have extra safety measures than insufficient – there is so much at stake with this tour. No matter how small the risk, we cannot afford to take it,” Manjra said. What sort of risk?

“The chefs, for example, are red zone staff but those serving the food are in the green zone. There must be a degree of interaction between them, however minimal. The risks are extremely small, almost negligible, but that does not stop us wanting to eliminate them.”

Proteas head coach, Mark Boucher, held a Zoom with the media this morning. He was asked about the three players from his squad who are self-isolating. One tested positive and the other two are in precautionary quarantine after spending considerable time with the first player:

“We’ve prepared for this situation, which is very real in today’s world,” Boucher said. “Yes, it does affect us. But it’s more about the welfare of those players and looking after them from a mental perspective. It’s a very tough thing to go through. The care factor needs to be there for the guys. Sitting in rooms for up to 10 days is quite tough. When they do come out of it, hopefully on the right side, they come back into this environment and they feel nothing’s been lost,” Boucher said.

Boucher was asked, inevitably, about the mess at Cricket South Africa’s headquarters: “Those issues are there, you can’t hide from them. We’ve got to try and put that behind us. We understand that we’re in a position to bring some good news to the game of cricket in our country. If we start playing a good brand of cricket and leading from the front, hopefully we can change a couple of perceptions about the game in our country.

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