While the cricket world focuses on the dangers of using saliva on the ball, medical experts have warned that there are several other ways in which the novel coronavirus can be transmitted.
Sharing a dressing room, inconclusive testing and even the mere touch of the ball could spread the virus. The use of saliva — banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) — does carry maximum risk, but these secondary factors cannot be ignored.
Dr. Ram Gopalakrishnan, a senior infectious diseases physician at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, stated, “Saliva poses the maximum risk of transmission and is rightly banned.
“Sweat [allowed by the ICC] is less risky. But contact of any kind is dangerous. Studies show that the virus can stay on a surface — in this case, a cricket ball — for days.”
A wicketkeeper standing up to the stumps and close-in fielders pose a transmission threat.
“Six-feet distancing must be maintained. Otherwise, an infected person can transmit the virus by coughing, shouting or breathing heavily. In cricket, shouting takes the form of appeals,” Gopalakrishnan said.
The dressing room is another cause for concern. If a player touches an infected surface and then inadvertently touches his/her face, it significantly increases the risk of contracting the infection.
Dr. Vivek Nangia, an interventional pulmonologist at Fortis, New Delhi, stated, “Even shoes act as a carrier. We have seen this in hospitals recently. This could happen in a cricket dressing room.”
The idea of testing all players and match officials before every match poses logistical and medical difficulties.
“There are many cases where a person tests negative on one day, but is actually found to be positive five days later.
“Initial tests merely raise suspicion of being infected. A definite positive case is identified only after several tests and scans,” Nangia said. The asymptomatic nature of coronavirus only increases the chances of an infected cricketer being cleared to take the field.
Nangia is not entirely convinced about the efficacy of playing cricket in bio-secure venues — to be used for the England-West Indies Test series next month.
No innovative plan is fool-proof, the doctors believe. Both stated that resumption of competitive cricket or any team sport should be put off until a cure is found. “Our international cricketers are our national treasure. It is not worth the risk,” Gopalakrishnan said.
“Cricket, or any sport, is not a life-sustaining activity, and thus should be avoided for now,” Nangia said.