Bangladesh's three-Test tour of Sri Lanka has been postponed yet again following a stalemate between the BCB and SLC over quarantine requirements, with weeks of negotiation failing to yield an agreement between the two boards. The length of the quarantine, which the Sri Lankan health authorities had insisted be 14 days, with the players' movement strictly limited to their hotel rooms, was the main proposal the Bangladesh board refused to agree with.
BCB president Nazmul Hassan said on Monday that the tour was not cancelled yet but this one crucial disagreement between the two boards forced them into asking SLC to reschedule the tour, the first Test of which was supposed to start on October 23 in Pallekele.
"Any tourist who is entering Sri Lanka has to abide by this rule [of 14 days in quarantine]," Hassan said. "They (SLC) have told us that they couldn't do anything about this point (quarantine). We have informed them that we have to reschedule the tour to a time when things will improve. We cannot play the ICC Test Championship according to their guidelines. Their cricket board and sports ministry tried very hard. They agreed to all but one of our requirements, but that one is the real one. The 14-day quarantine."
"What they are mentioning as 'quarantine' is actually full isolation...A cricketer will need a long time to regain [fitness] - physically and mentally - from this isolation. In that situation, it won't be possible to play, we have said it before." BCB president Nazmul Hassan
The Sri Lankan health authorities' insistence on a 14-day quarantine was partly because Covid-19 is understood to be spreading in Bangladesh, and some high-profile members of the potential squad had also tested positive for the virus. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has had minimal spread of the virus for the last few months, and life has largely returned to normal, aside from tight controls at the border. Only 13 Covid-19 deaths have been officially recorded in Sri Lanka.
One SLC official expressed mild frustration at the government, calling health authorities "completely inflexible", but also suggested both the authorities and SLC were wary of being blamed for a potential outbreak via the tour. Another SLC official also said the BCB had at one point asked for a three-day quarantine, which the official described as "ridiculous".
Sri Lanka Cricket had floated several plans they felt would be more palatable to the BCB, but each of these was rejected by Sri Lanka's health authorities. The question of why Sri Lanka could not be flexible when England had been during their home summer had been raised. However, the response from health authorities had been that although in England's case the biosecure bubbles had been mostly designed to protect players from infection - with community spread rampant in England - Sri Lanka was attempting to protect the public from potential carriers arriving from overseas. Unlike Manchester and Southampton, Sri Lanka also does not have venues with on-site hotels.
Hassan said that the BCB also needed to understand the Sri Lankan version of the term "quarantine" which, according to him, differed from what the Bangladesh board thought it was. He said staying confined within a room for 14 days was likely to take a toll on a player's mental and physical well-being ahead of a three-match Test series.
"There's a difference between 'quarantine' and 'isolation'," Hassan said. "If we put someone in home quarantine, he or she cannot get out of the house. But when someone is Covid positive, we put them in isolation which means that person can't get out of the room.
"What they are mentioning as 'quarantine' is actually full isolation, which means the person cannot get out of the room. A cricketer will need a long time to regain [fitness] - physically and mentally - from this isolation. In that situation, it won't be possible to play, we have said it before."
BCB CEO Nizamuddin Chowdhury also said a board release the decision to postpone the tour was necessary because the health guidelines would not allow the Bangladesh players to prepare properly for the series.
"We have always maintained that preparation of the team was a priority as the players are coming off a six-month gap from any cricket due to the COVID-19 situation in the country," Chowdhury said. "Therefore, in line with the standard practice in relation to COVID-19 and quarantine for cricket teams in countries where the game has resumed, we wanted the Bangladesh Team to have proper training opportunities in Sri Lanka before they started playing. We never considered fielding an unprepared side in international cricket.
"The BCB is respectful to the health and safety requirements of every country during the pandemic and had requested SLC to consider a more flexible form of quarantine for the Bangladesh Team in Sri Lanka so that it could start training as a group as early as possible upon arrival. However, from their response we understand that the Ministry of Health of the Sri Lanka Government at the moment was not in a position to make exemptions to its latest 'Health Guideline' and that the same restrictions applicable to general visitors will remain in place for the Bangladesh Team which includes a mandatory 14-day strict quarantine in respective rooms of the hotel on reaching"
Two weeks ago, Hassan had said that Bangladesh won't go ahead with the tour if the 14-day quarantine was put in place. Soon afterwards, Sri Lanka's sports minister Namal Rajapaksa had said that he asked SLC to consult with the country's Covid-19 task force to reconsider the matter. SLC then proposed to their health authorities that the Bangladesh touring party do the two-week quarantine split between the two countries, but it wasn't agreed upon.
A proposed tour schedule was also drawn up which stated that the visitors would be able to start training a day after arriving in Sri Lanka with the first two Tests to be held in Pallekele and the third in Colombo.
But proceedings took a turn earlier this month when the Sri Lankan health authorities insisted that the visitors must quarantine in their hotel room for 14 days, before they can begin training in isolation. The BCB, however, went ahead with its planning and announced a 27-member preliminary squad that began training last week, with all the players, coaching and support staff put in isolation in a city hotel till Saturday.
With inputs from Andrew Fidel Fernando