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over 3 years ago|Interviews

When Middlesex take on Hampshire at Radlett on August 8 in their first home Bob Willis Trophy match, it will mark the culmination of a busy few months for Lorraine Poole.

In May, Poole, who is Middlesex’s head of events and operations, added another title to her name, becoming the club’s COVID-19 officer as plans began to formulate for the return of training. Earlier this month, upon the announcement of the red-ball fixtures for the season, she was singled out by chief executive Richard Goatley, having “worked round the clock to ensure we have met some very testing guidelines and very challenging deadlines” – it doesn’t seem to be an exaggeration. “It’s the busiest I’ve been for a long time,” she says.

The journey began two months ago after the Middlesex duo of Tom Helm and Eoin Morgan were named in England’s 55-man training group for the international summer. With Lord’s unavailable, Radlett stepped in.

“With all the building work going on at Lord’s and the Nursery Ground unavailable, it seemed to us the best venue would be Radlett because we have a gym on-site there as well,” Poole says.

“We spoke to The Oval initially, and Tom Helm went with a couple of our coaches and used their facilities for two weeks until we kind of got up to grips with what needed to be done. We obviously had to meet and talk to Radlett to use their facilities, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. At that time there was talk about no recreational cricket at all, so they were quite happy for us to use their facility. We deep cleaned certain areas that were locked, so if Radlett were to come back and use other facilities, they had no access to the areas we were in, and we could control who was in there. It was at the end of May and beginning of June that we put an agreement in with them.”

By the start of July, it was time to welcome back the Middlesex first team and educate them with plenty of new rules, as Poole made sense of the government’s advice on the return to play.

“Stage one medical guidelines [for the return of elite sport] was 40 pages, stage two was 75 pages, so I think a lot of it has been understanding the guidelines and then putting it into context,” Poole says when explaining the biggest challenges of creating a COVID-secure environment at Radlett.

“The biggest thing was cleaning – we had to get contract cleaners in to deep clean – and then putting in place policies that we had to educate the players on: one person at a time in the toilet; the doors and windows open for ventilation; not being inside; using the home team changing area for storing kit and the toilet, but nothing else.

“We moved the gazebos we have in our hospitality garden at Lord’s to Radlett, setting those up for the players to have their own individual seating areas. There’s lots and lots of sanitising. Each player was given their own set of balls so they would arrive at training with everything they needed. No showers, no changing.”

From individual to group training, the process has been gradual to this stage, and Poole attributes credit to the players for taking it in their stride, even if there is going to be the odd slip-up.

“If I say we need to implement something, as silly as it sounds, there’s no question, it’s done. Everyone’s been really supportive in everything we’ve had to do.

“The team doctor said everyone’s going to make mistakes. It’s not normal, we’re all going to make mistakes, so let’s police with kindness. That’s our mantra. Gus [Fraser] picked up someone’s bat to have a look at it, and you can’t do that. Someone gave a high five and shook hands, but it’s not about telling them off because we’re all going to do it. We’re policing with kindness, and you can have fun along the way, but just make sure there are disinfectants and hand gels around when people do make mistakes.”

That education seems to have gone beyond how players should behave at Radlett; with the stakes so high, messages regarding safety are being rammed home.

“The pubs opened the first weekend we were going to begin group training. We didn’t say: ‘Don’t go to the pub.’ But if you’re going to go, sit in small groups and sit outside. Don’t put yourself at a higher risk because you don’t want to be that person that’s going to suddenly test positive, and everything we’ve done in the last month has to be looked at and scrutinised, putting playing cricket in jeopardy. They’ve been really good and understand everything.”

Still, there’s plenty of work to do as Poole talks of risk assessments, stage three documents that are “off the scale compared to what we’ve done so far”, ball retrieval policies and other considerations that emerge out of nowhere as the first matchday at Radlett inches closer.

“Someone said to me yesterday: ‘What about the bowlers spray painting out there run-ups? Do the visiting counties have to bring their own spray paint? Or can we share?’ Little things like that you have to think about.”

The possibility of hosting spectators has governed Poole’s thinking, but she adds that it’ll be unlikely for Radlett to play any part in the government’s ongoing pilot scheme to test crowds at sporting events. Last Sunday, 1,000 fans attended the opening day of Middlesex’s friendly with Surrey at The Oval as part of the programme.

“In all the plans we put together, in the back of my head there was: ‘If we have spectators where would they go and how would it work?’ How we set up the plans means we could adjust them to include spectators if we were allowed to, which is one of the things the ECB said: ‘Don’t put all these plans into place, and then the government says you can have spectators and you have to rip them up and start again.’ So, yes we could potentially have spectators, but I don’t think the government guidelines are going to change in the next month. They’ve said October 1st for spectators. These pilot programmes that are going ahead involve the ECB choosing specific venues, and we would probably only be able to get a few hundred in at Radlett, so I don’t think we would be chosen for a pilot for just a few hundred when they’ve done one with a thousand.”

Hopes are high for the T20 Blast to be played at Lord’s, but for now, the focus is on Radlett, the club ground that will kickstart Middlesex’s summer at home. Finally.

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