No squads yet, but India, South Africa women go into quarantine

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WV Raman and support staff contracts extended, possibility of crowds at 40-50% being explored

Nine days out from the start of India Women’s first assignment in a year, against South Africa at home, the squads for the five-match ODI series or the three T20Is, the venue or the tour itinerary itself, have not been publicly announced yet by the BCCI, the hosts. CSA, too, has not announced the South African squads yet. The only official statement so far confirming the scheduling of the series has come from the host state body, the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association (UPCA), which said in a recent release that all eight matches will be held at the Ekana International Stadium in Lucknow, starting March 7.

While official word from the Indian board remains elusive, the Indian contingent assembled in Lucknow on Thursday. ESPNcricinfo understands that they are currently serving a five-day quarantine and all members of the Indian touring party will have to clear two Covid-19 tests during this period before they can begin training. South Africa, meanwhile, who are due to enter India via Mumbai late Friday evening, will undergo a six-day quarantine upon arrival in Lucknow in the early hours of Saturday. South Africa will take part in their first training session on March 5, two days before the ODI series gets underway.

ESPNcricinfo has also learnt that the UPCA is in talks with the BCCI to explore the possibility of allowing crowds up to 40-50% capacity for the best part of India’s eight-match assignment. A final decision is likely to be arrived at during the weekend. This is the first time a women’s international fixture will be played at the Ekana International Stadium, which has a capacity of 50,000. The stadium, built in 2017, hosted its first international match in 2018, when India took on West Indies in a T20I. The Afghanistan men’s team used it as their third home ground in India, after Dehradun and Greater Noida, playing a series apiece across formats against West Indies in 2019.

In another development ESPNcricinfo is privy to, it is understood that India head coach WV Raman‘s contract, the two-year term of which ended in December last year, has been extended. Long-time team manager Trupti Bhattacharya and physio Tracy Fernandes, whose contracts had expired at the end of the T20 World Cup and not been renewed during the one-year hiatus, are also back in the fold.

As for the make-up of the Indian squads for both the ODIs and T20Is, it is learnt that are a number of experienced regulars do not feature in them. Several new faces, some of whom had travelled to the UAE in November last year for the three-team Women’s T20 Challenge, have received maiden national call-ups.

The ODI series opener against South Africa will mark India’s return to action after a year. They last played international cricket on March 8, 2020, going down to Australia in the T20 World Cup final at the MCG. The only competitive cricket that the Indian players took part in during this period was the Women’s T20 Challenge held in the final week of IPL 2020, in Sharjah in November 2020. In the past year, a tour of England scheduled in July 2020 was cancelled, while a tour of Australia scheduled for January 2021 was deferred.

Both South Africa and India have earned direct qualification for the rescheduled 2022 Women’s ODI World Cup in New Zealand, and will look to use the bilateral series to kick-start their preparations for a busy next year, which will also see women’s cricket return to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, in the shortest format, in July. In 2023, South Africa will host the T20 World Cup, which was deferred by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The India vs South Africa series were originally supposed to be held in Thiruvananthapuram, but the Kerala Cricket Association informed the BCCI about its inability to host the games as the ground has been “made available to the Indian military for a recruitment drive, without the KCA’s prior knowledge”, and it doesn’t have a venue with “appropriate broadcast facilities”.

International cricket in India resumed on February 5, with the Test series against England, of which the first two Tests were in Chennai. Crowds up to 50% capacity of the MA Chidambaram Stadium were allowed for the second Test last week. Up to 55,000 spectators could attend the third Test at the newly renovated Sardar Patel International Stadium (renamed Narendra Modi Stadium on Wednesday) in Ahmedabad.

The Indian government last month revised its guidelines pertaining to spectators at outdoor sports in the country. “For outdoor sports events spectators will be allowed to full seating capacity,” the Indian ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports said in a circular updated on January 29. The circular, titled ‘Standard Operating Procedures for opening up of Stadia for sports events’, revised the ministry’s previous guidelines issued on December 26, which had stated spectators can be allowed at 50% capacity for outdoor sports.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha

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