On Monday, December 7, India captain Virat Kohli walked into a baby shop in Sydney with his teammate Hardik Pandya. The megastar, expecting his first child with wife Anushka Sharma this month, bought a bagful of goodies before the pair posed for several photos.
The visit to the store was in breach of Cricket Australia's biosecurity restrictions on players this summer, an official confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Sunday. Kohli and Pandya should have been wearing masks when they walked inside.
A week or so later in Adelaide, a group of Indian players made a late-night stop-off to eatery Waffle and Coffee in trendy inner-city Leigh Street, a couple of them going inside to order before they all sat down at a table outside. Again, the players who went inside should have been wearing a mask, according to the protocols.
Both instances were at the minor end of the scale in terms of breaches of CA's bubble guidelines and were unreported to cricket authorities.
They're not raised to say that when it comes to the off-field rules the tourists have been flagrantly headbutting the line – to coin a now retired term once used by Australian players about the on-field ones.
But they do spell out that the meal enjoyed by five players – Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Navdeep Saini and Prithvi Shaw – at a Chinese noodle and BBQ restaurant in Melbourne on Friday was not the only transgression of the tour, no matter how low the risk.
India players eating at a restaurant in Melbourne on Friday.Credit:Twitter
After months of living in either a bubble of some sort of hard quarantine, the Indians' unease with COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday manifested itself into objections about travelling to Brisbane for the fourth Test where they and the Australians will have to enter quarantine.
Whether or not they thought they would be left staring at four walls, as they did after arriving in Sydney in November when they weren't training, wasn't clear. But Cricket Australia officials were on Sunday night hoping a Queensland government allowance for players to have communal areas set up inside the hotel that has been taken out for the game would lower the temperature and avoid a Brisbane boycott.
It's effectively the same landscape the teams will face for their week-long stay in Sydney for the third Test, starting on Thursday, the only difference being that in Brisbane it will be state government-determined rules they will be living by inside the hotel while in NSW the protocols have been drawn up by CA.
Whatever the outcome – a fourth Test at the Gabba or a third and fourth at the SCG – a dramatic and fast-moving 24 hours has reinforced the unique quality of bilateral international cricket; that it's effectively played at the invitation of one national board to another, who can theoretically pull the pin on a host city or a series altogether in the absence of a world governing body that carries any real clout.
Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya pose for photos at a baby shop last month.
Add to the picture the visiting team being the one-out financial superpower of the sport and a host board desperate to complete the series for the $300 million or so it generates in television revenue and you have a delicate situation.
The nature of non-tournament international cricket also left the apparent bubble breaches by the five Indian players in the hands of the BCCI, not CA or the International Cricket Council, which only has oversight over the series in that it supplies the umpires and match referees, dishes out on-field penalties and adds up the points for its World Test Championship.
It also means CA, which designed the biosecurity protocols in consultation with infectious diseases experts in an effort not to fall foul of interstate border closures, never really had any say over whether the tourists followed the rules or not.
It is up to India, whose board was still investigating the restaurant breach on Sunday, to determine any sanction, be it a fine or a suspension – as unlikely as the latter is – ahead of the start of the third Test on Thursday.
Australian reports of the slip-up – which initially included a supporter hugging Pant before the fan later tweeted that he did not in fact embrace the wicketkeeper – whipped up some elements of the Indian media, who rubbished the suggestion of an investigation before it was confirmed in a CA media release soon after.
One even invoked the memory of the most damaging episode between the two cricket nations, the Monkeygate scandal at the Sydney Test in 2008, saying "there is a feeling that Indian team might just come together" like then.
Thankfully, the temperature is nowhere near that high no matter how tiresome cricket's bubble has become. But there will be a few officials at CA breathing a sigh of relief once this series like no other is over.
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