New Delhi: The COVID-19 outbreak in his camp was not the only off-field challenge the Indian team overcame on their way to U-19 World Cup victory.
India’s troubles started upon arrival in the Caribbean islands, with as many as seven unvaccinated members of the side being held at the airport for more than 24 hours, forcing the government to step in and fix the problem.
This was after a long flight from Dubai to Port-of-Spain via Amsterdam.
Left arm gangster Ravi Kumar, who played a huge part in the team’s unprecedented fifth World Cup triumph, and opener Angkrish Raghuvanshi were among the players told to “go back to India” for not being stabbed.
Team manager Lobzang G. Tenzing, who came to their rescue with the help of the ICC and colleagues in the BCCI, spoke of the players’ “poor experience”. The governments of India and Trinidad also had to intervene to resolve the situation.
“After landing in Port-of-Spain we were supposed to take a charter flight to Guyana but seven of our boys were stopped because they had not been vaccinated. We tried to explain to the immigration officials that India had not yet started their vaccination, but they ordered us to take the next flight out of the country,” Tenzing, head of the Sikkim Cricket Association, told PTI.
“We were surrounded by airline security people as if we were going to walk out of there. And while there was an argument with aviation and immigration officials, the only available Lufthansa flight had left and the next was after three days. That gave us time to negotiate with the local authorities.
“I decided to stay with the guys and we had to stay for the night in a shady hotel near the airport. The matter could only be resolved after intervention by ICC and the local government. It was quite a shocking experience for the boys,” he recalls.
This happened in the first week of January when India started the vaccination campaign for the 15-18 age group.
In the Caribbean for the biggest event of their lives, the players were inconsolable.
It wasn’t just five players, the entire administrative team got COVID
The problems of the Indian contingent in the Caribbean had only just begun and shortly after the detained players were allowed to join the team in Guyana, a COVID outbreak jeopardized the team’s participation in the tournament.
The team did not have captain Yash Dhull and his deputy Shaik Rasheed for two of the three league games due to COVID-19.
The players who tested positive only came to light before the second league game against Ireland, but the virus came into the camp when the team’s SLO Ravindran returned a positive test during a five-day quarantine in Guyana.
Team manager Tenzing and the logistics manager subsequently became infected, putting the contingent into an administrative crisis.
“In all likelihood, our SLO contracted the virus en route to the Caribbean from Dubai, where we played the Asian Cup. And gradually it spread in the camp.
“The results of the RTPCR test would take up to 48 hours and that added to the problem,” said the Sikkim cricket chief, who had played the problem-solver role.
“Tournament bio-bubble was a joke, the authorities were slow”
The ICC had organized the event with the help of Cricket West Indies. In a challenging time like this, the Caribbean was not the best place to host a major event like the U-19 World Cup, Tenzing felt.
“It creates additional logistical problems and people were lethargic.”
The Indian team had the most comfortable stay in Antigua where they played knockouts and the hardest time in Guyana where they went into quarantine before playing their opener against South Africa.
“Our time in Guyana was tough to say the least. When me and my colleagues were infected with COVID, there was no medical help, no doctor, no medicine. Our team physio came to our rescue. It was like a system failure.
“In the hotel where we stayed, there were no separate floors for teams. We stayed on the same floor as other hotel guests. There was no one to man the isolation period. The rooms did not have regular running water and players faced food problems.
“Fortunately, few Indian restaurants in the area have helped us with that.
“During practice matches, the stadium had no water in the toilets. I can safely say that we, state units and the BCCI do a much better job of hosting domestic events in a bio-safe environment,” added Tenzing.
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