British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday he had called in the "third umpire" as he announced that recreational cricket would be allowed to resume on the weekend of July 11-12.
In a radio interview earlier Friday, Johnson angered thousands of club cricketers by saying the amateur game was still not safe to play amid the coronavirus pandemic because of issues surrounding communal teas and dressing rooms.
"It's the teas, it's the changing rooms and so on and so forth. There are other factors involved that generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis," he said.
Johnson had already provoked a furious response from the likes of former England captain Michael Vaughan by saying last month a cricket ball was a "vector of disease" despite recreational tennis and golf having already resumed amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
But Johnson, at a Downing Street briefing on Friday that took place several hours after his radio interview, used cricket terminology in a U-turn that signalled the club and youth game was on its way back.
Johnson explained the reversal of his position by saying he'd called in "the third umpire", who in professional cricket can overturn decisions made by either of the two on-field match officials.
"The 'third umpire' has been invoked, and what I can say is that we do want to work as fast as possible to get cricket back, and we will be publishing guidelines in the next few days so that cricket can resume in time for next weekend," said Johnson.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Johnson, added that one problem for cricket was that it brings together far more people than the six deemed the maximum number who should be meeting outdoors now.
"But it is perfectly possible to have cricket where people do keep their distance," he added.
- 'Finally sense' -
England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison, who insisted the government had been "supportive" in wanting to see recreational cricket return, welcomed the change of heart by saying: "It will come as great news to our nation of recreational cricketers that the UK Government has given the green light for the game to return from next weekend.
"They now agree that with appropriate measures in place to mitigate the risk, it is safe."
Meanwhile a delighted Vaughan tweeted: "Finally sense ... GET IN NETS all you recreational players."
International cricket is set to resume for the first time since lockdown on Wednesday, with the opening day of the first Test between England and the West Indies at Southampton.
Decision overturned: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backtracked on the stance that it was still not safe for recreational cricket to resume