Skinny Guardian

7 December 2020, 19:45 (UTC), 689 words. Ali Martin in Cape Town.

England to fly home after South Africa ODI series called off due to Covid-19

England’s one-day international series in South Africa was cancelled on Monday after collective anxiety swept through the touring party and left the players feeling unable to perform on the field.

A day of fraught meetings between players and management resulted in a 3.10pm announcement local time that the remaining matches were off. Notably, however, the team are set to remain in Cape Town until their scheduled departure via charter flight on Thursday.

It follows an apparent loss of faith in the biosecure arrangements on tour and, after five positive Covid-19 cases in the space of three days, including two among the tourists, a sense that the cricket had become secondary.

A joint statement from Cricket South Africa and the England and Wales Cricket Board claimed the decision was mutual and taken “to ensure the mental and physical health and welfare of players from both teams”.

England’s two unnamed positive cases – believed to be a player and a coach – came after the games at Newlands on Friday and Paarl on Sunday were called off. But the veracity of these results has been questioned by Dr Moiz Moghal, England’s team doctor on tour. Both men have since undergone rapid Covid-19 tests that came back as negative, with the results of additional PCR tests expected on Tuesday morning.

Despite the likelihood of the results being clear, Ashley Giles, the director of England men’s cricket, listened to wider concerns from the squad that began when two South Africa players tested positive at the start of the trip.

He said: “The thing that really raised the levels of anxiety and nervousness were that we were coming into a biosecure environment and from very early on it appeared it wasn’t biosecure.

“There’s clearly concern when infections spring up in what is a supposed to be a biosecure environment. It wasn’t one case. There were a couple of [hotel] staff members, a couple of South African players. That’s the bit that really affected our touring group.”

Giles confirmed he and other staff members will stay in South Africa if the two England cases are confirmed, with the pair needing to isolate in their rooms for 10 days from their initial test on Saturday and therefore unable to travel until 15 December.

“We really hope the two positive tests in our group are false positives but given the results of the [hotel] staff the day before, that took the levels of anxiety to a different level. We make commitments to our players and staff to keep them safe, they are our employees and that is my most important responsibility.”

He added the squad’s problems were likely not just a result of the past three weeks but rather a buildup from months spent in biosecure bubbles during the English summer and, for a number of players, the recent Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates.

This brings other tours into question, with England’s Test squad due in Sri Lanka on 2 January for a two-match series – rearranged after its postponement in March – before four Tests, three one‑day internationals and five Twenty20s against India.

Five members of the white‑ball group – Sam Billings, Jason Roy, Liam Livingstone, Jake Ball and Lewis Gregory – still intend to fly to Australia after this trip, undergoing 14 days of quarantine before playing in the Big Bash League. Tom Curran, however, has joined Tom Banton in opting to cancel his contract and fly home.

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Asked to detail the concerns England had with the biosecure bubble, with both teams staying at the Vineyard Hotel and playing at two grounds, Giles said: “I don’t want to go into any of those details. That’s for CSA to investigate. But as far as I’m aware we haven’t identified a ‘patient zero’ or the source of the infection.”

Addressing these issues will be key for the financially impoverished home board, with visits by Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan still to come this season.

However it transpires they will not lose the estimated £1.5m in broadcast revenues for this initial cancelled series if, as was hoped on Monday, they are able to successfully reschedule it down the line.