England’s response was that the original practice pitches were “not acceptable” and, though they switched location, at no stage was “the safety and health” of players and coaches compromised. It may seem a petty quibble by the hosts but, by the same token, how would the ECB have viewed such a unilateral move by their guests during the summer? The tourists are now staying in the country until Thursday and in a heightened state of lockdown. Word comes from the bubble that face masks are now mandatory and social distancing is at its strictest.
Curmugeons may argue that an overreaction from a group of fit young athletes has taken place, a view that will harden if the follow-up tests for England’s two positive cases provide them with the all-clear to leave South Africa alongside the other members of the party.
But it is worth remembering that even in normal times, cricket is a sport that heavily taxes the mind. Marcus Trescothick (on this tour as a coach) and Jonathan Trott were praised for speaking up about the mental health problems that cut short their England careers and the current generation have seen the pressures increase.
Until they are vaccinated – and Morgan has stressed cricketers should be low down the queue – their movements are limited to hotels and grounds.
There is little escape on tours that previously offered a chance to take in the local surroundings, while the time they spend with their families has returned to levels witnessed during less enlightened times.
With tours of Sri Lanka and India to come after Christmas, a packed home summer and then a winter of fives tours that includes a T20 World Cup and an Ashes campaign, there will be more cloudy days ahead. For South Africa, who must convince others to still tour this season, these are imminent.