England tour of South Africa in the balance

England tour of South Africa in the balance

England’s one-day tour of South Africa hangs in the balance following the postponement of the series opener in Cape Town, with any further COVID cases in the home camp leading to a potential cancellation.

The South African squad received a new positive test on Thursday evening, leading to a series of internal team meetings and hasty discussions between the respective boards.

Yet Friday’s match was only officially called off less than an hour before the scheduled start of play at 1pm.

By that time, England’s pair of team buses were almost at the gates of Newlands, with some individuals thought to be uneasy about the prospect of the fixture going ahead.

The drivers turned back around as news filtered through.

The entire Proteas party, which also turned up two positives ahead of the Twenty20 series, were set to undergo a fresh round of testing on Friday evening with results due the following morning.

While the England and Wales Cricket Board has not gone on the record about what any additional positives would mean, it appears highly likely that would lead to an early end to the trip.

That worst-case scenario would mean England ending an international tour abruptly for the second time in a row, having departed Sri Lanka in March in the early stages of the pandemic.

Ben Stokes kicks his bat in frustration.

As it stands, fulfilling the full three-game rubber remains a possibility, with Sunday’s match at Paarl to be followed by games in Cape Town on Monday and Wednesday.

England have agreed in principle to that schedule, but stand ready to withdraw if they lose any further confidence in the safety of their environment.

Ashley Giles, ECB managing director of men’s cricket, is currently with the team and it was notable that his official response only indicated the tourists were “hopeful” of seeing the matches played.

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There is concern about the implementation of South Africa’s bio-secure bubble, particularly given the teams are sharing quarters at the Vineyard Hotel.

Both teams have defined zones and cannot mingle, while the swimming pool and gym areas have been regularly deep cleaned between sessions.

For now, South Africa have lost those privileges but their visitors will be allowed to continue using the facilities.

CSA’s chief medical officer, Dr Shuaib Manjra, accepted that England harboured valid worries that needed to be addressed to rebuild trust.

“Clearly there’s a cause for concern and England has expressed a concern. England is questioning their confidence that they have in the bio-secure environment and rightfully so,” said Dr Manjra.