England’s South Africa tour suffers another false start as second ODI called off

England’s tour of South Africa descended into further disarray as Monday’s one-day international at Newlands was called off, the third time the start of the series has been delayed following an apparent Covid-19 outbreak.

The first of three one-day internationals had already been postponed on Friday after a third Proteas player tested positive and it was scrapped entirely on Sunday morning when it emerged that two members of the England party and two members of staff at the teams’ shared hotel in Cape Town had joined the growing outbreak.

The second match had been moved to Monday but both boards agreed that was no longer viable, with England having asked for their cases to be retested independently. The team’s medical staff, led by Dr Moiz Moghal, believe there is a possibility of so-called ‘false positives’ given some of the data and have sent the swabs for fresh analysis.

A joint statement from the respective boards read: “The second one-day international between South Africa and England, which is due to take place at Newlands, Cape Town, will now not take place on Monday 7 December.

“The decision has been taken by Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) whilst they await the outcome of the independent ratification of the two unconfirmed positive Covid-19 tests from the England camp and the continued health and wellbeing of both playing groups.

“Once the findings of this review have been received, CSA and ECB will then discuss how best to proceed concerning the remaining two matches of this ODI series.”

Going ahead with the matches would still require the agreement of players and coaching staff, far from a given amid deepening concerns over the effectiveness of what is supposed to be a bio-secure environment but has proved to fall short of that descriptor. At least one of the staff members to come down with the illness is believed to have worked closely with the England team.

In the event that England’s pair of positives are confirmed it seems highly likely that the tour would be over and discussions would instead turn to quarantine and isolation. Both individuals, who are thought be asymptomatic at present, would need to remain in their rooms for a total of 10 days following their diagnosis, so could not join the charter flight home.

The England and Wales Cricket Board would also need to identify anyone who qualifies as a close contact – defined as spending 15 minutes or more in an indoor environment without social distancing – and isolate them similarly. With several players having spoken out recently about the problems of bubble fatigue, that would be a wholly undesirable turn of events.

An additional concern exists for Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Tom Curran, Liam Livingstone and Lewis Gregory, who all have deals in the Big Bash League and were due to travel straight to Australia.

Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, said on Sunday: “The welfare of the players and support staff is our primary concern and whilst we await the results of further tests the medical advice from both teams was that this game should not take place.

“We remain in constant dialogue with Cricket South Africa and will continue to work closely with them to determine how best to move forward.”

An additional statement from the ECB explained: “As a precaution, England players and management underwent an additional round of PCR tests on Saturday evening. Following the test results, two members of the England touring party have returned unconfirmed positive tests for Covid-19.

“The players and management are now self-isolating in their rooms until further advice from the medical teams. A decision on the remaining matches in the series will be taken once the results of the tests are ratified independently by medical experts.”

Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith, now their director of cricket, said: “CSA is doing everything in our power to ensure that our top priority, which is the health, safety and welfare of players, support staff and all involved in this series, is safeguarded. We are deeply regretful of the situation we find ourselves in after the amount of time and energy that has been put in place to host a successful tour.”

The gardens of the Vineyard Hotel where both teams are based.
The gardens of the Vineyard Hotel where both teams are based (Rory Dollard/PA)

Earlier, the general manager of the Vineyard Hotel, Roy Davies, had issued a statement detailing events at the five-star establishment. In it he said the positive tests among the workforce came through on Friday, prompting England’s unplanned screening session.

“At this stage, it is not clear how the two staff members became infected as neither have left the bio-secure area since 16 November and they do not work on the same team or in the same zone area,” said Davies.

“Our Covid response team is endeavouring to establish all the facts and contact tracing is underway. Those infected are isolated in on-site apartments outside the bio-secure area some distance from the hotel, which have been kept sterilised and available for this purpose.”

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