England’s two-Test tour of Sri Lanka scheduled to go ahead in January despite Covid-19 cancellation fears

·3 min read
Joe Root of England takes a catch during a Net Session at Newlands Cricket Ground  - GETTY IMAGES
Joe Root of England takes a catch during a Net Session at Newlands Cricket Ground - GETTY IMAGES

The England and Wales Cricket Board moved swiftly to allay fears that England’s Test tour of Sri Lanka would have to be cancelled following the British government’s warning about a new mutant of Covid-19 spreading in South Africa, from where England’s white-ball players returned on 10 Dec.

“The ECB can confirm that those team members and support staff who returned on 10 December from South Africa, as part of England men’s white-ball tour, have been following the Elite Sports International guidance concerning activity in the UK,” said a statement. “During this period, they have undergone on-going symptom and testing checks and will not need to quarantine. 

“Regarding the England men’s Test squad and support staff, they will continue to prepare as normal ahead of the Sri Lanka Test tour. The touring party is due to leave on 2 January 2021. The ECB will continue to monitor the on-going situation in respect of international travel and working closely with Sri Lanka Cricket.”

One member of the England squad for Sri Lanka is currently in Australia, Essex’s Dan Lawrence, who has been playing in the Big Bash League but was also fined for breaching Covid protocols, socialising indoors in Canberra without a mask..

“We are confident of sorting the exemptions (from the Sri Lanka government) and plan to fly to Hambantota on a charter flight on 2 Jan and to arrive there on 3 Jan,” said an ECB spokesman.

The England squad will have three days of quarantine, and have to return negative Covid tests, before they can start training.

This situation is complicated by the Sri Lankan Test squad being currently in South Africa, ahead of their two-Test series starting in Centurion on Boxing Day. The arrangements there so far are reported to have been more watertight than they were when England’s one-day series in South Africa was aborted earlier this month after several lapses in protocol in Cape Town.

England are scheduled to fly, not to Colombo as normal, but to Hambantota on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka, to stay in a resort there and practise before moving to Galle for both Test matches, the first starting on 14 Jan.

Hambantota international airport was built by the Chinese for the current prime minister of Sri Lanka, in whose constituency it happens to be. In normal times only two or three flights per day have landed there, but this very infrequency now comes as a blessing for England’s cricketers ahead of their tour.

England will then move to the Lighthouse hotel in Galle for their second attempt at this two-Test series. Their first attempt was called off in March when England had started their warm-up matches before the pandemic forced them to fly home.

If this series does go ahead, so strict will the bio-bubbles be that no media will be allowed to attend the two Tests at the Galle International Stadium.

England have played five Tests in Galle, winning one, losing two and drawing two. Their single victory came on their last visit when Joe Root was captain and won the toss every time on turning pitches, taking the series 3-0.

This time England will be handicapped by their lack of match-practice before the first Test, but Sri Lanka’s batsmen and bowlers will also have very little time to re-program to home pitches after their two-Test series in South Africa, assuming it takes place.