Australia's cricket tour of South Africa in doubt amid Covid bubble fears

This article is more than 4 months old
  • England’s trip cancelled after five positive cases
  • Australia monitoring situation ahead of early 2021 tour
Staff leave Newlands cricket ground
Staff leave Newlands after England’s tour of South Africa was cancelled following a series of positive Covid tests. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Staff leave Newlands after England’s tour of South Africa was cancelled following a series of positive Covid tests. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Last modified on Mon 7 Dec 2020 17.41 EST

Australia’s scheduled three-Test tour of South Africa has been thrust under the microscope after England cancelled their one-day international series due to an apparent loss of faith in the country’s biosecurity arrangements.

England are due to fly home from Cape Town this week following Monday’s decision to call off the remaining matches after five positive Covid-19 cases in the space of three days, including two among the touring party.

Cricket Australia remains officially committed to the tour set down for February and March, but is keeping close tabs on the situation. The Australian tour follows a scheduled visit from Sri Lanka to South Africa, which has had an average of around 3,600 new cases per day over the past week.

“The tour of South Africa is part of the World Test Championship and the Futures Tour Program,” a Cricket Australia spokesman said. “We will continue to plan for the tour and monitor the biosecurity situation.”

England’s decision followed a day of fraught meetings between players and management, and preceded a joint statement from Cricket South Africa and the England and Wales Cricket Board claiming the move was mutual and taken “to ensure the mental and physical health and welfare of players from both teams”.

The veracity of England’s two unnamed positive cases were called into question by England’s team doctor and rapid Covid-19 tests have since come back as negative.

However Ashley Giles, the director of England men’s cricket, said the squad had voiced wider concerns that began when two South Africa players tested positive at the start of the trip.

“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,” Giles said.

Australia’s series in South Africa is set to be one of the most anticipated of 2021, after the drama that engulfed the last Test tour there – culminating in the ball-tampering scandal.

Front of mind in CA’s approach is that the tour is still three months away, and much can change quickly in the current international environment. Last month South Africa cricket officials even outlined hopes to have crowds through the gates.

However, events of the past fortnight indicate international cricket remains at the mercy of the pandemic. The situation could yet become a major headache for CA, which has already worked through a multitude of logistical challenges caused by November’s coronavirus cluster in South Australia which, at the time, threw into doubt the feasibility of Adelaide Oval hosting the first Test against India.

Meanwhile, Pakistan have had six players test positive to the virus while in quarantine in New Zealand for their T20 and Test series.

India’s tour of Australia has begun smoothly, but only after months of talks between both boards and government authorities. CA estimates that has cost in the vicinity of an additional $30m, taking in everything from chartered flights to hotel quarantines.

The other factor regarding the South Africa tour is the surety of biosecurity arrangements and the mental welfare of players, who may have to spend an extended period in a hub.

In recent days, two England players in Tom Curran and Tom Banton withdrew from their Big Bash League sides citing bubble fatigue after a challenging year that has worn down professional athletes globally.

Australia batsman Matthew Wade said on Monday he had not given the South Africa tour much consideration.

“And I’m not sure any of the other players have thought about it,” Wade said. “I saw the match was postponed, that’s about as far as I’ve gone into it.

“I’m sure Cricket Australia and South Africa’s board will work together and get the right solution. But as players, we’ll just crack into this series and when that rolls around we’ll see where it lands. But it’s a long way for us.”