England’s tour of South Africa looks set to be given the go-ahead after an agreement was reached allowing the squad to train during their quarantine period.
ESPNcricinfo understands the South Africa government has agreed to waiver the normal requirements for visitors from counties deemed ‘high risk’ in terms of Covid-19 infection. A formal confirmation of the tour is expected imminently.
As a result, the ECB are expected to charter a flight to Cape Town which will arrive on November 17, ahead of the first international match about 10 days later. The squad will stay at the Vineyard Hotel and train, initially at least, at the Western Province Cricket Club ground where they will play inter-squad warm-up games. South Africa will later join them at the same hotel.
Had the South Africa government refused to allow a dispensation, the touring party would have been obliged to quarantine in their hotel rooms for at least a week at the start of the tour. It seems the ECB would have declined to tour under these circumstances.
The squad will still be obliged to quarantine, but they will be allowed to train and use certain parts of the hotel during that period.
The sides will play three ODIs and three T20Is on the tour. All the matches, to be split between Newlands (in Cape Town) and Boland Park (in Paarl) will be played behind closed doors.
It will be the first action for South Africa men’s national team since they returned home from India in March, when the pandemic hit. In that time, they have had series in Sri Lanka and West Indies postponed and have been unable to host India for three T20Is. While the cost of hosting a large England touring party consisting of more than 40 people will be significant, the tour could prove vital for a board desperate for income.
Addressing the tour prospects during a Chance to Shine charity event, Eoin Morgan, England’s captain, acknowledged the importance of keeping international cricket afloat during this period of uncertainty, and said he was looking forward to the challenge even though it will be coming hot on the heels of his stint in the IPL.
“There is a huge responsibility not just to get to your home country’s fixtures underway, but a huge responsibility to facilitate other countries around the world,” Morgan said. “We will do what we can to try and get cricket back on, because it means a huge amount for people in lockdown in their own countries, and also for Cricket South Africa financially.
“I know the worry we had about potentially not bowling a ball all summer and the detrimental impact that would have,” he added, “probably to grassroots cricket more than any other part of the game. If the tour goes ahead, we’d love to come down, as the series we played last time was incredible.”
England won the T20I leg of their white-ball tour of South Africa in February last year, having drawn the ODIs 1-1, and Quinton de Kock, South Africa’s captain, was also relishing the prospect of a return series.
“If the boys do come over I’m sure it’ll be a good series once again,” he said during the Chance to Shine event. “The world saw the last series, even though we lost, we still played unbelievable cricket, so did England. We are hoping it will go on, but with the pandemic, who knows?”
Meanwhile, talks are continuing about a short tour to Pakistan in mid-January. While the ECB are clearly keen to make the tour happen, there is an acceptance the squad might be something of a B or even C team. With England already committed to a two-Test series in Sri Lanka at the same time, and some players committed to T20 franchise cricket – the ECB will not insist anyone takes part on the tour – the series could prove an opportunity for fringe players.
As things stand, the BCCI remain insistent their tour against England will be staged in India. While the BCCI recently signed an MoU creating closer ties with the Emirates Cricket Board, they are currently resisting suggestions that England’s tour will be staged in the UAE. Instead, they are looking at options which include hosting all the Tests in Mumbai and cutting the number of matches scheduled.
Whether this is a viable plan or an attempt to shift public expectation ahead of the next IPL season, which is scheduled to get underway in March, remains unclear. At this stage, it seems that, when the schedule for England’s tour is published, it may well feature venues in India. But, with that MoU acting as a safety net, it remains probable the games will be played in the UAE.