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The fourth Ashes Test has been thrown into chaos after Australia's Travis Head tested positive for Covid on New Year’s Eve. The Australian batter is the first player from either side to test positive.
There have already been eight positive tests so far in the England camp but these were confined to family members and coaching staff. Head, who scored a century in the first Test, received the result just hours before the two teams were due to fly to Sydney, where the fourth Test begins on January 5.
No further positive tests were returned from the England players and their entourage on Friday morning. The last positive tests in the England camp were received by a family member of head coach Chris Silverwood, who will also remain in Melbourne and miss the upcoming Test.
The first positive results started surfacing in the England set-up while the Boxing Day Test unfolded but this caused only minor disruption to the start of play on day two as the spread of the virus appeared to have been contained to family and coaching staff.
However, as Head is the first player to test positive, it is more likely that the virus has now spread to other players. It may take some days to find out the full extent of the spread, however, and whether the fourth Test can still continue as planned.
As a precautionary measure, the all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who was player of the match in the recent Twenty20 World Cup Final, and top-order batters Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have been called into the Australian squad as replacements.
England call up emergency coach
Adam Hollioake is joining England as emergency coaching cover for the fourth Test but will only be allowed to work with the players outside due to Covid rules, which have been tightened after Head's positive test.
England have also unofficially put Big Bash players on standby in case of a covid outbreak among the squad.
Hollioake is expected to arrive on Sunday to help England with their preparations after Silverwood was forced into quarantine.
England’s bowling coach, Jon Lewis, and spin bowling coach, Jeetan Patel, tested positive earlier this week depleting the number of coaches working with the team.
Graham Thorpe is standing in for Silverwood in Sydney and has called his former Surrey team-mate for help.
Hollioake, who lives in Queensland, can only work with the players outside because he has not gone through the same rigorous testing protocol as the existing coaches. He will be allowed to work outside with the players to minimise the risk, which will only be a problem on Tuesday, the day before the match starts, when rain is forecast.
“He’s not just another set of hands. He’s a pretty good, philosophical guy who has had certain things go on in his life, so he’ll say, this is cricket, we’ll play to win, but can you get better? I know him really well and he’ll be a good guy if we can get him in,” said Thorpe. “He can bring a bit of energy to the dressing-room.”
Q&A: What would it take for the Ashes Test to be called off because of Covid?
By Jeremy Wilson
Will the Test go ahead?
Doubt has been cast over the fourth Ashes Test after the Australia batsman Travis Head tested positive for Covid-19. Tests were urgently being conducted into the rest of the squad and Australia delayed travelling from Melbourne while they awaited results from other players. Mitchell Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have all been added to the Australia squad as potential cover for further cases. The match is due to begin on Jan 5. England are already in Sydney and there is a huge collective determination to still play the match even if it has become a ‘dead rubber’ after Australia surged to a 3-0 lead in the five match series. The England team has already faced several Covid scares with eight positive results among support staff and family members, but the squad have so far escaped infection.
What happens if the Test is cancelled?
Cancelling the Test is an outcome that all sides are keen to avoid. The Ashes presents a valuable opportunity to accumulate points in the World Test Championship, which runs from 2021 until 2023, with each Test individual match win worth up to 12 points. England are already in Sydney and so would not want the disruption of potentially having to return for the fixture at a later date. There could also be large financial ramifications of any cancellation for Cricket Australia in terms of gate receipts and potential broadcast revenue.
What about the fifth Test?
The fifth Test is scheduled to begin in Hobart on Jan 14, with people arriving in Tasmania subject to different Covid regulations than Sydney or Melbourne. Current Covid-19 rules on the Island-state mean that close contacts of Covid-19 cases would have to isolate for seven days, but the Government has sounded pragmatic this week in how it might actually apply the rules to the two cricket teams and their support staff.
“The Tasmanian government remains fully committed to the fifth Ashes Test being played in Hobart, in what will be a historic event for the state,” a Government spokeswoman said. “The government is continuing to work with Cricket Australia and Public Health to ensure that the match operates under the approved Covid safety plan and all Covid related matters are managed effectively.”
Have any other matches been cancelled?
The Big Bash in Australia has been hit by a series of Covid-19 cases but Friday night’s match between Sydney Thunder and Adelaide Strikers still went ahead despite four Covid-19 cases within the Thunder team. It followed urgent talks between Government public health officials and Cricket Australia and the game was due to take place under ‘level five’ protocols whereby Thunder players remained separate from each other and their opponents. The Melbourne Stars also reported 14 cases on Friday and their match against the Perth Scorchers on Sunday is in considerable doubt.