Ben Stokes to captain entirely new England squad for Pakistan series after Covid outbreak in camp

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England in action against Sri Lanka on Sunday (AFP via Getty Images)
England in action against Sri Lanka on Sunday (AFP via Getty Images)

England have been forced to name a completely new squad for the ODI series against Pakistan that begins in Cardiff on Thursday after recording seven positive Covid-19 tests.

Members of the party showed mild symptoms yesterday morning in Bristol, so the ECB brought forward routine testing that was due to take place in Cardiff today.

Those showed that three players and four members of the management had tested positive. The remainder of the squad for the series were deemed close contacts and have to isolate for 10 days from yesterday.

Ben Stokes, who has been cautiously coming back from a hand injury with Durham, has been withdrawn from his first County Championship match since 2018 to captain a new-look squad containing nine players uncapped at ODI level.

Head coach and selector Chris Silverwood had taken some time off during the midsummer ODIs against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but was today called back into action, with his assistants, Graham Thorpe and Paul Collingwood, ruled out.

Stokes, one of only two members of the squad who has played more than 10 ODIs, leads a group including Test batters Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence, who are uncapped at ODI level, as well as Surrey’s Will Jacks and the Middlesex pair John Simpson and Tom Helm. The other players uncapped at ODI level are Brydon Carse, the Durham quick, Gloucestershire left-armer David Payne and Sussex opener Phil Salt.

Dawid Malan, who has been taking time out for personal reasons, returns alongside Jake Ball, Danny Briggs, Craig Overton, Ben Duckett, Saqib Mahmood, Matt Parkinson and James Vince.

There is still no place for Alex Hales, who remains persona non grata after failing two drugs tests ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Also missing was Ollie Pope, who has suffered a grade three thigh strain that makes him a doubt for the First Test against India next month.

All players were withdrawn from their county sides and replaced by Covid-19 substitutes. Those selected travelled to Cardiff for testing today.

Managing director of England men’s cricket, Ashley Giles, said: “It’s a great opportunity to play on the biggest stage, and for most of the players selected it’s not necessarily something they would have been expecting 24 hours ago.

“It’s an exciting group of players, with some young talent and some players who have impressed at domestic level over a long period of time.

“We’re in unprecedented territory, in terms of replacing an entire squad and management team, and I’m very proud of how everyone has come together in order to get it done, both those within the ECB and from the county game.”

Despite all this, the three matches in the ODI series are due to be played in front of large crowds. On Saturday, Lord’s will be at 100 per cent capacity as part of the Government’s pilot scheme for the return of crowds, while Edgbaston will be 80 per cent full next Tuesday for a day-night match.

Members of the England squad received their vaccine — some first doses, some second — yesterday morning, before the carnage unfolded. Everyone in the party has received at least one jab.

England have been living in less stringent bubbles than they did last summer at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford, when they were unable to leave the team hotel. With rates rising across the country, there was a risk that the bubble would be breached.

ECB chief Tom Harrison said: “We have been mindful that the emergence of the Delta variant, along with our move away from the stringent enforcement of biosecure environments, could increase the chances of an outbreak. We made a strategic choice to try to adapt protocols, in order to support the overall wellbeing of our players and management staff, who have spent much of the last 14 months living in very restricted conditions.

“Overnight, we have worked swiftly to identify a new squad. We also recognise the impact this will have on our counties and thank them for their support.”

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